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Ralph Samuelson invented waterskiing in 1922. An avid snow skier, Samuelson was interested in finding a way to extend his skiing into the warmer months. His attempts to water-ski on snow skis and barrel staves failed. On 2 July, Samuelson succeeded in skiing on two pine boards that he had shaped to curve up in front.

Waterskiing requires a towing device moving at sufficient speed to pull the skier out of the water and enable that person to hydroplane on the surface of the water. The heavier the skier, the greater the speed needed to get the skier up. Some types of waterskiing, such as slalom or barefoot, also require greater speed. Most early recreational boat motors lacked the power to pull skiers, particularly heavier skiers. As boat engines increased in power, skiing options expanded greatly. Instead of a single skier on two skis, a power boat could pull two, three, or even a dozen skiers at once.

Waterskiing grew rapidly in popularity, and, by the 1930s, a large number of people in United States were waterskiing. The first ski shows were held in 1932 in Chicago and Atlantic City. The International Dictionary of Sports and Games records that the first waterskiing competition was held in 1935 at Long Island, New York. According the USA Water Ski Web page, the American Water Ski Association was founded in 1939 with a dual mission of promoting the growth and development of recreational waterskiing, and organizing and governing the sport of competitive waterskiing. The first National Championships Tournament was also held in 1939, featuring events such as slalom, tricks, and jumping. In this inaugural competition, the tricks event consisted of a skier removing one ski and holding it over his head. The jump ramp was made of wooden rollers.


Participation in skiing had grown to more than 6 million Americans by the 1960s. As interest in waterskiing grew and technology progressed, the sport became more diverse with ski racing (distances from 1.5 miles to 65 miles), kneeboarding, wakeboarding, hydrofoiling, monoskiing, trick skiing, barefoot skiing, and wake skating. Each of these areas has developed competitive events for participants who are more serious about the sport. Specialized boats, tow ropes, skis, boards, gloves, helmets, and life vests have been developed to enhance performance and increase safety. With specialized equipment, recreational skiers are performing flips, jumps, spins, and other feats undreamed of in earlier years of the sport. Two magazines, WaterSki Magazine and The Water Skier, are dedicated to the sport and contain articles on gear, technique, and competition results.

One challenge often faced by waterskiers is finding a boat driver and spotter. Cable parks, where skiers can be towed by overhead cable, were developed in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas to address this need. Another recent development is the Personal Ski Machine, a remote-controlled jet ski designed to pull a water-skier. The skier controls the jet ski by buttons on the tow handle.


The popularity of waterskiing has paralleled the development of recreational boating. Because of cost, the sport tends to attract participants who are well educated and affluent. Waterskiing is a family-oriented activity, with USA Water Ski estimating that 11 million individuals participate in the sport in the United States alone. The Sports Business Research Network reports that about 5.5 million individuals in the United States waterski, with an average age of under forty-five.

See also: Boating, Power; Skiing, Alpine; Skiing, Nordic


Aquaskier—Water Sports Resources. Available from http://www.aquaskier.com.

Desmond, Kevin. The Golden Age of Water-Skiing. St. Paul, Minn.: MBI Publishing, 2001.

Madsen, Joyce Styron. "Skiing with Determination." Boys' Quest 5 (August–September 1999): 10–11.

Sports Business Research Network. Available from http://www.sbrnet.com.

USA Water Ski. Available from http://www.usawaterski.org.

Kim L. Siegenthaler