In Memoriam: Warren Witherell, 1935-2014
- Posted by: usaws
- On: 05/28/2014 13:41:35
- In: Water Skiing
Warren Witherell, a pioneer and icon of the sport of water skiing who was inducted into the USA Water Ski Foundationís Water Ski Hall of Fame in 1984, passed away on Monday, May 26. He was 79 years old.
The First to Jump 100 Feet
Warren Witherell can claim more firsts than any other water skier in the history of the sport.
He was the first to jump 100 feet - at the Nationals in 1954.
He was the first to use the double wake cut in the Nationals - that same one, as a desperation tactic on borrowed jumpers, after his hid been stolen the night before.
He was the first trick skier to complete both passes on a single ski - to win the event at the 1955 Nationals in Lakeland, Fla.
He was the first, and possibly the only, slalom skier to run short line, six at 18 feet off, on a square back ski.
He was the first to run a perfect 6 buoys at 36 feet off the line at 34 miles per hour in 1961, the last year before the men's maximum boat speed was raised to 36 mph.
He was the first skier to win national slalom championships over a span of 28 years.
And the list could go on.
Witherell, who went on to become headmaster of the Burke Mountain Academy in East Burke, Vt., learned to water ski in 1939 at the age of four on Lake George in upstate New York. He entered his first tournament, the Eastern Regionals, in 1952 to begin a competitive career that is unique in the annals of the sport.
His lanky, six-foot, three-inch frame and powerful upper body strength gave him a natural edge on the slalom course before the advent of the tapered ski and the increased boat speed put more emphasis on finesse and precise timing. Witherell won national slalom titles in 1953, 1954 and 1955. He was second in 1952 to Mexico's Emilio Zamudio at a time when foreign skiers were permitted to ski in the U.S. Nationals. He won slalom in the first Masters Tournament in 1958. His personal records show that from 1953 until his retirement from active tournament skiing in 1968, Witherell was beaten in slalom only five times in more than 100 tournaments. Ten years later, he came back to ski in senior competition and in 1981, he won the Veteranís national slalom title with a record run of 4 buoys at 38 feet off the line.
Witherell's first 100-footer in jumping did not get in the record book. The rule required a new record to exceed the old by at least two feet, so his leap in the Laconia, N.H., Nationals was scored as a 99-foot tie of the record. But little did that matter, because Dick Binette and Butch Rosenberg followed him with leaps of 102 and 103 feet, respectively. Witherell raised the record again to 106 feet two weeks later in the New England Championships. All accomplished with the double wake cut, which he later campaigned to have outlawed because he considered it dangerous.
In tricks, Witherell was one of the pioneers in the use of toe turns, employing them in his 1953 Nationalsí victory in Long Beach, Calif., and coupling them with a one-ski 540 off the ramp to win the world title later that year in Toronto.
But Witherell contributed more that just his skiing to the organized sport. During the critical development period of the 1950s he was active on the Rules, Ratings, Judges and Tournament committees of the American Water Ski Association. And he continued to use his ability to teach, write and serve as an articulate spokesman for the sport for the next several decades.
Witherell also was one of the most dynamic figures in alpine snow ski racing during the last three decades of the 20th century. In 1998, he was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, making him the only person to be inducted into the American water ski and snow ski hall of fames.