18th IWWF Water Ski Racing World Championships at the Canary Islands, Tenerife, Costa Adeje

Water skiing was invented in 1922 when Ralph Samuelson used a pair of boards as skis and a clothesline as a towrope on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota. Samuelson experimented with different positions on the skis for several days until July 2, 1922. Samuelson discovered that leaning backwards in the water with ski tips up and poking out of the water at the tip was the optimal method. His brother Ben towed him and they reached a speed of 20 miles per hour. Samuelson also achieved the first ski jump on July 8, 1925 using a greased 4 feet (1.2 m) by 16 feet (4.9 m) ramp. Samuelson spent 15 years performing shows and teaching water skiing to people in the United States. Experimenting further with the sport, Samuelson hooked up a line behind a World War I flying boat with 200 horsepower. He reached a speed of 80 miles per hour, making him the first speed skier.


Samuelson’s first equipment consisted of barrel staves for skis. He later tried snow skis but finally fabricated his own design out of lumber with bindings made of strips of leather. The ski rope a was made from a long window sash. Samuelson never patented any of his ski equipment. The first patent for water skis was issued to Fred Waller, of Huntington, NY, on October 27, 1925, for skis he developed independently and marketed as «Dolphin Akwa-Skees.» Waller’s skis were constructed of kiln-dried mahogany, as were some boats at that time. Jack Andresen patented the first trick ski, a shorter, fin-less water ski, in 1940.

The sport of water skiing remained an obscure activity for several years after 1922, until Samuelson performed water ski shows from Michigan to Florida. The American Water Ski Association formally acknowledged Samuelson in 1966 as the first recorded water skier in history. Samuelson was also the first ski racer, slalom skier, and the first organizer of a water ski show.

Water Skiing gained international attention in the hands of famed promoter, Dick Pope, Sr., often referred to as the «Father of American Water Skiing» and founder of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. Pope cultivated a distinct image for his theme-park, which included countless photographs of the water skiers featured at the park. These photographs began appearing in magazines worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s, helping to bring international attention to the sport for the first time. He was also the first person to complete a jump on water skis, jumping over a wooden ramp in 1928, for a distance of 25 feet. His son, Dick Pope, Jr., is the inventor of bare-foot skiing. Both men are in the Water Ski Hall of Fame. Today, Winter Haven, Florida, with its famous Chain of Lakes, remains an important city for water skiing, with several major ski schools operating there.

Water skiing has developed over time. Water skiing tournaments and water skiing competitions have been organized. As an exhibition sport, water skiing was included in the 1972 Olympics. The first National Show Ski Tournament was held in 1974, and the first ever National Intercollegiate Water Ski Championships was held in 1979. The Home CARE US National Water Ski Challenge, the first competition for people with disabilities, was organized ten years later. The first patented design of a water ski which included carbon fiber was that of Hani Audah at SPORT labs in 2001. Its first inclusion in tournament slalom skiing was in 2003.


Basic technique

Water skiing typically begins with a deep water start, with the skier crouching down on the water. The skier can also perform a «dry start» by standing on the shore or a pier; however, this type of entry is recommended for professionals only. When the skier is ready, the driver accelerates the boat to pull the skier out of the water.

In addition to the driver and the skier, a third person known as the spotter or the observer may be present. The spotter’s job is to watch the skier and inform the driver if the skier falls. The skier and the boat’s occupants communicate using hand signals.

Speeds vary from as slow as 22 kilometres per hour (14 mph; 12 kn), up to 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph; 31 kn) for slalom water skiing, approximately 72 kilometres per hour (45 mph; 39 kn) for barefoot skiing, and approaching 190 kilometres per hour (120 mph; 100 kn) in water ski racing. The length of the rope also varies widely depending on the type of water skiing and the skier’s skill level.


Tournament waterskiing

Each summer in the USA alone there are over 900 sanctioned waterski competitions. Tournament waterskiing refers to competitions which typically consist of three events, slalom, jump and trick.

Ski racing

Water ski racing consists of a number of water skiers who race around a set course.

A team consists of a boat driver, an observer and one to two skiers, depending on the race. The driver tows the skier behind a powerboat, varying the speed based on conditions, his or her knowledge of the skier, the observer’s ability to read the skier and the skier’s signals.



In an attempt to become as agile as possible, slalom waterskiers use only one ski with feet orientated forward one in front of the other. A complete slalom waterski course consists of 26 buoys and for a tournament to be sanctioned ‘record capable’ by the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) the entire course must be surveyed prior to competition by a land surveyor to insure its accuracy. There are entrance gates at the beginning and end of the course which the skier must go between and 6 turn buoys which the skier must navigate around in a zigzag pattern. The remainder of the buoys are for the driver to ensure the boat goes straight down the center of the course. A skier’s score is based upon the number of successful buoys cleared, the speed of the boat, and the length of the rope. The max boat speed changes depending on your gender and age. In a tournament skiers choose the boat speed and rope length they wish to start at, (max rope length is 18.25m). If the skier completes their first pass successfully the boat speed is increased by 3 km/h, this process is repeated until the skier competes a successful pass at the max speed for their division. When the skier has complete a successful pass of the slalom course at the top speed for their division the rope is shortened at specific increments until the skier finally fails to complete the slalom course. Professional waterskiers will typically start at 58 km/h (max speed) with a rope that has already been shortened to 13m. The turn buoys are positioned 11.5m away from the center of the slalom course so as the rope is shortened beyond 11.5m the skiers are required to use the momentum generated through their turns to swing up on the side of the boat and reach out in order to get their ski around the next buoy. The world record is 2 buoys at 9.75m or 75 ft (43 ft off) which was set by Chris Parrish in 2009 and tied by Nate Smith in 2013. Nate Smith ran a pending world record 2.5 buoys at 9.75 (43 ft off) in September 2013. At this rope length the skiers body is experiencing intense isometric contractions and extreme upper body torque with loads of up to 600 kg as they begin accelerating after rounding a turn buoy. There top speeds will generally be more than double the boats speed which means that the Pro men can reach speeds in excess of 116 km/h (72.5mp/h) and each turn will generally generate around 4g’s of force. Essentially slalom waterskiers are using their body as a lever which allows them to withstand loads that would otherwise not be possible for the human body.



