Marco Grilli – Waterski Instructor and Ski club owner in Cap d’Antibes
I was referred to Marco Grilli by the head concierge at the Hotel Belles Rives. He suggested that Marco would be interesting to interview as he has been here for over 50 years.
Marco Grilli Water Ski instructor and owner of the Waterski school at the Hotel Belles Rives.
Marco has been Waterskiing here since he was a young boy. When I met with Marco on the pontoon of the hotel he had just been out on the water with one of the guests’ daughter. It was her first time trying waterskiing and she was over the moon she had managed to ski on her first attempt. Skiing alongside her was Frederick who teaches at Marco’s school. Apparently this unique way of teaching was invented here. It was the first school in the world to have the instructor ski along-side you when teaching you to ski and it really appears to work.
I got the impression that most people manage to ski on their first trip out here and it was apparent that Marcos’ ski school definitely makes people happy. During the 40 minutes or so that I was there there was a constant flow of guests who were happy to sing Marcos praises and tell me what a fantastic teacher he was and how great it was to ski here. People who learnt with Marco when they were young now come back with their own children so he can teach them to ski too.
We sat down on a couple of sun loungers and I asked him to tell me a little about the history of the ski school and also about his life here.
Tell me a little bit about the history of the school.
“So waterskiing was born in this area where we are today, it was invented here. This ski school was founded on the beach of La Provencal just to next to us”.”It was invented for a joke by Léo Roman, a Frenchman from here and Emile Petersen, a Norwegian. They were both very successful snow skiers and snow ski instructors at the time. Leo Romain was also a champion boxer and he was an excellent dancer too. They met each other in the 1930’s while they were staying at the same hotel in the mountains and became friends”.
“Some time in 1932, possibly over a few après ski drinks, they decided, for a joke, to try to ski on the water. In the beginning they used very heavy snow skis but they were both very, very sporty so after almost no time at all they succeeded to ski behind the boat. Waterskiing was born and the first ever water ski club was formed. They used to put on incredible water ski demonstrations in the bay here and waterskiing quickly became a massive success for them”.
Is this where competitive Water skiing was born?
“Yes, The first ever world championships were held here in 1949″.
In 1952 the first European championships were held here too. After that they moved the competition from the sea to a lake. They waterski on the lakes now as the sea is too unpredictable for competitions. But for most of the the people who love to waterski for pleasure they come to the sea to ski There is nothing like skiing on the sea”.
Tell me a bit about your family connection to the school?
When the school opened my father was the boat driver . Back then the school was at La Provencal which no longer exists”.
“Before that my father had been just a simple fisherman and also a sailor but then he was asked to become a Taxi boat driver. He was the first and only person to be granted a boat Taxi License back then. It was a very powerful motor boat and it was used to ferry tourists between the hotels and restaurants on the Cap. During this time he also began to learn how to pull water skiers. It was then that he was asked by Mr Romain and Mr Petersen to drive the boat for their new Water Ski school”.
“My father loved his job very much. He had gone from humble fisherman to driving the Taxi boat, transporting all the rich and beautiful people between the hotels and restaurants on the Cap. It was a very different life for him. My father had had very little money as a fisherman and times were difficult then. When there were fish it was ok but when there were no fish times were hard. The waterskiing changed our lives in this respect. He was very lucky. He was in the right place at the right time”.
How long have you worked here?
“I started coming here when I was just 8 years old”.
“My father had to look after me and couldn’t leave me alone on the beach so as soon as I could swim he began to take me out on the boat with him. I was always with him at the beginning. I was helping people. Carrying their skis and sometimes I washed and cleaned the boats. I was probably about 12 or 13 then. There were also a lot of people with boats who used to take me out water skiing”.
Marco (on the right) teaching his first student.
“I went to school in Antibes and in the afternoons and the holidays I was working with my father everyday”.
“It was a fantastic time then. My friends would come to see me and we would spend the whole day on the beach. In the evenings we would go to La Siesta, a nightclub in Juan Les Pins. When I left school during the the summer season I would work as a water ski instructor and in the winter I was painting houses or working in a restaurant opening oysters.
