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Slalom skier
Water skiing on the Yarra River in Melbourne

Waterskiing is a sport in which an individual (or more than one individual) is pulled behind a motor boat or a cable ski installation on a body of water. The skier is either wearing one ("slalom") or two ("double") skis. The surface area of the ski (or skis) keeps the person skimming on the surface of the water allowing the skier to stand upright while holding onto a tow rope.




A patent for a water ski was given to a constructor in Sweden as early as 1841, but whether it ever came into use is unclear. The word "water ski" (Swedish: vattenskida) occurs in the encyclopedia Nordisk Familjebok in 1921.

The American Water Ski Association states that water skiing began in 1922 when Ralph Samuelson used two boards as skis and a clothesline as a tow rope on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota, the Guinness Book of Records of 1974 also stated that a Mr Storrey won a 'plank-gliding' event at a Regatta in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1914. The sport remained a little-known activity for several years. Samuelson began taking his "stunts" on the road, performing shows from Michigan to Florida. Numerous claims began to surface as to who was the first water skier, but in 1966 the American Water Ski Association formally acknowledges Samuelson as the first on record. Samuelson has also been credited as the first ski racer, first to go over a jump ramp, first to slalom ski and the first put on a water ski show. Katherine Lomerson of Union Lake, Michigan has been credited as the first woman to water ski, in 1924.[citation needed]

Early water skis were first made of wood and skiers strapped them onto their feet with rubber ski bindings. In the 1970s fibreglass began to be used in water ski construction. Modern waterskis are commonly made of composite materials, including carbon fibre. The first patented design of a water ski that included carbon fibre was that of Hani Audah at SPORT labs in 2001, and its first inclusion in the tournament slalom skiing was in 2003.


A water skier rising out of the water

Water skiing usually begins with a "deep water start" or a dock start. The skier crouches down in the water (knees bent, arms straight, leaning back, imagine sitting in a chair), with the ski tip(s) pointing up and the ski rope between the skis or, if using one ski, on either side of the ski. With one ski (slalom), the rope should be put on the left side if right foot leads, or the right side if the left foot leads. When the skier is ready, the driver accelerates the boat to pull the skier out of the water. The key to getting up is patiently staying in the crouched position, arms straight, and keeping balanced. The boat should do all the work, creating enough force between it and the ski, to pull the skier out of the water. Common mistakes are trying to stand up too early, breaking at the waist, and bending the arms.

In addition to the driver and the skier, a third person known as the spotter/observer must be present. The spotter's job is to watch the skier, and inform the driver if the skier falls. Communication between the skier and the occupants of the boat is done with hand signals. It is the spotter's job to watch the skier's hand signals and pass on the messages to the driver. Such signals include: faster (thumb up), slower (thumb down), and stop (crossing the neck with your hand, in a cutting motion).

Speeds and length of the rope will vary with skill and competition events.

Trick skiing

Trick skiing is performed using one or two very short finless skis rather than the conventional gear. In it, skiers try to perform tricks somewhat similar to those of gymnasts while being pulled along by the boat. On one trick ski, skiers do a variety of tricks. There are surface tricks and wake tricks, and skiers hold onto the tow rope in two ways. While the most common way is to use hands, more advanced skiers can slide their back foot through the handle and begin attempting tricks from this position. In competitions skiers have two twenty second passes (only one in collegiate waterskiing) in which they attempt to perform as many tricks as they can. Advanced skiers usually perform one pass with their hands and the other with their foot attached to the handle. They must outline their expected routine on paper and give this to the judges before the competition begins. These judges used watch the skier from shore and award points for each completed trick. Now, to allow for more accurate scoring, a video camera is mounted to the trick release in the boat, and videotapes each skier's two passes. After the event is over, the judges review the videos, and award points to each skier for each completed trick. These points are based on predetermined difficulty levels. The winner of the competition is the person who accumulates the largest number of points.

Slalom skiing

A slalom skier

In the context of water skiing, slalom means to use only one ski. A special slalom ski is used which has either a toe plate, open binding, or another binding (similar to the front binding) behind the main binding. The bindings are oriented so that both feet point forward, with one behind the other. Slalom skiing is considerably more difficult, and so one usually learns on two skis before switching to one. Once one is comfortable on two skis, learning to slalom ski is accomplished by setting the binding loose on one ski so that it may be dropped. Once the skier is out of the water, he or she will step out of the loose ski and slip the foot into the toe plate binding in the slalom ski.

