The history of water skiing in America began in 1922 when eighteen-year-old Ralph Samuelson decided to apply the art of mountain skiing to a Minnesota lake. Taking a barrel apart, he used the staves to construct water skis, which he attached to his feet with leather straps. Holding a rope tied to a boat driven by his brother, Ben, he tried to water ski but failed.
The history of water skiing in America might have ended that day on Lake Pepin, if Ralph and Ben had not tried to use snow skis next. This second attempt to water ski failed also, but undeterred, the Samuelson brothers experimented with building a custom pair of skis designed specifically for gliding on water. After several days of testing, they came up with a pair of skis constructed from 8 x 9 inch wooden boards and leather straps.
That sunny July day in 1922 marked the beginning of water skiing in America. Ralph waterskied on Lake Pepin at a speed of 20 mph.
On July 1925, Ralph Samuelson pushed the sport of water skiing further when he made the first water skiing jump from a greased 4 x 16 foot ramp. Ralph rose 60 feet in the air and water skied at a speed of 80 mph, towed by a 200 foot sash cord attached to a Curtiss Flying Boat (a WWI boat with 200 horsepower).
Despite his passion for the sport, Ralph Samuelson never patented his water skis nor advertised the sport across America. It was only after well-known investor, Fred Waller, patented the first water skis on October 27th, 1925, that the history of water skiing in America took a commercial turn. The new water skis were dubbed “Dolphin Akwa-Skees”. Another inventor, Jack Andresen, built the first trick ski in 1940, which was a shorter, finless water ski.
The history of water skiing in America was pushed forward by other enthusiasts as the sport grew in popularity across the country. Four years after Fred Waller built his “Akwa-Skees” on the East coast, Don Ibsen became the first water skier on the West Coast, while Dan Hains organized the American Water Ski Association.
Water skiing quickly became a focus of tournaments and water ski competitions. By 1972 Water skiing was recognized as an official Olympic exhibition sport. The first National Show Ski Tournament took place in 1974, followed by the first national Intercollegiate Water Ski Championship in 1979. By 1980 the first water skiing competition for disabled people took place, under the banner of the Home CARE U.S. National Water Ski Challenge.
The history of water skiing in America is still evolving with new materials and designs that push the sport to greater speeds and records. What began as the summer game of two young men became a sport enjoyed all across America and the world.