Water Skiing Background

Water skiing was invented in the United States in 1922 when Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson built the first pair of skis and was towed on them behind an outboard-powered boat. What Samuelson originated became an exhibition sport on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s and early 1930s. It developed officially into a competitive sport in 1939 when the American Water Ski Association (now USA Water Ski & Wake Sports) was organized and held the first Water Ski National Championships at Jones Beach, Long Island, New York.

The three events of traditional water skiing are slalom, tricks and jumping. Water skiing has been a part of the Pan American Games since 1995. Medal events are slalom, tricks, jumping and a separate overall competition.

In slalom, the contestant negotiates a zigzag course of six buoys. Following each successful pass through the course, the rope is shortened in pre-measured lengths. The winner is the one who rounds the most buoys without a miss or fall. The best skiers do not miss until the rope is shorter than the distance from the boat to the buoy and the skier must try to round the buoy by leaning over it with his or her body. At the Pan American Games, female athletes will compete in slalom with a boat speed of 34 miles per hour, while male athletes will compete with a boat speed of 36 miles per hour.

In tricks, the contestant performs two, 20-second routines of tricks that each have an assigned point value. Some of the most difficult tricks include wake flips, and multiple turns performed with the towrope attached to the contestant’s foot.

In jumping, the object is distance. Although there is a maximum boat speed for each age division, the skier can increase his or her speed by “cracking the whip” behind the boat; men jumpers approach speeds of more than 60 mph at the base of the jump ramp. Some male skiers in Open Division competition, the highest achievement level, jump 245 feet or more off a six-foot-high ramp. Female competitors are jumping more than 185 feet using a five-foot-high ramp.

The overall event consists of one round of slalom, one round of tricks and one round of jumping. The winner of the gold medal will be the athlete that obtains the highest score of the sum of the three events.