About Show Water Skiing
The following history of show water skiing is adapted from and courtesy of USA Water Ski, the national governing body of towed watersports.
Brief History of Show Water Skiing
Extremely popular in the upper midwest and practiced throughout the nation, show water skiing combines elements of all water ski disciplines. Water ski shows are productions, featuring several water ski acts choreographed to music and built around a story or theme.
Unique to show water skiing are swivel skiing, strap doubles, freestyle jumping, and human pyramids. Water ski shows are usually performed by amateur clubs, which typically have over 30 water skiing members. Some of the larger clubs have between 100 and 200 total members! Water ski show performers include people of all ages.
Show water skiing is a rich part of the history of water skiing. Water skiers have been performing amateur and professional water ski shows since the 1940s. In fact, in the 1950s, the most talented traditional competitors also were water ski show professionals. Today, many of the most talented water show ski athletes perform at venues such as Tommy Bartlett's in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Legoland at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida; and Sea World in San Antonio, Texas.
Earliest Organized Water Ski Shows Performed Over 85 Years Ago
No one knows what Ralph Samuelson, the acknowledged father of water skiing, hoped to accomplish when he founded 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 (one not done today) by skiing behind an airplane on floats. The development of water skiing as a form of entertainment can be traced to Samuelson's theatrical beginning.
According to archives in the files of the Water Ski Hall of Fame & Museum in Polk City, Florida, show water skiing as an organized activity began in 1928 in New Jersey, nearly 1,000 miles east of Minnesota where Ralph Samuelson lived. 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. Sterling realized that the skiboard was not suited for the rough water conditions of the Jersey shore, so he had his performers transition to a new water sport — water skiing.