The History of Water Skiing

The History of Water Skiing

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In June 1922, 18-year-old adventurer Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota proposed that if you could ski on snow, then you could ski on water. Ralph first attempted water skiing on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota, towed by his brother Ben. The brothers experimented for several days until July 2, 1922, when Ralph discovered that leaning backward with ski tips up leads to successful water skiing. Unwittingly, Samuelson had invented a new sport.

The First Water Skis

For his first skis, Ralph tried snow skis on Lake Pepin, but he sank. Then he tried barrel staves, but he sank again. Samuelson realized that with the speed of the boat - a top speed of less than 20 mph - he needed to fashion some type of ski that would cover more water surface area. He bought two 8-foot-long, 9-inch-wide planks, softened one end of each and shaped them by curving the ends up, held with vice grips to keep the ends up and in place. Then, according to Vault magazine, he "fastened a leather strap in the middle of each ski to hold his feet in place, bought 100 feet of sash cord to use as a tow rope and had a blacksmith make him an iron ring, 4 inches in diameter, to serve as a handle, which he insulated with tape."

Success on the Water

After several failed attempts at getting up and out of the water, Samuelson finally discovered the successful method was to lean backward in the water with ski tips pointing upward. After that, he spent over 15 years performing ski shows and teaching people in the United States how to ski. In 1925 Samuelson became the world's first water ski jumper, skiing over a partly submerged diving platform that had been greased with lard.

Water Ski Patents

In 1925, Fred Waller of Huntington, New York, patented the first water skis, called Dolphin AkwaSkees, made out of kiln-dried mahogany - Waller had first skied on Long Island Sound in 1924. Ralph Samuelson never patented any of his water skiing equipment. For years, Waller had been credited as the inventor of the sport. But, according to Vault, "clippings in Samuelson's scrapbook and on file with the Minnesota Historical Society were beyond dispute, and in February 1966 the AWSA officially recognized him Samuelson as the father of waterskiing."

Water Ski Firsts

With the invention now a popular sport, the first ski shows were held at the Century of Progress in Chicago and the Atlantic City Steel Pier in 1932. In 1939 the American Water Ski Association (AWSA) was organized by Dan B. Hains, and the first National Water Ski Championships were held on Long Island in the same year.

In 1940 Jack Andresen invented the first trick ski - a shorter, finless water ski. The first World Water Ski Championship was held in France in 1949. The National Water Ski Championships were broadcast on national television for the first time at Callaway Gardens, Georgia, in 1962, and the MasterCraft ski boat company was founded in 1968. In 1972 water skiing was an exhibition sport at the Olympic Games in Keil, Germany, and in 1997, the U.S. Olympic Committee recognized water skiing as a Pan American Sports Organization and AWSA as the official national governing body.

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