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Life on the Water & Gridiron: Brandon Zylstra

As the National Football Leagueís 2019 regular season kicked off Sept. 5, USA Water Ski & Wake Sports was keeping an eye on former Little Crow Ski Team (New London, Minn.) member Brandon Zylstra, who was seeking to make the Minnesota Vikingsí roster for the second consecutive season. A reserve wide receiver and special teams player for the Vikings in 2018, Zylstra is widely known in show skiing for his love of barefoot water skiing. He recently talked with USA Water Ski & Wake Sports about his passion for Life on the Water and his time with the Vikings, who concluded the 2019 pre-season campaign Aug. 29 with a game against the Buffalo Bills. Update 9/1/2019: Zylstra was cut by the Vikings on Aug. 31, but quickly claimed off of waivers by the Carolina Panthers.

Q: How did you get involved in water skiing?
A: My dad was into water skiing when we were growing up and it just became a fun, family activity for us. I think I learned to water ski at age 10 and barefoot at 11. We eventually got involved with Little Crow and had a lot of fun and wanted to stick with it. I just absolutely fell in love with the sport and being on the water in general, and have always had a passion for it.

Q: What got you hooked; what did you like most about it?
A: Just being on the water. It really didnít matter what we were doing Ė skiing, floating on tubes, hanging out on the boat. Just being outside and on the water in the summer was incredible, plus Minnesota has the cleanest lakes so it was just something that we wanted to do as much as we could.

Q: How has water skiing, particularly barefooting, helped you become a better athlete?
A: I think it helped my body awareness, body coordination and balance. I think I have tremendous balance, and you learn that from the various aspects of water skiing and show skiing. The sport also is obviously very challenging, so when you get into it there is always one challenge after another and different [disciplines] to learn and get better at. So you not only compete and challenge yourself against other skiers, but you compete and challenge yourself to see how good you can get at it.

Q: What do you remember most about your time on the Little Crow Ski Team?
A: Shows every Friday night and hanging out with family and friends. We would spend five or six days on the water and then show off what we learned and what we could do on Friday night in front of the crowd. The showmanship aspect of the sport was something I really enjoyed.

Q: What was your role/what acts did your perform during your time on the team?
A: I did a lot of barefooting Ė pyramids, multi-man lines, flying dock starts, and did some helis off the ramp and rope doubles.

Q: Do you still find time to get on the water during your off-season from football?
A: I try get out at least once a summer. My younger brother, Jaden, is 16 and a beast on the water and is still active with Little Crow. I keep telling him that when this football thing is over for me, Iím coming back to challenge him. Iíd say my prime years were when I was between 12 and 16. Iím so much bigger and stronger now that I canít wait to see what I will be able to do. Itís really cool to see the passion Jaden has for water skiing.

Q: What does Life on the Water mean to you?
A: Bringing everyone Ė family time and friends Ė together and just enjoying being out on the water. It doesnít matter what type of skiing you are doing. You could be docking a boat on a sandbar and hanging out, or barefooting or tubing. To me, itís just being out on the water and I could never get enough of it.

Q: What was that feeling like having grown up a Vikings fan and then suiting up for your first home regular season game last year as a member of the Vikings?
A: It definitely hit me during warm-ups against San Francisco that first game. I remember I had a huge smile on my face and said to myself, ĎThis is where I am supposed to be.í It was pretty cool. But when kickoff came it was all business.

Q: Being a part of a show ski team, you have the unique ability to learn from your teammates on how to be a better barefooter, jumper, teammate, etc. With the Vikings, you are part of one of most talented group of pass catchers in the NFL. What has that experience been like as you enter your second season, particularly working with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen?
A: Definitely have two of the best in the game here and their willingness to help out has been tremendous. They teach you the right way to practice, how to get open and all of that, and I definitely pick their brains as much as possible. You look at their results and it proves how they go about things in practice works, so any tidbit you can pick up from them is going to help.

Q: You were still dealing with a leg injury suffered in OTAs as you entered training campÖand you scored a TD in the second preseason game and had a number of targets. How are things looking for you right now confidence-wise?
A: I feel good now. Looking back, camp was a struggle because I didnít get that rehab that I needed. It was tough mentally and physically for me. [The week of August 12], however, was a turning point. I really felt like I was getting my legs back. My explosiveness was back and the game slowed down for me, and thatís what I needed. Iím just going to continue working hard and see how it all shakes out.


















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