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Water skiing on the <a href="/content/Yarra_River" style="color:blue">Yarra River</a> in <a href="/content/Melbourne" style="color:blue">Melbourne</a>
Water skiing on the Yarra River in Melbourne

skiing (also waterskiing or water-skiing) is a surface water sport in which an individual is pulled behind a boat or a cable ski installation over a body of water, skimming the surface on two skis or one ski. The sport requires sufficient area on a smooth stretch of water, one or two skis, a tow boat with tow rope, three people (depending on state boating laws), and a personal flotation device. In addition, the skier must have adequate upper and lower body strength, muscular endurance, and good balance.

There are water ski participants around the world, in Asia and Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.[1] In the United States alone, there are approximately 11 million water skiers and over 900 sanctioned water ski competitions every year.[2] Australia boasts 1.3 million water skiers.[3]

There are many options for recreational or competitive water skiers. These include speed skiing, trick skiing, show skiing, slaloming, jumping, barefoot skiing and wakeski. Similar, related sports are wakeboarding, kneeboarding,[4] discing, tubing, and sit-down hydrofoil.

Basic technique

Water skiers can start their ski set in one of two ways: wet is the most common, but dry is possible.

By leaning back and keeping the legs slightly bent, the skis will eventually plane out and the skier will start to glide over the water.

In addition to the driver and the skier, a third person known as the spotter or the observer should be present. The spotter's job is to watch the skier and inform the driver if the skier falls. The spotter usually sits in a chair on the boat facing backwards to see the skier. The skier and the boat's occupants communicate using hand signals (see the Safety section below).


Water skiing can take place on any type of water – such as a river, lake, or ocean – but calmer waters are ideal for recreational skiing.

Younger skiers generally start out on children's skis, which consist of two skis tied together at their back and front.

Water skiers can use two skis (one on each foot, also called "combo skiing"[6]) or one ski (dominant foot in front of the other foot,[7] also called "slalom skiing"[6]). Generally the heavier the person, the bigger the skis will be. Length will also vary based on the type of water skiing being performed; jump skis, for example, are longer than skis used in regular straight-line recreational skiing or competitive slalom and trick skiing. A trick ski is around 40 inches and wider than combo skis. Again the skier rides it with his or her dominant foot in front. It has no fins which allows for spins to be performed.

Competition skiing uses specifically designed towboats.

Recreational boats can serve as water skiing platforms as well as other purposes such as cruising and fishing.

The towboat must be capable of maintaining the proper speed.

The boat must be equipped with a ski rope and handle.

Safety measures

As water skiing is a potentially dangerous sport, safety is important.

There should be a 200 feet (61 m) wide skiing space and the water should be at least 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) deep.

The tow boat must contain at least two people.[11] The driver maintains a steady course, free of obstacles to the skier.


Water skiing was invented in 1922 when Ralph Samuelson used a pair of boards as skis and a clothesline as a towrope on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota. Samuelson experimented with different positions on the skis for several days until 2 July 1922. Samuelson discovered that leaning backwards in the water with ski tips up and poking out of the water at the tip was the optimal method. His brother Ben towed him and they reached a speed of 32 kilometres per hour (20 mph).[21] Samuelson spent 15 years performing shows and teaching water skiing to people in the United States.

Samuelson went through several iterations of equipment in his quest to ski on water.

The first patent for water skis was issued to Fred Waller, of Huntington, NY, on 27 October 1925, for skis he developed independently and marketed as "Dolphin Akwa-Skees." Waller's skis were constructed of kiln-dried mahogany, as were some boats at that time. Jack Andresen patented the first trick ski, a shorter, fin-less water ski, in 1940.

In 1928 Don Ibsen [35] developed his own water skis on the West Coast, never having heard of Samuelson or Waller.

The sport of water skiing remained an obscure activity for several years after 1922, until Samuelson performed water ski shows from Michigan to Florida.

