For many, Muskoka is synonymous with tradition. It could be the burger shop you always hit on the highway north, the fishing lures your grandfather used, or the map of the lake that’s been hung on the wall for decades but for many it’s what makes the area special.
Summer Water Sports (affectionately known as SWS by locals and cottagers) embodies that love of tradition.
For six decades SWS has delivered summer entertainment on the lakes, whether through their water ski schools or the ski shows that have thrilled guests for generations.
Now SWS has grown to include three SWS Boatworks locations at three different marinas, a roster of pop-up vendors at their location in Minett, and new pop-ups in Port Carling at their Lake Rosseau location.
With pandemic restrictions loosening, the SWS Ski School is now open at Deerhurst and JW Marriott in Minett and their ski camp is open Monday to Friday at the SWS Boatworks Minett.
They’re also ready to continue successful cottage clinics for flyboarding and skiing, wakeboarding and wakesurfing.
“Everyone at SWS is like a huge family. It’s crazy how close we all are,” says Val Newlands, who owns SWS with her husband Geordie. “We’ve had multiple generations work here, and multiple siblings from the same family.”
The roots of SWS can be traced back to 1960, when a group of volunteers started an event called Summer Ski. The show consisted of a group of talented young skiers putting on a show for onlookers at Cleveland’s House, including guests of the resort and nearby cottagers who would congregate.
The show stayed more or less status quo until the mid-90s, when the shows and company were greatly expanded by Phil Harding (the current Mayor of Muskoka Lakes Township) and renamed Summer Water Sports.
One of the talented young skiers in the show was Geordie Newlands, who joined the show at 16. Geordie and his siblings had been enthralled with water skiing since they learned as toddlers. They even put on shows of their own in front of their grandmother’s cottage as children.
Val, a fifth-generation Muskokan who grew up on Lake Rosseau, has also been watching the SWS shows since childhood. Geordie and Val met while he was skiing with SWS and she was a server at the former Pinecrest restaurant in Port Carling.
The Newlands eventually purchased SWS in 2005 and it’s been a process of steady expansion ever since.
The first move was to acquire Wallace Marina in Minett.
“It was definitely a learning process for us but we gradually figured it out,” says Val.
The business has expanded accordingly. From storing 45 boats in their first year to a currently capacity of several hundred.
In 2018, they added the Boatworks marinas on both the Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau sides of Port Carling. Established In 1925, Boatworks (which has now been renamed SWS Boatworks) now offers everything from gas and boat servicing to a surf shop where you can buy swimsuits and wakeboards.
In total, SWS employs roughly 80 people during peak summer capacity. Val says the biggest growth area of their business are their cottage clinics. The clinics bring the ski school right to your dock, with everything you need to get started, including a boat, equipment and an instructor.
The biggest trend in watersports these days is wakesurfing, which requires a special type of boat to throw the ideal wake. Val says that’s been a major draw during recent summers, as few people have access to the right type of boat.
SWS also plays host to a number of pop-up shops out of the Minett location beside Cleveland’s House.
It’s been a wild ride over the past couple of decades for SWS and the Newlands. Now with two small children of their own, it’s likely the Newlands will carry the SWS tradition for decades to come.
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