Geoff Waters has scooped 534 balls from Lady Bird Lake in the last six months.
That’s a lot of balls, and most of them – 402, to be exact – were tennis balls that probably escaped the clenches of a dog playing fetch from the shore.
Waters paddles the lake frequently while training for endurance canoe races like the Texas Water Safari and the Yukon River Quest. He got in the habit of plucking errant orbs from the water back in March. He and another local paddler, Mike Gordan, turned it into something of a game, filling their boats with balls as they logged laps up and down the lake.
“I had been seeing a lot as I was going around the lake but couldn’t get to shore to get them in my skinny 19-foot boat,” he said. He took a smaller boat out and in one day alone raked in 192 balls.
Others in the paddling community saw what they were doing and started collecting balls, too.
This week, Waters hauled his load of balls to the curb for large trash pickup. Besides the tennis balls, he had collected 38 ping pong balls, 18 store-bought dog balls, 14 Nerf balls, 14 softball or baseballs, eight bobbers, seven racquet balls, three Whiffle balls, one croquet ball, one Christmas tree ornament and 28 other miscellaneous balls.
And it’s not just balls.
“I only take pictures of the balls because it’s become a little game, but for every ball I pick up, I’m usually picking up two plastic water bottles or other pieces of trash,” Waters said.
He’d like to see others do the same.
“It’s just a mindset of picking trash out of the water,” he said. “If you see something floating on the water, you snag it.”
Better yet, don’t let the balls find their way into the lake in the first place.
“Hey, quit treating tennis balls as something disposable to just leave in the lake,” he said. “If Sparky’s getting tired, don’t make that last throw.”