How Waterskiing Works

History of Waterskiing

Waterskiing champions demonstrate the art of the sport at Cypress Gardens, Fla., in 1975.
Waterskiing champions demonstrate the art of the sport at Cypress Gardens, Fla., in 1975.
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Although very little information remains on the record, it seems that waterskiing could have originated in Sweden, given that the term vatternskida, a verb meaning to ski on a body of water, can be found in Swedish dictionaries dating back to 1921.

But, officially, the sport's origins are anchored to two teenagers in Minnesota. The story goes that in June of 1922, 18-year-old Ralph Samuelson, who lived near Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minn., got the bright idea that if you could ski on snow, you also could ski on water. Samuelson and his brother Ben worked on their idea for a few days, and in early July of 1922, Samuelson was able to stand up on two skis while being pulled by a boat his brother was driving.

Their equipment was very basic. Samuelson first experimented with staves of a barrel and lengths of woods held together by leather strips to form his skis. He used a window sash as a ski rope. Samuelson found that if you leaned back with the tips of your skis facing up, you could successfully glide over the water.

Although he never patented his invention, Samuelson is recognized as the father of the water sport, and the American Water Ski Association credited him in 1966 as the first on record to attempt the sport. In 1925, while Samuelson was occupied touring the East Coast of the United States, fellow American Fred Waller became the first person to patent a water ski. He dubbed his product Dolphin AquaSkees.

It didn't take long for waterskiing to catch on. In North America and Europe, the sport increased in popularity throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1939, the first national waterskiing championship was held at Jones Beach in Long Island, N.Y. At the 1972 Summer Games in Kiel, West Germany, waterskiing became an Olympic sport. Today, there are more than 650 waterskiing clubs and 11 million active participants in the United Sates alone.

So, we know that after experimenting, the inventor of waterskiing found that pointing the tips of your skis up improved your skiing abilities. Why is that? On the next page, we'll take a look at the physics of waterskiing.