In 1922, a Lake City, MN, teenager named Ralph Samuelson wondered if skis could glide across water the way they do on snow. He experimented with a number of designs before finding the one that worked. Using two 8′x9″ pine boards from a lumberyard, Ralph steamed the front tips of the planks in his mother’s copper kettle so that the ends could be curved upward, keeping the skier from pitching face-first into the lake. He met with success and a sport was born!
Ralph had assistance perfecting this new sport from his brother, Ben, who drove the boat and helped his sibling practice for hours on end. It may be said that you can’t have a good water skier without a good boat driver, but we’ve found another way. The Skier Controlled Tow Boat is the unmanned water skiing boat that’s controlled entirely by the skier. A six-button control panel on the tow rope handle sends signals to the boat, allowing skiers to start, accelerate, decelerate, turn, or stop the vessel with slight thumb movements. The nearly 8′-long boat achieves speeds up to 40 MPH, creating wakes for jumps and other tricks.
Samuelson attracted his share of attention locally, performing at summer weekend water carnivals, but he never pursued patenting or otherwise publicizing his invention. A few years later, Fred Waller of Huntington, NY, developed Dolphin Akwa-Skees and got the credit and the commercial success for the invention.
In 1966, the American Water Ski Association recognized Samuelson as the world’s first water skier and inducted him into their Hall of Fame in Winter Garden, FL, in 1977. By that time, of course, the sport had evolved to a popular show feature at warm-weather venues like Cypress Gardens in Florida and Tommy Bartlett’s Thrill Show in Wisconsin.
Have you always wanted to try a little water skiing, but you’re not sure if you have the balance and upper body strength to do so? The Waterskiing Chair is the patented chair that is mounted to a pair of water skis, allowing beginners and experts alike to ski from a stable seated position. Introduced almost 50 years ago, the chair consists of a backless seat connected to broad, widely-spaced skis by a pivoting steering mechanism. Leaning to one side in the chair automatically causes the skis to carve the water in the same direction. The chair only requires riders to hold a tow rope and maintains its balance even when crossing a boat’s wake.
However you create this summer’s memories, the season soon will be coming to a close, so be sure to get on the lake this weekend!