Waterski jumpers use two long skis to ride over a waterski jump in an attempt to travel the longest distance. Waterski jumps have specific dimensions and the ramp height is adjustable. Skiers may choose their boat speed and ramp height however there is a maximum boat speed and ramp height based the skiers gender and age. Skiers are given three attempts to hit the ramp. The skier who travels the longest distance and rides away is the winner. Professional ski jumpers have a maximum boat speed of 58 km/h and a max ramp height of 6 ft. As a Pro jumper approaches the ramp they will zigzag behind the boat in an attempt to gain more speed. When a jumper hits the ramp they will generally be going over 112 km/h (70 mph) and the load they have generated on the rope can be over 600 kg. The Current world record is held by Freddy Krueger, it was set in 2008 at a distance of 75.3 m (247 ft).


Trick skiing uses a small, oval-shaped waterski with a smooth bottom that allows it to turn over the surface of the water. This allows the skier to perform both surface and air tricks in quick succession.Skiers are given two 20 second runs during which they perform a series of their chosen tricks. A panel of judges then accesses which tricks were competed correctly and assigns a predetermined point value to each successfully competed trick. The skier with the most points wins. Professional trick skiers will use only one ski and will generally do their second run with the rope attached to their foot.According to official 2013 Tournament Rules for 3-event Competition in the United States (and Pan-Am Games)Skis used in the Tricks event shall not have fins.Trick skis with molded rails/grooves less than 1/4″ are allowed.A foot pad cemented to the ski as a place for the rear foot is also permitted.With all bindings, fins, etc., installed, the ski must float.Attaching two separate skis together in any manner is prohibited.


Barefoot waterskiing

A barefoot water skier should use a wetsuit instead of a life jacket because the wetsuit covers more of the body in case of a fall at high speed.

The «barefoot wetsuit» is generally thicker in the back, rear and chest for flotation and impact absorption. Barefoot skiing requires a higher speed because the skier’s feet are smaller than skis, providing less lift.

A rule of thumb for barefoot water skiing speed (S) in miles per hour is (M/10)+18, where M equals the skier’s weight in pounds. In other words, a 175 lb (79 kg) person would have to divide 175/10, which is 17.5. Then simply add 17.5 + 18 which equals 35.5 mph (57.1 km/h)

Another tool used in barefoot water skiing is the barefoot boom. It provides a stable aluminum bar on the side of the boat where a short rope can be attached or the skier can grip the bar itself. The skier is within earshot of the people in the boat, providing a good platform for teaching. A beginner can wear shoes to decrease the necessary speed, lessen foot injury from choppy water, learn better technique, and master the sport.

Show skiing

Show skiing is a type of water skiing where skiers perform tricks somewhat similar to those of gymnasts while being pulled by the boat. The first organized

show occurred in 1928. Traditional ski show acts include pyramids, ski doubles, freestyle jumping, and swivel skiing. Show skiing is normally performed in water ski shows, with elaborate costumes, choreography, music, and an announcer. Show teams may also compete regionally or nationally. In the USA, each team member must be a member of USA Water Ski to compete.

The Inaugural World Show Ski Championship is scheduled to take place in September 2012 in Janesville, Wisconsin. Teams from the United States, China, Belgium, Australia and Canada are expected to compete.

Freestyle jumping is often related to show skiing. The goal is to go off the jump and perform one of many stunts and land back on the water. The most common freestyle stunts would be (in order of usual progression) a heli (360), a flip (forwards), a gainer (a back flip), and a möbius (backflip with 360).


World records

The most skiers towed behind one boat is 145, set by the Horsehead Water Ski Club in Strahan, Tasmania, Australia on 27 January 2012. The record stood at 100 for 24 years before a huge team lead by the ski club broke the record at 114 in 2010 and then increased the number to 145 in 2012. The skiers used 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) of ski rope and were towed by the 36 m 3000 hp World Heritage Cruises’ catamaran Eagle.

On 31 August 1974, David Scott Munro of Ross-shire Caberfeidh Water Ski Club became the first person to water ski (mono ski) the length of Loch Ness, Scotland. From Lochend to Fort Augustus and back, he covered the 48 miles in 77 minutes at an average speed of 37 miles per hour.  (Photos and videos: Manuel Mora Morales; Text: Wikipedia)

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