Pan American Games - Water Ski & Wakeboard Background

Pan American Games - Water Skiing & Wakeboarding Background

Water Skiing Background

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 (now USA Water Ski & Wake Sports) was organized and held the first Water Ski National Championships at Jones Beach, Long Island, New York.

The three events of traditional water skiing are slalom, tricks and jumping. Water skiing has been a part of the Pan American Games since 1995. Medal events are slalom, tricks, jumping and a separate overall competition.

In slalom, the contestant negotiates a zigzag course of six buoys. Following each successful pass through the course, 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. At the Pan American Games, female athletes will compete in slalom with a boat speed of 34 miles per hour, while male athletes will compete with a boat speed of 36 miles per hour.

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 male skiers in Open Division competition, the highest achievement level, jump 245 feet or more off a six-foot-high ramp. Female competitors are jumping more than 185 feet using a five-foot-high ramp.

The overall event consists of one round of slalom, one round of tricks and one round of jumping. The winner of the gold medal will be the athlete that obtains the highest score of the sum of the three events.

Wakeboarding Background

Women’s wakeboarding made its debut at the 2019 Pan American Games. Men’s wakeboarding made its debut at the 2007 Pan American Games as part of the water ski program.

Wakeboarding has been one of the biggest sports-related phenomenons of the past two decades. Although it is easy to see why people are attracted to the spectacular moves of wakeboarding, it is not easy to identify the sport's birth. Perhaps the origins of wakeboarding will never be known, but surfers deserve most of the credit because the beginnings of the new sport most likely began when surfers started being towed with a ski rope behind a boat.

A San Diego, California, surfer named Tony Finn began the wakeboard revolution in 1985 when he developed the Skurfer — a cross between a water ski and a surfboard. Finn diligently promoted his Skurfer, and was quite successful in raising people's level of awareness to the new sport. However, it took the design skills of Herb O'Brien to truly send the sport off into new heights. O'Brien, a leading water ski manufacturer, took an interest in advancing the sport in the late 1980s. Before long he changed the wakeboard industry by introducing the first compression-molded neutral-buoyancy wakeboard, the Hyperlite. This innovation led to a massive growth of the wakeboarding marketplace that continues to this day. The Hyperlite's natural buoyancy allowed easy deepwater starts, which in turn made wakeboarding accessible to virtually everyone.


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