Sport Discipline Descriptions 

Water Skiing (American Water Ski Association)

The three events of traditional water skiing are slalom, tricks and jumping.

In slalom, the contestant negotiates a zigzag course of six buoys. The boat speed is increased two mph until a maximum speed for the division of competition is reached. Thereafter 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. 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 men skiers in Open Division competition, the highest achievement level, jump more than 230 feet off a six-foot-high ramp. Women competitors are jumping more than 170 feet using a five-foot-high ramp.

Show Skiing (National Show Ski Association)

Extremely popular in the upper Midwest, and practiced throughout the nation, show skiing combines components of all water ski disciplines. Water ski shows are an aquatic Broadway musical, featuring several water ski acts choreographed to music and built around a theme that tells a story.

Unique to show skiing are ballet/swivel skiing, adagio doubles, freestyle jumping and human pyramids. Ski show exhibitions or shows involve amateur clubs which usually have 30 or more members. Some clubs even have more than 200 members! Age is not a factor since ski club performers can range from children to grandparents.

Barefooting (American Barefoot Club)

Barefoot water ski events – wake slalom, tricks and jumping – are similar to the three events in traditional water skiing. Differences arise in the speed of the boat and the skier (depending upon age division, barefoot events are sometimes faster, with a top speed for the Open Division of 43.2 mph), in the lack of buoys in slalom, and the height of the jump ramp (18 inches as compared to five or six feet for traditional jumping). The absence of skis more than makes up for the differences in the equipment on the ski course.

In wake slalom, points are awarded for full crossing from the outside of the first wake wave to the outside of the second, for crossing one wave only, and for straddling a wake wave at the moment the 15-second pass is terminated. Crossings can be made on one foot or both feet, the barefooter facing forward or backward. Point values increase for the more difficult methods. Barefoot tricks runs are 15 seconds in length and are scored by judges in much the same manner as those in conventional tricks skiing. In barefoot jumping, the takeoff edge of the ramp is approximately 18 inches above the water line. Jumpers must step off a ski prior to reaching a step-off buoy, located 165 feet before the ramp, and maintain a barefooting position into the ramp.

Collegiate Water Skiing (National Collegiate Water Ski Association)

At collegiate events, athletes compete on co-ed teams in traditional water ski and wakeboard disciplines. Athletes who are former junior national and world champions compete side-by-side with beginners. Collegiate tournaments also are more relaxed, often with as much action on the beach as there is on the water. 

More than 50 schools field teams that seek the Holy Grail of collegiate water skiing, the annual national championship title. Collegiate water skiing is not governed by the NCAA and is considered a club sport at most schools. However, there is tremendous growth in this segment of athletics at colleges and universities, backed up by the increase in scholarships awarded to water ski athletes, as well as the number of schools hiring part-time and full-time coaches. 

Wakeboarding (USA Wakeboard)

Once considered an obscure addition to the family of water sports, wakeboarding now is recognized as one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. Although it is easy to see why people are attracted to the spectacular moves of wakeboarding, it is not easy to identify the sport's birth. Perhaps the origins of wakeboarding will never be known, but surfers deserve most of the credit because the beginnings of the new sport most likely began when surfers started being towed with a ski rope behind a boat.

A San Diego surfer named Tony Finn began the wakeboard revolution in 1985 when he developed the Skurfer — a cross between a water ski and a surfboard. Finn diligently promoted his Skurfer, and was quite successful in raising people's level of awareness to the new sport. However, it took the design skills of Herb O'Brien to truly send the sport off into new heights. O'Brien, owner of H.O. Sports, a leading water ski manufacturer, took an interest in advancing the sport in the late 80s. Before long he changed the wakeboard industry by introducing the first compression-molded neutral-buoyancy wakeboard, the Hyperlite. This innovation led to a massive growth of the wakeboarding marketplace that continues to this day. The Hyperlite's natural buoyancy allowed easy deep-water starts, which in turn made wakeboarding accessible to virtually everyone. 