I had to do many different types of job during the winter while the ski school was shut. It’s funny when people asked me what I did during the winter, as it was a big question for them, I would tell them that I worked as a painter. They would then ask to see my work and if my paintings were for sale. They never imagined that I would be working painting the houses. It was very funny. These days I don’t have to work in the winter months anymore, I work really hard from March-November and then relax with my family during the winter”.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
“I knew from a very young age that being a ski instructor is what I wanted to do”.
“When I was 10 or 11 years old at school I remember they asked the class what we wanted to do. I said “I want to be a water ski instructor” my teacher said “Marco that’s not a job. It’s not a proper job”! “I didn’t understand why. For the school it wasn’t a proper job to be on the beach all day, with the beautiful girls, working on the sea. They didn’t realise that when you have a seasonal job on the beach you work hard. You work from the morning until the night, every day of the week for 7 months of the year without a break”.
“It doesn’t feel like work though and it’s such a beautiful life too. You meet so many people and everyone is happy to be here”.
You must have met many beautiful women during this time?
He laughs “Well yes but I mustn’t talk about that. I am a married man”.
“I met my wife in Antibes, she is from here too. We were married very young, at 21, and we are still together. When I met her she didn’t know how to ski. In fact my father taught her how to ski because I was not so patient with her. I was more patient with the other people than with my own wife.” he laughs.
Marco with a friend and his wife (far left).
“My father unfortunately died 30 years ago when he was 61 so I carried on the school. In
fact the ski school is my whole life. As you can see it’s a fantastic life. Why change? I can’t imagine ever doing anything else”.
Marco (on the right) and his father. From Marcos’ family photo collection.
Tell me a bit about the annual waterskiing show you have here at Belles Rives.
“Every year we hold the Marc Grilli Challenge, a waterski challenge in honour of my father”.
“The Challenge was actually Mariannes (owner of the Hotel Belles Rives) idea. Marianne does a lot for Waterskiing. We call her the godmother of the waterski and she is a great champion of what we do here. My father and I actually share the same name but nearly everyone knows me as Marco. We added an O to my name when we started working together to keep it simple for the clients”.
Do you think your children will continue the family tradition of working here?
“My daughter has now followed me into this job. She is a trained ski instructor and she works here with me. My son unfortunately has not been able to follow this path. At thirteen he very suddenly developed a problem with his spinal chord and he is now in a wheelchair and completely paralysed from the neck down. He can move only his head. He is 40 years old and of course lives with us. You will see him in the summer as he spends a lot of time with me here at the hotel. When you see him you will not think that he is in a wheelchair because he is very clever, he talks a lot and he is an excellent chess player too. His mind is extremely developed”.
“My daughter, she will take over from me. I also have have 2 grand daughters who both love to water ski, they are 13 and 17 so maybe they will continue the family business too”.
What do you love about Cap d’Antibes?
“When you are here it’s everything. The weather, the beautiful weather. Every morning I come here it’s like a tableau (painting) everything changes. Sometimes the sky is blue, sometimes grey. Some days there are clouds. Sometimes the sea is choppy and sometimes completely still. You have the beautiful view of the islands and each sunset is different. Basically no two days are the same in Cap d’Antibes and that’s what I love about being here. I feel free here”.
Have you had any famous clients?
“We have had many yes. We took Kirk Douglas out waterskiing, we used to pick him up form the Hotel du Cap when he was staying there. He was very sporty and very good at it. We have also taught Jennifer Anniston, Sarah Ferguson and Tamara Beckwith to mention a few.
All of them were good and it’s nice to teach those people. That’s our job and we love it”!
Since our initial meeting for this interview I took my daughter to Marcos’ school for her 9th birthday. She succeeded to ski first time and you could not get the smile off her face for the rest of the weekend. At the end of the lesson she was awarded a certificate and medal by Marco for having managed it at her first attempt. I can confidently say that this really is the best Waterskiing school ever. Totally awesome!!
*All family photos are courtesy of Marco Grilli. Unfortunately Marco lent all of his family photographs to friend a few years ago but they were never returned. Luckily the family had scanned a few of them a year before but he lost all of the others. Needless to say the person in question is no longer a friend.
With thanks to the author, Naneen Rossi