National Show Ski Association
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHOW SKIING
popular in the upper Midwest, and practiced throughout the nation, show
skiing combines components of all water ski disciplines. Water ski shows
are an aquatic Broadway musical, featuring several water ski acts
choreographed to music and built around a theme that tells a story.
to show skiing are ballet/swivel skiing, adagio doubles, freestyle jumping
and human pyramids. Ski show exhibitions or shows involve amateur clubs
which usually have 30 or more members. Some clubs even have more than 200
members! Age is not a factor since ski club performers can range from
children to grandparents.
Show skiing is a
rich part of the sport's history. Water skiers have been performing
amateur and professional ski shows since the 1940s. In fact, in the 1950s,
the most talented traditional competitors also were ski show
professionals. Today, many of the most talented show ski athletes perform
at aquatic theme parks such as the Wisconsin Dells, Marine World, Sea
World and Cypress Gardens.
Skiing has been Around for More than 60 Years
one knows what Ralph Samuelson, the acknowledged father of water skiing,
hoped to accomplish when he created 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
this theatrical beginning.
in the files of the Water Ski Hall of Fame in Polk City, Fla.,
indicates that show skiing as an organized activity was born in 1928
some 1,000 miles east of Minnesota in New Jersey. That year 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. Events soon showed that the skiboard was unsuited to
the water conditions, so he switched his performers to a new form of
activity — water skiing.
of the original members of the 1928 Steel Pier show was Harold "Pee
Wee" Care of Margate City, N.J. Reminiscing 55 years later about
his experiences with the show, Care wrote the Water Ski Hall of Fame
saying: "Skiboards were forerunners of the present day motorized
skimobiles, with flat bottoms and deck approximately 3-1/2-feet wide,
6-feet long and 8 inches deep. Ten horsepower Johnson direct-drive
motors were locked in straight forward position, and after pulling the
rope to start the motor you stood up with rope handlines (and) steered
like an aquaplane by leaning your weight from side to side.
rough water proved them to be unreliable with too many shows canceled.
An act had to be made up using the aquaplanes and tow skis. I was hired
for my aquaplane experience. Our act was to put on a fast 10 to 12
minutes with something going on in front of the audience at all times.
The two girls did a shoulder carry and rode on one ski. The three
fellows did three headstands, a pyramid and three-high shoulder carry on
the aquaplane. The dog would leap out of the boat when it was his turn,
swim to the aquaplane, ride with the girl then swim back to the boat to
be lifted out of the water. We finished with the driver of the boat
cracking the whip trying to sling the rider off of the aquaplane."
skis used in those early Steel Pier shows were made by another pioneer
in water skiing, Fred Waller, who had concluded, much like Samuelson,
that there was a future in the sport. Waller, who had never heard of
Samuelson, was making skis and selling them in the northeast.
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 skiing to America’s
attention by introducing it into his Cypress Gardens attraction in
in Seattle, Wash., 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."
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 all year 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
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.
Ski Clubs Formed Around Show Skiing
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.
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 skiing, and
today there are more show clubs in that state than any other.
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 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.
many of the Wisconsin, 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 city lakes and rivers to watch the fun.
First Show 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, Wis., was
seeking a way to create greater national interest in show skiing. With
encouragement from fellow Wisconsin skier Allen Bubolz, at that time
board chairman of USA Water Ski, Lukes wrote the first rules and
procedures for competitive show skiing and organized the first Wisconsin
State Show Tournament, held at Wisconsin Rapids.
tournament announcement sent to clubs was a brief one page. 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.
clubs showed up for the first tournament. It was declared a success and
has been held every year since with as many as 16 clubs participating.
even greater recognition for their sport, Wisconsin’s show skiers in
the early 1970s began talking about a national competition. In 1975, the
Rock Aqua Jays water ski club of Janesville, Wis., announced the first
Show Ski National Championships to be held in August.
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
clubs participated in the first Show Ski National Championships and the
winner, Capital City Water Ski Club of Madison, Wis., was invited to
perform at the traditional Water Ski National Championships later that
month in Tomahawk, Wis.
its beginnings in the 1920s, show skiing has always had the potential to
be one of America’s great spectator events because it entertains and
involves the audience. Today, show skiing continues to grow in
popularity and many water ski clubs include show events in their summer