About Show Water Skiing
Show water skiing has been called the most entertaining discipline in the sport of water skiing. It is fast-paced, exciting, graceful, and most of all, fun to watch. Virtually all aspects of the sport – including barefooting, jumping, tricks, slalom, wakeboarding, swivel skiing, doubles, and pyramids – are choreographed into one grand performance.
In its simplest form, show water skiing involves a group of skiers performing a variety of acts with the primary objective of providing entertainment. Even at the most advanced and technically difficult levels (professional shows such as Tommy Bartlett, Cypress Gardens, and Sea World), the basic format and entertainment concepts remain the same.
A Brief History of Show Water Skiing
Extremely popular in the upper Midwest and practiced throughout the nation, show water skiing combines components of all water skiing disciplines. Water ski shows feature several water ski acts choreographed to music and built around a theme that tells a story.
Unique to show water skiing are ballet and swivel skiing, adagio doubles, freestyle jumping and human pyramids. Water ski shows are typically performed by amateur clubs which have 30 or more members. Some clubs even have as many as 200 members. Age is not a factor since ski club performers can range from children to grandparents. There are also many roles one can fill in a water ski show: skier, boat driver, rider, dock and equipment crew, announcer, character, sound crew, concessions, board member, fundraiser, etc.
Show water skiing is a rich part of the history of water skiing. Water skiers have been performing amateur and professional shows since the 1940s. In fact, in the 1950s, the most talented traditional competitors also were professional water ski show performers. Today, many of the most talented water ski show athletes perform at venues such as the Tommy Bartlett in the Wisconsin Dells, Marine World, Sea World and Cypress Gardens.
Show Water Skiing Has Been Around for More Than 80 Years
No one knows what Ralph Samuelson, the acknowledged father of water skiing, hoped to accomplish when he created the sport in 1922, but it was soon apparent that one thing he wanted to do was put on a "show" for his neighbors on the Minnesota lake where he lived. Samuelson’s first pull on skis was behind a motor boat, but he quickly created a new act by skiing behind an airplane on floats! The development of water skiing as a form of entertainment can be traced to this theatrical beginning.
Earliest Organized Show
Information in the files of the Water Ski Hall of Fame in Polk City, Florida, indicates that show water skiing as an organized activity originated in 1928 some 1,000 miles east of Minnesota in New Jersey. That year an entrepreneur named Frank Sterling signed a contract with the Atlantic City Steel Pier to produce a water sports show on a motorized device called a skiboard. Events soon showed that the skiboard was unsuited to the water conditions, so he switched his performers to a new form of activity — water skiing.
One of the original members of the 1928 Steel Pier show was Harold "Pee Wee" Care of Margate City, New Jersey. Reminiscing 55 years later about his experiences with the show, Mr. Care wrote the Water Ski Hall of Fame saying: "Skiboards were forerunners of the present day motorized skimobiles, with flat bottoms and deck approximately 3-1/2-feet wide, 6-feet long and 8 inches deep. Ten horsepower Johnson direct-drive motors were locked in straight forward position, and after pulling the rope to start the motor you stood up with rope handlines (and) steered like an aquaplane by leaning your weight from side to side.
"The rough water proved them to be unreliable with too many shows canceled. An act had to be made up using the aquaplanes and tow skis. I was hired for my aquaplane experience. Our act was to put on a fast 10 to 12 minutes with something going on in front of the audience at all times. The two girls did a shoulder carry and rode on one ski. The three fellows did three headstands, a pyramid and three-high shoulder carry on the aquaplane. The dog would leap out of the boat when it was his turn, swim to the aquaplane, ride with the girl then swim back to the boat to be lifted out of the water. We finished with the driver of the boat cracking the whip trying to sling the rider off of the aquaplane."
The skis used in those early Steel Pier shows were made by another pioneer in water skiing, Fred Waller, who had concluded, much like Samuelson, that there was a future in the sport. Waller, who had never heard of Samuelson, was making skis and selling them in the Northeast.