For adept skiers, a single ski deep water start is preferred. Balance, strength, and a relatively powerful boat motor are required as there is significantly more drag. Slalom ski deep water starts allow more advanced slalom skiers to use double boot wraps bindings on their skis (if preferred, but not necessary).

Slalom skiing dramatically increases the speed and agility of the water skier. Once the proper technique for edging across a wake and into the turn is learned, slalom skiing becomes quite high speed and thrilling. [1]

Tournament slalom skiing

In tournament slalom skiing, a course is set up with buoys and consists of a set of entrance gates, six target buoys, which the skier must ski around, and a set of exit gates. The six target buoys are split up, so that there are three on each side of the wake and are located at a distance of 37.5 feet from the center of the wake. Sanctioned competitions require official drivers and approved boats. Approved tournament boats are currently certain models of Correct Craft, MasterCraft, Malibu, Supra, and Moomba.[1] The boat is usually equipped with precision speed control, such as PerfectPass, in order to minimize speed variations while running the course. This is important not only to keep the speed constant, but to ensure that the speed is the same for all competitors.

When skiing the course, the skier must make his/her way through the entrance gates, zig-zag around the six target buoys (starting at the right), and finally ski out the exit gates. After successfully clearing the gates and all target buoys, the boat driver will increase the speed by 2 mph. With each successful pass, the speed is increased up to a maximum of 36 mph for men and 34.2 mph for women. At this point, the rope length is shortened with each successful pass.

The full length of the rope is 75 ft. In competition slalom skiing, the rope length is referred to the amount taken "off" the full length. For example, if the rope has been shortened to 37 feet, the skier is said to be skiing at "38 off" (75-37=38). Most professional competition events will start at 28 or 32 off [2]. When skiing at 38 off, the rope length is now shorter than the distance from the center of the boat to the target buoys. The skier must then use his/her body to stretch out around the target buoys. The skier continues to run the course until he/she either misses the entrance gates, exit gates, or any of the target buoys.

A skier's score is based upon the number of successful buoys cleared and the length of the rope. For example if a skier is using a 34 foot rope and successfully makes it around ball 3 but misses ball 4, their score is 3 at 41 off. It is also possible to earn ¼ of a buoy and ½ of a buoy. If the skier skies all the way around the third buoy but falls before making it back to the center of the wake, he/she is awarded 2 and ½ buoys. The skier is only awarded three full buoys if he/she skies around the third buoy and makes it back to the center of the wake without falling. Once the skier falls, their score is complete.

In competition slalom skiing, there are always three individuals in the boat. They consist of: the driver, the judge, and a safety coordinator. These three people all need to be sanctioned, having been trained specifically in the desired area.

Currently, Chris Parrish (USA) holds the Men's World Record with 1 and 1/2 buoys at 43 off. Jamie Beauchesne (USA) holds the pro event record of 2 at 43 off. Kristi Overton Johnson (USA), Karina Nowlan (AUS), and Regina Jaquess (USA) co-hold the Women's World Record with 1 buoy at 41 off.[2]

Go to USA Water Ski for current standings.

Wall of water!
Lean through the wakes
Rounding the buoy

Man made private ski lakes

Lago Santa Fe

Small bodies of water have been built for the purpose of waterskiing. These lakes provide calm water and safety of the skier by allowing only one boat/skier on the lake at a time. The typical size is 2000 ft x 300 ft, with a depth between 4 and 10 feet. Water provided via well onsite, or rain. Boats used are of the tournament style. Users of the lake are lot/home owners on the lake, or ski right leasers. Most competition skiing is now on private lakes.

Ski Jump

The ski jump is performed on two long skis similar to those a beginner uses, with a specialized tailfin that is somewhat shorter and much wider (so it will support the weight of the skier when he is on the jump ramp.) Skiers towed behind a boat at fixed speed, then the skier can make either a single, 3/4, or double cut in order to maximize his/her speed into the ramp thus giving them a longer jump. Professional ski jumpers can travel up to 250 feet and hit the ramp at speeds up to 70 mph. The skier must successfully land and retain control of the ski rope to be awarded the distance. In show skiing most people don't go for distance but for tricks such as a gainer (backflip). Water ski jump teams can involve multiple people on the jump ramp and if they are good enough they can perform difficult tricks, such as a twisted pinwheel (one skier performs a gainer, another performs a frontflip, and a third performs a heli).