Parallel to this, an avid sailor, sportsman and early adopter of water skiing, the young Swedish engineer Gunnar Ljungström (1905-1999) pioneered water skiing in slalom moves from 1929. A demonstrating behind a motorboat was made to the Swedish public at the 100th anniversary of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club in Sandhamn outside Stockholm in 1930.[23]

Water skiing gained international attention in the hands of famed promoter, Dick Pope, Sr., often referred to as the "Father of American Water Skiing" and founder of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. Pope cultivated a distinct image for his theme-park, which included countless photographs of the water skiers featured at the park. These photographs began appearing in magazines worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s, helping to bring international attention to the sport for the first time.[24] He was also the first person to complete a jump on water skis, jumping over a wooden ramp in 1928, for a distance of 25 feet.[25] His son, Dick Pope, Jr., is the inventor of bare-foot skiing. Both men are in the Water Ski Hall of Fame. Today, Winter Haven, Florida, with its famous Chain of Lakes, remains an important city for water skiing, with several major ski schools operating there.

Water skiing has developed over time.

The first patented design of a water ski which included carbon fiber was that of Hani Audah at SPORT labs in 2001.


In the United States, there are over 900 sanctioned water ski competitions each summer.[2] Orlando, Florida is considered to be the competitive 3-event waterskiing capital of the world.[27] Competitive water skiing consists of three events: slalom, jump, and trick.[2][28]

In an attempt to become as agile as possible, slalom water skiers use only one ski with feet oriented forward, one in front of the other.

Slalom skiing involves a multi-buoy course that the skier must go around in order to complete the pass.

Every consecutive[28] pass is harder than the pass before it.

A skier's score is based upon the number of successful buoys cleared, the speed of the boat, and the length of the rope.

The turn buoys are positioned 11.5 metres (38 ft) away from the center of the slalom course so as the rope is shortened beyond that the skiers are required to use the momentum generated through their turns to swing up on the side of the boat and reach out in order to get their ski around the next buoy.

Water ski jumpers use two long skis to ride over a water ski jump in an attempt to travel the longest distance.

Water ski jumps have specific dimensions and the ramp height is adjustable.

The Trick competition has been described as the most technical of the three classic water skiing events.[28]

Trick skiing uses small, oval-shaped water skis.

In a tournament, skiers are given two 20-second runs during which they perform a series of their chosen tricks.

A barefoot water skier should use a wetsuit instead of a life jacket because the wetsuit covers more of the body in case of a fall at high speed. The wetsuit also allows the skier to do starts in the water where they lie on their back. Unlike a normal life jacket, the "barefoot wetsuit" allows the skier to glide on their back on top of the water once they reach a high enough speed. The barefoot wetsuit is generally thicker in the back, rear, and chest for flotation and impact absorption.

Barefoot skiing requires a higher speed because the skier's feet are smaller than skis, providing less lift.

Another tool used in barefoot water skiing is the barefoot boom.

A beginner can wear shoes to decrease the necessary speed, lessen foot injury from choppy water, learn better technique, and master the sport.

Show skiing is a type of water skiing where skiers perform tricks somewhat similar to those of gymnasts while being pulled by the boat. Traditional ski show acts include pyramids, ski doubles, freestyle jumping, and swivel skiing. Show skiing is normally performed in water ski shows, with elaborate costumes, choreography, music, and an announcer. Show teams may also compete regionally or nationally. In the US, each team member must be a member of USA Water Ski to compete.

The first organized show occurred in 1928.[30] The bi-annual World Show Ski Championship was inaugurated in September 2012 in Janesville, Wisconsin.[31][32] Past competition included teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, and the United States.[31]

Freestyle jumping is often related to show skiing.

Water ski racing consists of a number of water skiers who race around a set course.

Australia is the identified home of ski racing, being responsible for some of the world's biggest races, including the world's fastest races, as well as a history of the majority of skier world championships.

Current format world championship racing involves men's and women's formula 1 races (unrestricted), and men's and women formula 2 races (limited to single rig, 300 hp outboards, as well as junior classes for under 16's.

Some of the biggest races in the world include the Southern 80, in Echuca, Victoria, Australia, the diamond race, in Belgium, the Catalina ski race, in Long Beach, USA, and the Sydney Bridge to Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

The marathon event consists of each skier having to ski on all 6 pieces of equipment.

Disabled water skiing uses equipment or other adaptations to allow disabled people to compete in standard 3 event skiing.

See also

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