Water Ski Racing (National Water Ski Racing Association)

Water ski athletes who feel the need for speed participate in water ski racing competitions. The roots of ski racing are planted firmly in California and Arizona. Although most participants compete at speeds between 35 and 70 miles per hour, elite athletes compete at extreme speeds of up to 100 miles per hour!

Ski racing athletes compete in two types of races. In a marathon race, athletes travel from point A to B in an all-out dash for the finish line. Circle races are timed events in an oval course. Protective headgear and flotation devices are worn by athletes, drivers and observers. Competitors also wear neck braces and other protective survival gear to soften the blow of becoming a human crash-test dummy when falling at such high speeds. 

Kneeboarding (American Kneeboard Association)

A popular alternative to three-event water skiing, wakeboarding and barefooting is kneeboarding. Along with a pair of combo skis, you'll find a kneeboard in most recreational boats. However, the sport also has a competitive following.

Kneeboard athletes compete in slalom, tricks and expression session events. In slalom, the six buoys are positioned the same as a traditional course.  Tricks are performed in two 20-second passes and awarded technical and subjective points. A kneeboard expression session is similar to a wakeboard event, each pass is scored subjectively for style points.

Adaptive Water Skiing (USA Adaptive Water Ski & Wake Sports)

Water skiing has been adapted so that physically disabled athletes can participate and compete. Tournaments offer slalom, tricks and jumping events for vision impaired individuals (blind or partially sighted), multiplegics (paraplegics and quadriplegics), leg amputees (above and below knee), arm amputees and athletes with both arm and leg disabilities. The skiers in the latter three categories compete with the same water ski equipment used by able-bodied athletes and have the option of using a prosthesis.

Vision impaired athletes do not require special equipment. However, they are guided by another skier in the jumping event, although they must be released before they go over the ramp and use audible signals instead of buoys in the slalom course. Multiplegic athletes use a sit ski, which is larger than the ski of an able-bodied skier and includes a cage similar to that used in snow skiing. A narrower slalom course than that set out for able-bodied competitors is an option for those whose disability is greater such as quadriplegics and athletes with both arm and leg disabilities.

Hydrofoiling (United States Hydrofoil Association)

Hydrofoiling is an exciting sport that has things to offer at all levels of expertise. From riding and enjoying a smooth ride in rough water to performing aerial tricks anywhere behind the towing water craft. A hydrofoil is made up of three major assemblies:

  • Seat Tower - This is the where you sit on the ski. Typically made of aluminum, there are models with a shock and without a shock. These are called "Shock Towers" and "Rock Towers." The seat comes with a safety belt that keeps the rider from being released from the seat/ski.
  • Board - The board is typically made of fiberglass or carbon fiber resin molded ski. There are two bindings with safety straps that keep the rider's feet from being released from the board. There are bindings that can be adjusted up and down the board for different rider leg lengths.
  • Foil Assembly - The foil assembly consists of three major parts. The strut/fuselage which acts as a rudder to guide the rider in the direction they turn their knees/body. The front wing which provides the lift and enables the rider to rise/jump the ski off the surface of the water. Lastly, there is the rear wing which stabilizes/counterbalances the lift from the front wing. There are many different kinds of foil configurations and these configurations are critical for how the ski reacts and rides in the water. The foil assemblies are typically made from cast or billet aluminum.

A hydrofoil is towed behind some type of watercraft with a driver and a spotter. The rider straps into the hydrofoil and secures the safety straps on the seat tower and the bindings. Starting in deep water, they lean back to keep the tip of the board out of the water and then once the board begins to plane, the rider leans forward to keep the hydrofoil from leaving the water. Once the rider is at a speed high enough to provide lift from the foil assembly, they will bring the board off the surface of the water at which time "flight" begins. This is when the "balancing" act begins. To bring the board off the water, the rider leans back and to bring the board down to the water they lean forward. The rider steers the hydrofoil by moving their knees in the direction they want to go.