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Water skiing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

water skiing with motorboat
water skiing with motorboat

Water skiing is a surface water sport and recreational activity. It is usually said to have been invented in Lake City, Minnesota in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson, though some claim that it was pioneered at least as early as 1920 in France [1]. It is popular in many countries around the world where appropriate conditions exist - an expanse of water unaffected by wave motion. Rivers, lakes, and sheltered bays are all popular for water skiing. Standard water skis were originally made of wood but now are usually constructed out of fiberglass-based composites. They are of similar length to downhill snow skis but are somewhat wider. Instead of a rigid binding, they have rubber molded binding, in which the skier's feet are placed. Skiers are pulled along by a rope with a handle fitted at one end and attached to a powerboat at the other.

Recreational skiers usually learn to ski with a ski on each foot, but as they improve usually progress to using a single ski, placing the other foot into another binding behind the main one. Beginners on two skis are usually pulled along at around 25-35 kilometers per hour, whereas more advanced social skiers travel at between 40 and 55 kilometers per hour - once confidence is gained it is actually easier to travel faster than at slower speeds because of the greater lift and stability.

Recreational skiers typically use two skis  other techniques abound.
Recreational skiers typically use two skis other techniques abound.

Within the confines of being pulled along by the boat, skiers can control their direction by balancing their weight on different sides of their ski. This is used to zip back and forth behind the boat.

A variation of the sport, barefoot skiing, as the name suggests involves water skiing without the aid of skis. Since the feet of the skier serve as the platform to lift the skier out of the water, the boat is required to pull the skier at a dramatically faster speed. Barefoot skiing is done at speeds between 60 and 100 kilometers per hour.

Several new sports have been invented that involve being towed behind a boat. They include wakeboarding and kneeboarding. Some other water sports are wakeskating, hydrofoiling, trick skiing, and ski jumping.


Brief history

Monument in Lake City, Minnesota to the invention of water skiing.
Monument in Lake City, Minnesota to the invention of water skiing.

Water skiing was developed in Lake City, Minnesota on the Mississippi River in 1922 by an 18 year old Ralph Samuelson. He figured that if skis could be used in snow, then he could use them on water.

His first attempt was on June 28, 1922 while riding on barrel staves and being towed by his brother Ben. His first attempt was a failure. He skied for several yards before he fell into the water. On his second attempt, he used snow skis while being towed behind a motor boat powered by a converted Saxon truck engine.

On July 2, he purchased two boards and used leather straps. Samuelson was finally successful after leaning backwards in the water, with ski tips slanted upward. Afterwards, he showed sports enthusiasts in some exhibitions around the state of Minnesota his feat of skiing on water.



Slalom most resembles recreational water skiing. In it, six buoys are set up, three on each side of a centre line, along which the boat travels. There are two entrance gate and two exit gate buoys. The boat drives through the middle of the buoys, and the skier must pass to the outside of each buoy, the first being to the right of the centre line. The skier must also pass through the entrance and exit gates. The contest is run in a number of passes, in which first the speed is increased in the steps 43, 46, 49, 52, 55 and finally 58 km/h (the maximum speed at women's contests is 55 km/h). In elite tournaments, some or all of the speed increment passes may be omitted, in which case the tournament may start at the speed of 52, 55 or 58 km/h for men, and 49, 52 or 55 km/h for women. The next phase is to gradually shorten the tow line in fixed decrements (sometimes referred to as "X off", where X is the number of feet taken off the original full tow line length of 75'). At its shortest, the tow line is shorter than the shortest distance from the track center to each buoy. The winner of the contest is the individual who can complete going round the most buoys with the shortest tow line after first completing a run of all six buoys and gates at the previous tow line length.

Tournament tow lines have loops spliced into the line at given distances from the handle to facilitate quick and correct change of length. The loops may be color coded to help differentiate between them. If the rope is color coded, the following sequence must be used for the respective length:

Slalom Water Skiing water skiing with only one ski
Slalom Water Skiing water skiing with only one ski
  • 18.25m (60 ft) red
  • 16.0 m orange
  • 14.25m yellow
  • 13.0 m green
  • 12.0 m blue
  • 11.25m violet or blue/white
  • 10.75m white
  • 10.25m pink
  • 9.75m black
  • 9.50m red hard

Trick skiing

A trick skiier
A trick skiier

Trick skiing is performed using one or two very short finless skis rather than the conventional gear. In it, skiers try to perform tricks somewhat similar to those of gymnasts while being pulled along by the boat. In competitions skiers have two twenty second passes (only one in collegieate waterskiing) in which they attempt to perform as many tricks as they can. Trick skiing is judged by a number (usually 3 or 5) judges that watch the skier from on shore. Points are awarded for each successful trick according to the difficulty of the tricks performed and the accuracy of execution. The winner of the competition is the person who accumulates the largest number of points.

Ski jump

The ski jump is performed on two long skis similar to those a beginner uses, with a specialized tailfin that is somewhat shorter and much wider (so it will support the weight of the skier when he is on the jump ramp.) Skiers towed behind a boat at fixed speed, manoever to achieve the maximum speed when hitting a ramp floating in the water, launching themselves into the air with the goal of travelling as far as possible before touching the water. Professional ski jumpers can travel up to 70 metres. The skier must successfully land and retain control of the ski rope to be awarded the distance. Freddy Krueger is currently the world record holder, jumping 243 feet.

Ski races

Ski races simply involve a powerboat race with a skier attached. These events are usually conducted on rivers to make the course more interesting. One such event held at Echuca on the Murray River, Australia is the Southern 80. Skiers and boats typically average 160 km/h over the 80 kilometre course. 2006 race was won by Hellbent after breaking blitz record by 9 seconds

Show Ski

Five-high pyramid, performed by the Rock Aqua Jays
Five-high pyramid, performed by the Rock Aqua Jays

Competitive show skiing by amateur ski clubs has been around for many decades, with its highest popularity in the Midwest, especially Wisconsin. Show skiing usually involves an entertaining theme, announcer(s)/characters, music, multiple boats, and a variety of acts including jumping, swiveling, ballet line, barefooting, doubles, wakeboarding, and the popular pyramids. In a tournament, teams have one hour to perform their show. A panel of judges decide the outcome. Scoring involves the difficulty, crowd appeal, flow, and execution of each act. Also scored are sound/annoucing, boat driving, safety-boat driving, dock and equipment, showmanship, and the overall show as a whole. The Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Team of Janesville, Wisconsin are one of the most successful amateur water ski clubs, with 15 national titles to their credit; they originated the National Show Ski championships, which are frequently held in Janesville.


See also

  • Wakeboarding
  • Barefoot skiing
  • Hydrofoiling
  • World water skiing champions
  • Skiing
  • Mogul Skiing
  • Grass skiing
  • Monoskiing
  • Skwal
  • Skiboarding
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowshoe walking
  • Snowkiting
  • Water skiing
  • Skiing
  • Freestyle skiing
  • Alpine skiing
  • Sports
    • Winter sport

External links

  • International Water Ski Federation
  • Hickok World Water Skiing Champions
  • The American Water Ski Education Foundation Hall of Fame
  • Water Ski Magazine
  • A Brief History of Show Skiing
  • USA Water Ski
  • Fantasy Water Ski Game
  • E.A.M.E. Results (Unofficial)


  • World Championship History
  • World Championship History
  • History of Water Skiing
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