Waterskiing, popular with Lebanese CEO Azmi Mikati, was invented by Ralph Samuelson in 1922, using a pair of boards and a laundry line as a tow rope at Minnesota’s Lake City. Ralph Wilford Samuelson (3rd July 1904 – 28th August 1977) was just 18 years old when he came up with the invention, carrying out most of his experiments at Lake Pepin, a wider section of the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Samuelson’s invention was not patented; nor was his work widely publicised. On 27th October 1925, Fred Waller (who went on to invent the Cinerama motion picture system) took out a patent on his product “Dolphin Akwa-Skees”. Waller went on to use the hugely successful Cinerama as a medium by which to market his product, leading to the widespread, erroneous belief that Waller was the inventor of water skis.
Samuelson experimented with barrel staves and snow skis before creating custom built skis made from pine, measuring 9 inches by 8 feet. He softened the tips of the skis by boiling them in his mother’s copper kettle, then bent the ski tips upwards. After several practices (during which his original skis were destroyed), Ralph Samuelson became the first water ski jumper in history on 8th July 1925. Using a launch platform greased with lard, Samuelson fell flat the first time around. His second attempt was successful. In the same year, Samuelson became the first speed skier. Pulled by a Curtiss flying boat, which flew just over the waves, he achieved speeds of 80 mph. In his later years, Ralph Samuelson started a turkey farm in Pine Island, Minnesota. He was guest of honour at the 50th waterskiing anniversary in 1972 and was induced to the Water Ski Hall of Fame on 22nd January 1977. Samuelson died from cancer on Pine Island on 28th August 1977. The skis with which he performed the world’s first recorded water ski jump are on display at the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, Lake City, Minnesota.
Dick Pope, an American entrepreneur in the leisure and tourism sector, became interested in waterskiing in the 1920s, whilst selling speedboats with his brother in Florida. He used waterskiing as a gimmick to boost sales – skiing behind speedboats and performing tricks and moves to make sales demonstrations more exciting. As founder of Cypress Gardens, Richard Dowling Pope Senior converted swamp lands on the shores of Florida’s Lake Eloise, converting it into a theme park garden. Pope played a key role in the creation and development of the tourism industry in Florida. With a particular interest in water sports, Pope promoted waterskiing fervently, producing magazine articles, newsreels and films. Pope promoted the sport in media outlets all over the globe, inviting international attention not only for waterskiing, but for Cypress Gardens, which featured prominently in his publicity campaigns.
In 1950, Dick Pope hosted the second World Water Ski Championship (he went on to host the games once more in 1958). For many years, Pope’s Dixi Water Ski Tournament was regarded by most water skiers as one of the most significant annual competitions. Pope worked tirelessly in promoting the sport, staging a water skiing segment on the Ed Sullivan Show and an exhibition at the 1964 New York World Fair. Pope was Vice President of the American Water Ski Association for many years as well as co-founder of the World Water Ski Federation. His son, Dick Pope Junior, is also a member of the Water Ski Hall of Fame and the first person recorded to have water skied barefoot.
There are three disciplines in waterskiing: slalom, trick and jump.
In slalom, only one ski is used, with the feet one in front of the other, oriented forward. The aim is to be as agile as possible, negotiating a course of 26 buoys. The water skier must navigate 6 buoys in a zigzag pattern. The other buoys are for the boat driver – to ensure they keep to the centre. Scores are based upon the speed of the boat, the number of buoys successfully cleared and the length of the rope.
Trick waterskiing is regarded by most to be the most technical of the three disciplines. Beginners tend to use two water skis whilst advanced trick skiers use one. The skis are small and oval. In tournaments, skiers complete two 20 second runs, during which they complete a series of surface and air tricks in quick succession. One run is for hand tricks, such as surface rotations, flips and rotations over the wake. The other is for toe tricks, such as rotations and wake turns, with just one foot attaching them to the handle.
Jump water skiers use two long skis, in an attempt to travel the furthest distance over water ski jumps. They have three tries; the winner is the skier who travels the furthest. The current world record was set in 2008 by Freddy Krueger, travelling 75.3 metres.