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Popular sport water skiing celebrates its 100th anniversary

Ralph Samuelson who invented water skiing (Pic. Courtesy wikimedia commons)

As a sport, water skiing is adventurous and exhilarating but how did it come into being? It was due to the inventiveness and initiative of a young man from Minnesota that humankind got this water sport as per a report in smithsonianmag.com.

Ralph Samuelson while going down snowy hills on ski was struck with a thought as to why he could not ski on water just as he did on the snow. The year was 1922 and from summer of that year 18-year-old Samuelson started attempting to stand up on skis on Lake Pepin – located very close to his house.

After several failed bids, he finally succeeded and then the world’s most loved water sport was born.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of that momentous event and on July 2 at 4.11 p.m. the leading citizens of Lake City unveiled Samuelson’s life-sized bronze statue on the shores of Lake Pepin. It was on this day and that precise time Samuelson was on water skiing behind his brother’s boat.

For the celebration held at present, Samuelson did not receive much recognition for his invention then.

His journey of inventing this sport started when he first tried skiing on water while riding his aquaplane – a large and flat board – which was pulled by his brother’s boat. While he did ski a reasonable distance, he wasn’t satisfied.

Having tried snow skis and barrel staves it dawned on him that he needed something that will cover more surface area of the water. Being resourceful, Samuelson visited the lumberyard and hunted for two pine boards which were eight-foot-long and nine-inch-wide. He softened one end of each of the boards by using his mother’s washer boiler and then using vises clamped the tips to curve them upwards. Leather straps were fixed on the board to hold his feet while he got 100 feet of window sash cord to make a tow rope. A blacksmith’s services were used to make a small iron ring which was to serve as the rope’s handle.

Now with the equipment ready, Samuelson tried different methods of skiing. He started with the ski at level or below the water line but when his brother’s boat got going, he found himself sinking.

Ultimately, he raised the tips of the skis out of the water and at the same time he leaned back and this worked. Samuelson skied behind his brother’s boat and this position is what all water skiers still assume as per the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation. This organisation inducted the inventor into its Hall of Fame in Davenport, Florida where the original water skis can be seen.

Learning to do tricks on the skis, Samuelson attracted people in droves and eventually he started charging them for his show. The money collected was used to pay for the gas for the boat used by him.

Unfortunately, the inventor couldn’t ski for long as his back hurt due to a construction accident in 1927 and he hung up skis forever.

Samuelson never patented the ski he invented nor did take credit for his invention. Many from France and New York claimed that they skied first on water and the water skis were patented by Fred Waller in 1925. Yet, as hundreds and thousands had seen him ski, he was finally declared as the inventor of the sport.

In the 1972 Munich Olympics, water skiing was included as an exhibition sport.

Samuelson died in 1977 of cancer yet his legacy will live on as long as water skiing remains a popular sport.