In any sport, injuries happen. In waterskiing, many of our ankle injuries directly relate to our gear choice and our skill level. If your ninja cat balance isn't with you on the water yet, it may be a little early to make a move to hardshell bindings. You can get hurt in any boot, but the added rigitiy of the high end boots on the market will tend to punish the less experienced and more unbalanced water skiers.
RED: MyPH's line around the turn. Arrows indicate direction of ski travel (over head view)
BLUE: A faster, more efficient line.
That red line that MyPH is skiing, is how a solid 50% or more of waterski ankle injuries occur. It's hard to work through this strategic error in technique, because the line that MyPH is skiing is a natural line for skiers to ride when they get into the slalom course. Some pros can even make that line work.
The downside is, as you may imagine from the red line, you're trying to turn your ski much, much more than what is obtainable. You can't hold the angle out of the turn like that... you'll edge change before the second wake and go straight at the next buoy, and repeat.
Completing an extremely sharp turn after the buoy in hardshells is easy, and dangerous. In rubber boots, it's harder to whip your ski around like this at the finish, but if you did, rubber boots have more forgiving stiffness and releasability.
Let's just imagine that a skier who was on the red line crashed right at the end of the arrow. The tip got too deep, the ski went underwater and being a bada$$ skier, you're going to hold on. You keep your feet in the water and hands on the handle, the ski litterally will skip up and back into the water OR you will just get pulled over the side of your ski. You have a pretty decent shot of coming out of rubber boots in this crash (but not with ho approaches or connelly enzos.) In hardshells, if you're running a front reflex and a rear toe loop, you'll probably release in this crash. In any other hardshell system, it is virtually impossible for the release mechanism to decipher between a radical 120 degree turn over a distance of 10 feet, versus cutting behind the boat. Once your ski is between you and the boat, you're not going to release. The forces are simply directed down your legs and directly into the top of the ski -- if the forces are pointed down into the top of your ski, your chances for release are slim. This is where the majority of your achilies injuries occur.
The vast majority of waterskiers (75-85%) out there ski on the red line. Anything short of a great gate will automatically put you on this line... and cranking harder and harder turns through the finish seems like the only answer. When I made the switch to hardshell bindings, I remember taking plenty of crashes, trying to hold on to more than what's possible, right through the finish of the turn. (i didn't wear a neck brace, clinchers, and body armor). These turns feel cool, but are unsustainable from a physical durability standpoint.
If you do find yourself about to take this sort of fall, the best thing to do is roll onto your back. Mario is doing a great job in the fall above. He could have stayed on the red line, taken an unobtainable turn, and potentially take an ankle injury. Mario has decades of waterski experience and he's learned to complete this tuck-and-roll manuver to save his body. Sure, the crash looks extreme, but you're landing in water, and if you can do so on your back, the likelyhood of injury is dramatically reduced.
As we move into 2011, you'll see some new boot/binding systems become available. At this time, however, the Reflex front / rear toe plate back is the "safest" or most consistent release in this type of fall... but don't let that influence your purchasing decisions 100%. Remember, you can get hurt in anything, and it's your responsibility as the skier to protect yourself in the event of a fall. The best advice is to ski in control and in balance, no matter where those orange buoys are.
Update: MyPH sent me a message after I originally posted his picture in the forums under Moved to Hardshells. Unfortunately my warning about the red line came a little bit too late: two passes after that picture was taken, MyPH experienced the same fall and ankle injury that I'm talking about here.