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‘Water Ski Grandpa’ continues to break records

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STERLING, Ill (WREX) -- As we get older, our bodies don't quite move like they used to.

Well, don't tell that to Bruce Kunde, he's still breaking records at 80 years young. We met with him on his 84th birthday. But, it's what he did at the age of 83 at the 2020 Goode U.S. Water Ski National Championships that people are still talking about.

Kunde jumped 89 feet, breaking his own national tournament record.

If one national record wasn't enough, Kunde has a few more.

"I've got records from men's 7, which is 65 to 70, 70 to 75 and now 80 to 85," he says while sitting along the river near his home in Sterling.

"It is my happy place," he says of that same home. The glassy looking Rock River sits behind him. "Best is like right now, no wind at all."

Another thing that makes his jump records so remarkable, the now 84-year-old doesn't actually practice jumping. In a typical year, the nearest jump in the water would be in Rockford or Rock Island.

"I don't practice," he says. "I practice cutting a lot, we call them rotations. Big thing is you gotta have all your stuff together when you hit the bottom of the ramp."

He's lived through bumps, bruises, broken bones and even a triple bypass. Though, he doesn't bring it up in normal conversation. When asked, he laughs it off. He couldn't even remember how long ago it happened, between eight and six years ago he says.

"I guess I wanna forget it," he says with a chuckle. "Everyone was amazed I was skiing after that."

His flying through the air has landed him on TV, newspapers and even in Sports Illustrated. He was in the magazine a few years ago as part of the "Faces in the Crowd" section. Kunde was 75 at the time, and you guessed it, had recently broken a jump record.

"If he can do it, I can do it," says Kunde's neighbor and long-time ski buddy, Scott Pickford. "It gives me motivation to get up and do it in the morning. If Bruce is out there doing it, I can do it. Pickford is a couple decades younger than Kunde.

As Kunde celebrates a happy 84th birthday, we'll see what records he can break at this age.

"My record in this division is 100 feet and I got one more year to break it," he says with a smile.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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