Lake Highlands neighbor Marcia Heger owns Heger Water Sports Camp, based at Cedar Creek Lake. Photography by Yuvie Styles.

Marcia Heger doesn’t look fearsome in her floral swimsuit, but youngsters come running when she signals it’s time to start the day. She owns Heger Water Sports Camp on the banks of Cedar Creek Lake, and she’s been teaching kids to waterski and wakeboard for 24 years.

Sign up for our newsletter!

* indicates required

Heger knows most of her charges won’t become competitive wakeboarders and trick skiers like her oldest son, Mark, but that’s not the goal. Her philosophy is that every camper can add skills and boost confidence each time he or she gets out on the water.

Heger Camp was the brainchild of Mark and his older sister, Lauren, who set out to earn spending money with a summer camp for friends of their little brother, Steven, in the backyard of their Lake Highlands home. They played games, made crafts and even splashed around in the pool, but they soon decided to move the fun to their East Texas lake house. Neighborhood parents were eager to sign on.

“Everyone was having fun, because they were in a group,” Heger says. “My kids learned lessons about being organized and responsible, and it kept them occupied and working together as a team.”

Heger’s children are now grown, and Mark runs WakeWell, a nonprofit Christian outreach for wakeboarders and watersports lovers. Heger continues to operate her ski camp for children ages 6 to 14 with the help of adult assistants, mostly teachers, and junior counselors, mostly high school and college students who formerly attended her camp.

Some parents who enroll their children are preparing them to attend other camps in bucolic settings with watersports as one of many activity options, and others have a lake house of their own. Whatever puts them behind a boat, it’s important to learn the fundamentals of skiing from experienced instructors, Heger says.

“When I learned to waterski as a kid, they threw me out of the boat and tossed me the rope. They just pulled me and hoped I didn’t drown, and maybe I got up. These skills can be taught. If you know the right words to say and the right way to say them, you can teach anything.”

Heger believes her camp’s success, and the reason kids return year after year, is related to its singular emphasis. It’s all water sports, all the time at Heger Camp — no climbing rock walls, no weaving potholders, no playing dodgeball. At night when it’s too dark to ski, the group plays board games until they tumble into bed exhausted.

“Parents and campers tell us this is their favorite activity all summer. I think it’s because they’re so active at camp. I don’t know what other camps do, but ours is 100% watersports. We don’t do crafts and bows-and-arrows and tennis.”

Heger says friends have called her crazy for taking on the risk of having other people’s kids around the water, and she considers the responsibility a sacred one. She believes instituting procedures — and consequences — has kept her campers safe for more than two decades.

“The main focus of what we do is safety,” says Heger. “Safety is No. 1, even over having fun.”

Heger has embraced her role as enforcer, and she’s developed one rule the kids are surprisingly comfortable with: Cell phones aren’t permitted at camp.

“They’re a distraction. Instead of mingling with the group, kids go off by themselves with their phone. And they’d rather be part of the group,” she says.

The pandemic created challenges for Heger Camp, and a few COVID-era changes remain. When they began in 2000, parents ambled into the bedrooms to unpack student belongings and wandered into the kitchen to have a snack before their hour-long drive back to Dallas. On pick-up day, they arrived an hour early to watch the skiers demonstrate their new skills and helped them pack up their stuff on the way out.

Camp never canceled due to COVID, but these days, kids are dropped at the door to keep visitors — and their germs — at a minimum. “Show Off Day” is a thing of the past, but campers don’t seem to miss it. Every outing on the water is a chance to show off when fellow campers are cheering you on.

Students arrive at camp with a variety of capabilities and skill levels, and they progress at different rates. But the culture of camp is to celebrate every camper’s achievements, large or small. The “rah-rah” environment encourages even tentative types to set new goals and work to meet them.

“Kids enjoy the challenge of improving. As teachers, we enjoy seeing that light bulb go off when the kids really get it. It’s so rewarding to be a part of that. I think the gain in confidence is huge, especially for the campers who tend to not be terribly athletic. 

“Most of our first-time campers have never skied or wakeboarded before, but some of the ones that keep coming year after year can do a toehold on the rope on slalom skis. That’s amazing. That’s really hard.

“Each camper advances every year, and they enjoy being with friends. Plus, they love the food,” Heger laughs. “This much activity makes them really hungry.”