In His Wake

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2006

Banker Shaun Merriman took a leap in late October when he announced that he was leaving his job as southwest Florida area executive of AmSouth Bank to become the founding president and CEO of Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida, a community bank that will open this summer in Sarasota County.

But it was nothing like the leaps he took for six years in the 1980s, when he made his living as a professional water-skier at Sea World of Florida and Ohio. Costumed as a pirate, hillbilly or surfing dude, depending on the show's theme, he would do daredevil front and back flips and 360-degree rotations off a six-foot-tall ramp in front of hundreds of cheering fans-six or seven shows a day.

Today, skiing is a family sport. Merriman, his wife and their two children get out on the water together almost every weekend at a private lakefront ski club, the Suncoast Ski Ranch, in Sarasota County. He taught his son and daughter to ski when they were toddlers. Now, as teenagers, "they're both beautiful skiers," he says proudly.

A relative late bloomer at the sport, Merriman grew up in water-ski-loving Wisconsin and joined the local Wausauqua Water-ski Show in 1977 at the age of 14. He concentrated on barefooting and jumping, "the extremes of the sport," he says. "I was very shy as a kid, and show skiing was my outlet. My mother would only come out once a year to see me, she was scared to death."

At the age of 19 in 1982, as he was finishing his second year at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, Merriman joined Sea World of Ohio. "I was a finance and accounting double major," he says. "Nerd by day and show skier by night." He skied summers there and at the Florida park at Christmas and spring break. When he graduated in 1985, he moved to Orlando fulltime and became male lead skier.

"Sea World was pre-eminent in those days," says Merriman. "Some of the best athletes in the world were skiing with me and we were pioneering a lot of the tricks of today."

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