Stick around any Lake Murray marina long enough, and you’re bound to hear about Joe Waters, a local sailor with an international reputation.
A competitive racer with 15 national sailing championships to his name, Waters is a sailing instructor, boat builder and former Olympic sailing coach who helped the Russian team win a silver medal in the 1996 summer games. But his current claim to fame is as an internationally acclaimed sailmaker, designing and stitching custom sails at his modest shop near Lexington.
His passion for racing proved to be the key to success when he quit his job at UPS and launched his business—Waters Sails—in 1985.
“I was racing, and I was buying sails, and I developed the knack of being able to take those sails and change them just a little bit and basically outperform [the originals],” he says. “So I would go to the race, we’d win, and somebody would come over and like the sails and want to buy them.”
Specializing in sails cut to fit the unique sailing characteristics of each boat, Waters has clients across the country, but he’s happy to stay rooted right here in South Carolina.
“I grew up in Orangeburg, went to school in Charleston, and I’ve been sailing up here on Lake Murray since 1962,” he says of his decision to remain close to home. “Here I get to design it, I get to build it and then go see if it will fly.”