Monday Jan 17, 2022

Water skiing: the history of the sport

Waterskiing began in 1922 when eighteen-year-old Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota declared that if you could snow ski, you could water ski too. He first tested this theory at Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota, towed by his brother Ben. The two brothers spent several days experimenting before July 2, 1922, when Ralph discovered that leaning back with the tips of the skis in the air led to the success of water skiing. The first skis the brothers used were made from barrel staves, then progressed to snow skis before Ralph created the first pair of dedicated water skis from lumbar he bought and shaped. These skis were tied to the feet with leather straps and a long window was used as a tow rope.

Ralph continued to experiment and perfect his waterskiing technique and equipment and on July 8, 1925, during an exhibition at Lake Pepin, he performed the first waterski jump using a 4 ‘x 16’ oiled ramp. Ralph Samuelson never patented any of his waterskiing equipment; That was first done by Fred Waller in 1925, who patented his Dolphin Akwa-Skees and in 1940 Jack Andresen invented the first trick ski, a shorter, finless version of the standard ski.

As a result of Ralph Samuelson’s work and team development, waterskiing soon became an exhibition sport in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first competition was held in 1939 when the Association was formed. American Waterskiing Championship and the National Waterskiing Championship was held at Jones Beach on Long Island, New York. Since then, recreational water skiing has grown tremendously in popularity with recent surveys showing more than 11 million water skiers in the US alone.This is despite the high costs of equipment, boat, tow vehicle, fuel and fees associated with the sport, which tends to make it a hobby for wealthier families.

As the sport progressed, more competitions were held and the events were divided into three disciplines, slalom, trick and jumping. Competitive water skiers compete against their own gender and within their own age group, some competitive water skiers are over 80, so it’s never too late to get involved!

Slalom ski

Originally, the slalom track was just a row of buoys in a straight line that the skier had to get in and out of, but the track has been modified over the years. Today, the slalom track consists of a series of buoys placed on a straight path 8 feet apart and a series of 6 preset buoys that form the entry and exit gates. The boat travels through the middle of the buoys at a specified speed and the skier zigzags behind the boat to get around the buoys. The boat driver must also be skilled; it is challenging to maintain a straight road while maintaining a ½ mile per hour tolerance of the specified speed. The top speed of the competition boat is 36 mph, which doesn’t seem fast, but skiers reach speeds of up to 70 mph when they cross the wake between the buoys and then slow to around 20 mph as they circle the buoys, and They do it 6 times in 17 seconds. This sudden change in speed gives you an adrenaline rush!

When a skier successfully completes the course at maximum boat speed, he makes it a bit more challenging by shortening the length of the rope. The best slalom skiers use a 32 ‘long rope and the buoys are placed 35 feet from the center of the boat path, so the skier has to bend and stretch to make the buoy.

ski trick

Originally this meant taking off a ski and holding it over your head, but today it’s a bit different. Today, trick skiers do ‘toe hold’ tricks in which they hold the rope by one of their feet using a special harness. They do steps, jumps and cartwheels and are awarded points according to the degree of difficulty. The skier has 20 seconds to perform as many tricks as possible and is allowed two trick runs.


Jump is the most exciting event; Jumping ramps originally had a wooden roller surface! Today, the height of the jump ramp ranges from 2 ½ to 5 ½ feet and the maximum speed of the boat is 36 mph. The world jump record is over 200 feet and in the ‘ski flight’ spinoff event, which has a longer ramp and faster boat speed, skiers are approaching the 300-foot mark. The freestyle jumping event is also exciting to watch with flips, helicopters, and various other incredible tricks.

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