Ski racing

Water ski racing consists of a number of water skiers who race around a set course simultaneously, as done in Formula One Grand Prix motor racing. This is the fastest type of water skiing. [3]

A Water Ski Racing team consists of a boat driver, an observer and one or two skiers. The driver will tow the skier behind a powerboat, varying the speed as different water conditions are encountered, according to the driver's knowledge of the skier, the observer's ability to read the skier and the signals which the skier gives to the driver. A "race ski" is normally between 7'0 and 9'0 in length with 2 full boot bindings.

The length of the ski line will depend on the length & power of boat used, the water conditions and the kind of speed anticipated on that particular day. The aim is for the skier to be skiing on the "best water" there is behind the boat, whilst avoiding the line dipping into the water or becoming slack. Ski racers use the "wrapped" position, which involves the skier using two handles which go around each side of the body, to be held together with one hand at the top of the backside. The skier sits into this harness and reaches forward with the other hand, to hold a third handle or rope knot, positioned at arms length away. This technique transfers the strain from the arms and lower back, to the upper legs. It was first used in competition by an Australian named Terry Bennett and it enabled him to endure higher speeds for greater periods of time.

Water ski races vary in their format. World title style racing is over a 2.5klm circuit and skiers race for a given period of time plus a lap. Juniors (U16 boys and girls) race for 1/2 an hour , Women (F1 & F2) race for 3/4 of an hour and Men (F1 & F2) race for an hour.

Actual course racing is how the great races of the world are run. The Bridge to Bridge on the Hawkesbury River in Australia, The Southern 80 on the Murray River at Echuca in Australia, Catalina Island on the ocean between Long Beach and Catalina Island off the Californian coast in the USA and the Giro del Lario on Lake Como in Italy are all run this way. The exception is the Diamond race which is held on the Albert Canal in Viersel, Belgium which is run in a similar fashion to the World format.

The skier has to be physically fit enough to compete successfully in his or her category. Observers need excellent concentration and will relay signals from the skier to the driver, "read" the skier in order to optimise his/her performance and keep the driver informed of other boats and skiers which may be approaching or close by. The driver will take the team around the course, listening to the observer and using his own judgment on speed a line of direction.

These events take place on rivers, lakes, canals and open sea water. The IWSF World Water Ski Racing Championships began in 1979 when the inaugural event was held in Great Britain. Held every two years, the event grew to accommodate Junior Boys and Junior Girls categories in 1995 and then the Formula 2 category for both Men and Women in 2003.

Show skiing

Five-high pyramid, performed by the Rock Aqua Jays

Competitive show skiing by amateur ski clubs has been around for many decades, with its highest popularity in the Midwest, especially Wisconsin. The Min-Aqua Bats Waterski Club, of Minocqua, Wisconsin, is currently the oldest ski show in the nation, tracing its begins to 1950.[3][4] A water ski show usually involves an entertaining theme, announcer(s)/characters, music, multiple boats, and a variety of acts including jumping, swiveling, ballet line, barefooting, doubles, wakeboarding, and the popular pyramids (barefoot and conventional).

In a tournament, teams have one hour to perform their show, as well as 20 minutes to set up and 10 minutes to tear down. A panel of judges decide the outcome scoring each act on difficulty, flow, execution and specator appeal. Also scored are sound/announcing, boat driving, safety-boat driving, dock and equipment, showmanship, and the overall show as a whole. See USA Waterski for more detailed information. The Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Team of Janesville, Wisconsin are one of the most successful amateur water ski clubs, with 15 national titles to their credit; they originated the National Show Ski championships, which are frequently held in Janesville. [4] Junior teams, like regular teams, focus on building teamwork and showmanship skills, the only difference is that they do not compete.

The Mad-City Water Ski Team of Madison, Wisconsin have become a modern day show ski dynasty. Mad-City traces their roots to a 1970s era powerhouse, The Capital City Ski Team. "Cap City" was established in 1963, also in Madison. Mad-City has won both the Wisconsin State and National Show Ski championships in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 becoming the first team in history to win 8 straight championships. Lead by show director Matt Heilman and Skip Gilkerson Award winner Paul O'Connor, Mad-City has become the team to beat, winning the 2009 National Championships by 277.58 points, the largest margin in recent history. See a history of Show Skiing results to the present dates: [5]


Water skiers have their own unique terms such as: "Take me for a rip: "Take me for a pull" "Give me a tow" "I want to go for a rip 'n ride" & "Hit It"

See also

Barefoot skiing


  1. ^ Approved Tournament Boats
  2. ^ IWSF Records
  3. ^
  4. ^!/pages/Minocqua-WI/Min-Aqua-Bats-Waterski-Shows/71332086533?ref=ts


External links

Waterskiing rules


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