A Brief History of Waterskiing, By Jon Schorsch

The sport of waterskiing dates back to 1922, when a young Ralph Samuelson declared that if one could ski on snow, one should also be able to ski on water. He journeyed to Lake City, Minnesota, to test his hypothesis and struggled for several days before he finally stumbled upon the secret: leaning backward in the water with the tips of the ski pointed up. Pulled by his brother, he reached a top speed of 20 miles per hour that summer. Within a few years, he decided to add a new element to the sport and built a ramp that he began to jump, establishing the sport of ski jumping. At first, he used skis fashioned from barrel staves, and then later experimented with snow skis. Eventually, Samuelson decided to create his own design, engineering the first water ski from wood and leather. As the sport grew in popularity, largely due to Samuelson’s tours of the country to publicize waterskiing, more individuals became involved with design. Fred Waller patented the first water skis and Jack Andresen introduced the first trick skis in 1940.

In the mid-twentieth century, waterskiing grew increasingly more popular and various tournaments and competitions arose around the United States. The 1972 Olympics included waterskiing as an exhibition sport. Two years later, enthusiasts established the National Show Ski Tournament. In 1979, young devotees organized the National Intercollegiate Water Ski Championships. A decade later, the Home CARE U.S. National Water Ski Challenge provided a forum for those with disabilities to compete.

Today, individuals engage in a number of different forms of waterskiing, from slalom skiing to racing. Slalom skiers use only one ski, which significantly increases their speed and agility. During slalom competitions, skiers must maneuver around set buoys. Professional skiers regularly engage in jumping, trick, and racing competitions. Show skiers perform orchestrated tricks, similar to gymnasts, such as forming pyramids.

About the Author

Jon Schorsch belongs to the Lake Sammamish Water Ski Club and dedicates a significant amount of his time to pursuing the sport around the country and at Ski Paradise in Acapulco, Mexico. Despite a boating accident that permanently blinded him, he continues to entertain his passion for the sport, in addition to Jujitsu, sailing, snow skiing, and golf. An advocate for the blind in sports, Jon Schorsch serves as a member of the United States Blind Golf Association, among other organizations.


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