The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: What Is That Squirrel Doing on Water Skis?

A squirrel, wearing a white life jacket, standing on a pair of mini water skis in a pool
Look at her go! Andrew Chin/Getty Images

What search term was used to find this in Getty?
“squirrel”

What were you hoping to find?
I recently had a dream that I was searching through Getty for a photo of Joe Biden and instead stumbled upon a funny photo of a squirrel, so I was curious to see if the real archives live up to the one in my dreams. If any dream interpreters know what this could mean, please let me know.

What did you find instead?
A squirrel looking serene on a pair of tiny water skis emblazoned with the name “Twiggy.” Leaning forward over the handlebar with her tail curled behind her and a life jacket on, she looks pretty darn sporty.

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What’s the actual backstory here?
This Feb. 8, 2020, photo of Twiggy the water-skiing squirrel is from the Vancouver International Boat Show. The novelty act dates back to the late ’70s, when Sanford, Florida, residents Chuck and Lou Ann Best took in an orphaned squirrel as a pet and taught it to ride behind a remote-controlled boat Chuck had recently purchased for their daughter.

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Although teaching a squirrel to water-ski may seem like an impossible undertaking, the Bests, who ran a skating rink at the time, had some experience in this area: They had previously taught a chimpanzee to roller-skate and a poodle to surf. In fact, according to the official Twiggy website, the squirrel was just the beginning:

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Chuck and Lou Ann also trained other animals to water-ski, two miniature horses, two French poodles, a black cat, an armadillo and a toad. They taught one of their squirrels named Ollie to jet-ski. Chuck and Lou Ann also taught 3 squirrels to ski in a pyramid and named the act “Lights, Camera, Action.” Other than water skiing, Twiggy also learned to hang glide and ride in a helicopter!

In 1979, the Bests took their water-skiing squirrel show on the road full time, performing at boat shows and other events around the country. After Chuck drowned in a boating accident in 1997, Lou Ann initially decided to end the show, but ultimately retooled the act into a PSA for water safety. The idea was to make Twiggy into a mascot in the mold of Smokey Bear. Lou Ann crafted a squirrel-sized life jacket for Twiggy to wear and incorporated information about how to stay safe while swimming and boating in the act.

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Over the years, eight squirrels have been trained to perform as Twiggy. Her water-skiing moves have been featured in the movie Anchorman and in the music video for country musician Brad Paisley’s song “River Bank.”

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In 2018, Lou Ann retired after almost 40 years in action, but her son Chuck Best Jr. has since taken up the mantle.

How exactly do you train a squirrel to do that?
Lou Ann said that the first squirrel was trained in the family’s bathtub. “You sit in the bathtub and let them run around. After a while, they don’t need you in the water. They’re so used to it, it’s like second nature.”

When the revamped Twiggy show came to Vancouver in 2020, a local wildlife activist called for the act to be pulled from the boat show, alleging it was cruel to the squirrels. In a 2016 Washington Post profile, Lou Ann, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, said that animals are not hurt by the training or the water skiing itself: “There’s nothing unnatural about what she’s doing.”

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
It is, quite literally, a dream come true.

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