How It All Began

By Ted Sensenbrenner

Let's get ahead of the history of being pulled behind a boat.

photo of Dick Pope Jr. waterskiing Dick Pope Jr. is known as the first person to water ski barefoot in 1947. He represented the United States at the first World Water Ski Championships in France two years later. Today, water safety experts suggest wearing a securely fitted, Coast Guard-approved Type III life jacket.

Being dragged behind a perfectly good boat may not sound like fun to everyone, but waterskiing undoubtedly got its start, thanks to certain thrill seekers who made it their mission to walk on water. The unofficial history of waterskiing goes something like this: Guy buys boat. Friends want to go with him. One friend in particular asks how fast it goes. A second friend bets a not-so- good third friend that if he were pulled behind the boat holding a rope while standing on a barn door, it would be cool.

After many failed attempts by would-be inventors, it was adventurer Ralph Samuelson who was the first to attach two 8" x 9" boards to his feet with leather straps and successfully ski on Lake Pepin, Minnesota, in 1922. And so it was. But to make things even more interesting, in 1925, Samuelson crafted a makeshift ramp and asked the boat driver to head for it, reserving a place in history as the first person to ever jump a ramp on waterskis.

photo of a MasterCraft ski boat Since 1968, pulling power and minimal wake have been hallmarks of MasterCraft.

In 1932, the first two "official" ski shows were hosted at the Atlantic City, New Jersey, Steel Pier and at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. Although learning to waterski has been likened to swimming upstream, salmon style, the fad started to gain interest with recreational boaters and sports enthusiasts alike, and by 1949, the first World Water Ski Championship was held in France. In 1968, the MasterCraft ski boat company was born and in 1972, waterskiing was included in the summer Olympics as an exhibition sport in Munich, Germany, which helped grow the popularity of the sport.

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Did You Know?

  • The average boat speed for towing a wakeboarder is about 20 miles per hour, a waterskier about 30 miles per hour, but for a barefoot skier, it is faster than 40 miles an hour.
  • On March 7, 2011, Fernando Reina Iglesias set the new barefoot speed record of 153 miles an hour, while being towed by a low-flying helicopter in Acapulco, Mexico.
  • World Record! The most waterskiers pulled behind a boat at once was 114 people in Strahan, Tasmania, Australia, on March 28, 2010.

Where to Learn More:

Visit or for more information about the pioneers of the sport, the rules that govern the sport, and even how to get a college scholarship.

Quiz Yourself:

What's the purpose of an "observer" aboard a tow boat?

A. To look for other boats ahead

B. To monitor the boat engine's rpm

C. To relay skier status to the driver

D. To watch for wind and wave patterns

Answer: "C"


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