Credit: Kassandra Utzinger

Bussey slalom skis off Keats Island, where he has a beach house

The Vancouver architect discovered a passion for water-skiing late in life

Jim Bussey is making up for his misspent youth. The Victoria native got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and history from UVic in 1980, followed by a master of architecture at UBC. He’s hung around Vancouver ever since, establishing himself professionally by working for other people and then starting an architecture firm with a partner in 1988. Now full proprietor, he says, “My career’s been wonderful, but I kind of missed out on a lot of that sort of fun stuff—and then jumping in late in life, felt like I was making up for something.”

What he’s jumped into is high-speed motorcycle racing and water-skiing. Growing up, Bussey was “only marginally” interested in water sports. He did some sailing, tried a bit of canoeing and loved swimming, but he didn’t discover water-skiing until about 10 years ago at an all-inclusive Club Med in Cancun. He gave the sport a try, and “it was one of those things I couldn’t get enough of,” he recalls.

Finding the learning curve steep, he wore himself out struggling to get up before eventually managing to stay upright. After several more visits, he could wakeboard on one ski. “Boy, that’s like going from a propeller plane to a jet plane,” he says. “The differences are significant. It’s the speed, the manoeuvrability and also the inputs. For a 50-year-old guy to put his body through that felt really good, but it felt a little dangerous, too.”

In terms of difficulty, there are three levels of single ski, Bussey explains. The widest, known as the grandpa, is the easiest to get up on. An intermediate size becomes a bit more challenging but remains quite stable. The trickiest ski is the slalom, “where it’s difficult to get out of the water, but once you do it’s like a supercharged event if you want to take those kind of turns,” Bussey says.

Slalom water-skiing engages every muscle, he notes, and is the most intense activity he can imagine. After his most recent trip to Mexico in the spring, “once again I came back hobbling, because doing six runs over six days is as much as my body can tolerate.” But for the first time, Bussey tried Club Med’s slalom course, hitting three buoys in a row. “I never thought I’d be able to do that,” he exclaims. “There’s six per run, so I was very pleased with myself.”

In B.C., Bussey skis near Keats Island, between Bowen Island and Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, from June through September—on Howe Sound the water gets very warm during those three or four months. He has built a beach house on Keats for himself and his family, and he also uses it for business meetings.

Part of the attraction of Keats was its accessibility to calm water. “In the ocean, when you have any kind of wave action at all, it takes out the ability to water-ski in a fun way,” Bussey points out. Fortunately, between nearby Gambier Island and the mainland, there’s a fairly narrow channel of water with little boat traffic and few waves created by wind most of the time. “You get this incredible flat water in there,” he says.

Bussey uses a 19-foot outboard with 150 horsepower—“it is not one of these super-duper high-speed water-ski [boats], because I’m really too old to be getting into competitive skiing at this point,” he admits. It’s a 10-year-old’s game.” His focus is getting up, and keeping his form and posture. “I’m working toward it ever so slowly because it’s a very humbling sport.”


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Best-known for its single-family houses, Vancouver-based Formwerks Architectural also designs multifamily and infill projects for its Formwerks Boutique Properties division and other developers. The full-service firm, which has about 40 staff, offers interior and landscape design, and heritage restoration, too. Current projects include designing a 32,000-square-foot house in Vancouver and, through Formwerks Boutique Properties, designing and developing 115 townhomes in Coquitlam. “Some might be bigger, some might be more fashionable, others might be more intense as far as a city approvals project goes,” says principal Jim Bussey. “But they’re all interesting because it’s a personal connection to the client that is very satisfying to me.”