About Show Water Skiing
Others Getting Started
That same year another man, who later was to have a tremendous impact on the public’s recognition of water skiing as entertainment, was doing a ski show in Florida. Dick Pope Sr. rode a pair of skis over a long, low slanted ramp to introduce water ski jumping to an audience at Miami Beach. Fifteen years later he brought show water skiing to America’s attention by introducing it into his Cypress Gardens attraction in central Florida.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Washington, another enterprising ski maker named Don Ibsen (a third pioneer of water skiing, who also didn’t know about Samuelson) was looking for a way to promote the fledgling sport and his products. In 1937, he recruited a few local skiers and they put on a show at Seward Park in Seattle. He named the troupe the Ski-Quatic Follies, and their promotional slogan was "Poetry in Motion." According to an article published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper, the show’s acts included, "hurdles, balloon gathering, water slalom, acrobatic aquaplane riding and several other feats difficult to perform on a free surf board."
The enthusiasm of the crowds that watched his earliest shows convinced Ibsen that he had a good thing going, and the group soon began performing in other West Coast cities. It wasn’t long before they were on the road most of the summer when Ibsen then realized some sort of training facility was needed in order to replace skiers who left the show to pursue other interests. In 1939, Ibsen and two friends, Bill Schumacher and Bob Schmidt, created what is believed to be the first water ski club in the United States — the Olympic Water Ski Club. For many years afterward, members of the club would practice year-round on Lake Washington in Seattle. When the new Ski-Quatic Follies show hit the road each year, vacancies in the acts would be filled by skiers from the club.
A version of this club training is practiced even today as the professional ski shows — such as those which appear at Cypress Gardens (Florida), Tommy Bartlett's (Wisconsin) and several other summer theme parks across the country — recruit their new performers from within the ranks of the amateur show clubs.
Water Ski Clubs Formed Around Show Water Skiing
The late William D. Clifford, who retired in 1984 after serving 28 years as the executive director of USA Water Ski, thought that most of the early water ski clubs formed in the United States were begun by skiers who were interested in putting on shows, rather than holding competitive water ski tournaments. Today, there are more than 650 water ski clubs affiliated with USA Water Ski. Many of them are interested only in competitive tournament skiing — slalom, tricks and jumping. But a great number of them are dedicated to show skiing and it is evident that this aspect of the sport continues to grow.
Wisconsin Leads Expansion
If show skiing began in the 1920s and 1930s on the coasts, it really bloomed in the 1950s and 1960s in the Midwest. Wisconsin took the lead in the development of clubs whose main interest is show water skiing, and today there are more show clubs in that state than any other.
One of the early Wisconsin show clubs was the Min-Aqua Bats of Minocqua, whose roots can be traced back to 1950. It was an informal beginning, fostered when a group of local young people water skiing on Sundays noticed that families would stop along the road and watch them ski. Encouraged by the attention, the skiers decided to put together a show for the onlookers and thus an entertainment tradition was started that continues today.
Today, many of the Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota clubs perform shows for the benefit of their towns and cities. The entertainment is a way for tourist-conscious communities to attract visitors who crowd the shorelines of lakes and rivers to watch the fun.
First Water Ski Show Tournament
Tournament show skiing, in which the clubs compete to produce the best acts and best overall performance, came into being in 1967. Jack Lukes, president of the Aqua Skiers, Inc. water ski club of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, was seeking a way to create greater national interest in show water skiing. With encouragement from fellow Wisconsin water skier Allen Bubolz, at that time board chairman of USA Water Ski, Lukes wrote the first rules and procedures for competitive show water skiing and organized the first Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Tournament, held in Wisconsin Rapids.
The tournament announcement sent to clubs was brief. After telling where and when the tournament would be held, the organizers outlined the requirements of the new sport by saying: "When selecting your acts use these facts — the show course is primarily circular with a diameter of 100 yards and average depth of 5 feet. You can gain up to 30 points for your adaptability to the site." With that understood, apparently anything the clubs wanted to do in the tournament was considered fair.
Seven clubs showed up for the first tournament. It was declared a success and has been held every year since with as many as 28 clubs participating.
Seeking even greater recognition for their sport, Wisconsin show skiers in the early 1970s began talking about a national competition. In 1975, the Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Club of Janesville, Wisconsin, announced the first Show Ski National Championships to be held in August.
Enthusiasm for the tournament was high as shown by the following excerpt from a news item in the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation newsletter: "Since there has never been a national contest for show skiers before, this tournament will acquaint skiers from Maine to California, from Wisconsin to Florida. The style of Eastern skiers and those of Western skiers may flow together like stream and river to produce an all new style and showmanship".
Nine clubs participated in the first Show Ski National Championships and the winner, Capital City Water Ski Club of Madison, Wisconsin, was invited to perform at the traditional Water Ski National Championships later that month in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.
From its beginnings in the 1920s, show water skiing has always had the potential to be one of America’s great spectator events because it entertains and involves the audience. Today, show water skiing continues to grow in popularity and many water ski clubs include show events in their summer activities.
Source: USA Water Ski