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The Beginning

Water skiing was invented in the United States in 1922 when Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson built the first pair of skis and was towed on them behind an outboard-powered boat. What Samuelson originated became an exhibition sport on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s and early 1930s. It developed officially into a competitive sport in 1939 when the American Water Ski Association (AWSA) was organized and held the first annual National Water Ski Championships at Jones Beach, Long Island, New York.

As a Recreational Sport

Throughout its history water skiing has closely paralleled the development of recreational boating in its appeal to the general public. Over the years it has shown almost continuous, sustained growth. Surveys of sports participation show that there are roughly 11 million water skiers in the United States.

Water skiing is a family-oriented activity and the participants tend to be well educated and affluent. Three-fourths of adult USA Water Ski members are college graduates and many are career professionals and administrators — physicians, attorneys, psychologists, business owners and top-level administrators, among others. Seventy percent of the Association's members have yearly household incomes of more than $50,000 a year, and 53 percent have incomes of more than $65,000.

The Competitive Sport

Interest in competitive water skiing has grown considerably over the years and continues to attract many more enthusiasts. USA Water Ski sanctions more than 900 tournaments each season. These range from small, local events for novices to national and world-level tournaments for more experienced competitors. Male and female skiers of all ages can compete in traditional three-event water skiing (slalom, tricks, jumping) tournaments, as well as in tournaments for wakeboarding, barefooting, kneeboarding, show skiing, collegiate water skiing and wakeboarding, water ski racing, hydrofoiling and disabled water skiing.

International Competition

As a member of the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation, USA Water Ski and its sport disciplines select teams that compete in several world-level tournaments, notably the Elite, Veteran, Under 21 and Junior Water Ski World Championships; Elite, Senior and Junior Barefoot Water Ski World Championships; Formula 1, Formula 2 and Junior Water Ski Racing World Championships; Wakeboard World Championships; Disabled Water Ski World Championships; Pan American Games; and World Games.

The Competitive Events

The three events of traditional water skiing are slalom, tricks and jumping. In slalom, the contestant negotiates a zigzag course of six buoys. The boat speed is increased two mph until a maximum speed for the division of competition is reached. Thereafter the rope is shortened in pre-measured lengths. The winner is the one who rounds the most buoys without a miss or fall. The best skiers do not miss until the rope is shorter than the distance from the boat to the buoy and the skier must try to round the buoy by leaning over it with his or her body!

In tricks, the contestant performs two, 20-second routines of tricks that each have an assigned point value. Some of the most difficult tricks include wake flips, and multiple turns performed with the towrope attached to the contestant’s foot.

In jumping, the object is distance. Although there is a maximum boat speed for each age division, the skier can increase his or her speed by “cracking the whip” behind the boat; men jumpers approach speeds of more than 60 mph at the base of the jump ramp. Some men skiers in Open Division competition, the highest achievement level, jump more than 230 feet off a six-foot-high ramp. Women competitors are jumping more than 170 feet using a five-foot-high ramp.

Variations of these same events are performed by barefoot, kneeboard and disabled athletes, except that kneeboard athletes do not jump from a ramp.

Tournament Sanctioning & Proprietorship

As the national governing body for water skiing, USA Water Ski sanctions three-event (traditional water skiing), wakeboarding, barefooting, kneeboarding, collegiate water skiing and wakeboarding, show skiing, water ski racing, hydrofoiling and disabled water skiing tournaments, as well as professional cash-prize events, such as U.S. Open Water Ski Championships.

USA Water Ski is the proprietor of the U.S. Elite Water Ski Team, U.S. Veteran Water Ski Team, U.S. Junior Water Ski Team, U.S. Under 21 Water Ski Team, U.S. Barefoot Water Ski Team, U.S. Formula 1 Water Ski Racing Team, U.S. Formula 2 Water Ski Racing Team, U.S. Junior Water Ski Racing Team, U.S. Wakeboard Team and U.S. Disabled Water Ski Team. USA Water Ski is also proprietor of the Water Ski National Championships, U.S. Open Water Ski & Wakeboard Championships, Barefoot Water Ski National  Championships, Division 1 Show Ski National Championships, Division 2 Show Ski National Championships, Kneeboard National Championships, USA Wakeboard Nationals, Disabled Water Ski Championships, Collegiate Water Ski National  Championships, Collegiate Wakeboard National Championships and Hydrofoil National Championships.

TRADITIONAL COMPETITIVE WATER SKIING

History in the United States

Organized competitive water skiing began in 1939 with formation of the association by a small group of enthusiasts living in New York state. That same year saw the first national championships, held at Jones Beach, Long Island, New York. The slalom course at that tournament was a string of pointed buoys set in a straight line. The skier had to ski around each to the end of the course. The tricks event consisted of a skier removing one ski and holding it over his head, and a side slide or two. The jumping event provided the most excitement. The surface of the jump ramp was made of wooden rollers.

With the exception of 1942-1945 (during World War II), the national  championships has occurred every year. Today, more than 800 contestants enter the five-day tournament in 30 divisions of competition.

Age Divisions — Rating System

Competition in 3-event skiing is based on age and sex (see list). The Open Division is divided into men and women and has no age requirement.

  • Boys and Girls 1 -- 9 years and under*
  • Boys and Girls 2 -- 13 years and under
  • Boys and Girls 3 -- 17 years and under
  • Men and Women 1 -- 18-24 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 2 -- 25-34 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 3 -- 35-44 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 4 -- 45-52 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 5 -- 53-59 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 6 -- 60-64 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 7 -- 65-69 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 8 -- 70-74 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 9 -- 75-79 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 10 -- 80-84 years inclusive
  • Men and Women 11 -- 85 years and over
  • Open Men and Women -- any age

* This is an optional division established to give youngsters an introduction to the basics of competitive skiing. Skiers compete only in the slalom and tricks events.