The moments that defined the 2023 water ski season – and the stories behind them.

Year in Review: We Countdown the Most Memorable Moments of 2023


Year in review: We countdown the most memorable moments of the 2023 water ski season

The moments that defined the 2023 water ski season – and the stories behind them.

The moments that defined the 2023 water ski season – and the stories behind them.

By Jack Burden

As we bid farewell to 2023, it’s time to revisit the unforgettable moments from this year’s water ski season. From seemingly impossible comebacks to record-breaking feats, each competition created its own narrative filled with anticipation, intensity, and sheer excitement.

Throughout 2023, skiers showcased their talents across three World Championships—Under-17, Under-21, and Open—two professional tours, the Waterski Pro Tour and WWS Overall Tour, and legacy events like the Moomba and U.S. Masters. The year witnessed record-breaking prize purses, and the quality of streaming for water ski enthusiasts continued to soar. Join us as we count down our selection of the top 10 unforgettable moments from the 2023 season.

After 27 wins in a row, I got to spray a competitor above me in the face with champagne.

Image: @natesmith43

10. Water Skiing’s 27 Club

Nate Smith flew to Europe this summer on an incredible run of form. After winning the Fungliss ProAm in France, his unbeaten streak in professional competitions tallied an impressive 27, one of the longest winning streaks in water ski history.

Following the qualifying rounds of the Botaski ProAm in Spain, where he finished with an equal top score of 1 @ 9.75m (43’ off), Smith seemed on track for another victory. He made easy work of his first head-to-head bracket, advancing to the semifinals. However, up against the young and relatively unknown Italian Brando Caruso, Smith faltered at 10.25 meters (41’ off), coming up half a buoy short of Caruso.

Facing defeat graciously, Smith shared, “After 27 wins in a row, I got to spray a competitor above me in the face with champagne. Congrats [Brando Caruso] for knocking me out… and Freddie [Winter] for ultimately taking first.”

Kaiafas Battle 2023 Skier of the Day!

Image: @waterskibroadcasting_

9. Nicholson Finds Another Gear

One of the hardest workers on the professional circuit, Allie Nicholson had been threatening to post a big score for some time. As the only skier to attend all 12 Waterski Pro Tour slalom events in 2023, her breakthrough came during the European leg at the Kaiafas Battle ProAm. In a qualifying round, the American became only the 12th woman ever to run 10.75m (39.5’ off). Announcer Matteo Luzzeri remarked, “We were waiting for the next lady to run 39, and here we have her; she just hammered it, super confident. She decided now, today’s my day.” Nicholson was elated with the performance, stating, “I almost didn’t ski; I wasn’t feeling good before I skied, and I’m so glad I did. I’m on cloud nine right now.”

Nicholson’s success continued with a victory at the San Gervasio ProAm the following weekend and multiple more successful attempts at 10.75m, including at the Calgary Cup the following month.

Erika Lang at the 63rd Masters

Image: @erikalang36

8. Lang Master’s the 11,000 Point Mark

Erika Lang had one of the closest things our sport has seen to a perfect season. In May, she broke her own world record during the Master’s LCQ. Throughout the season, she won three out of four professional events, broke the World Championships record on the way to her second world title, and closed out the season with a Pan American Games gold.

This incredible season was marked by Lang’s consistency, surpassing 11,000 with increasing regularity. The standout moment for Lang was at the U.S. Masters, where she achieved the second-ever score over 11,000 in a professional tournament by a woman. Her winning score, in the challenging conditions of Robin Lake, would have been enough to secure her a podium place in the men’s event.

Cole McCormick rocks some shades during the 2023 IWWF world waterski championships

Image: @johnnyhayward_photo

7. World’s Returns to “Sunset” Lakes

During the final series of the men’s slalom elimination round at the World Championships, the sun dipped lower on the horizon, presenting competitors with a challenging glare. Joel Howley became the first skier to wear sunglasses during his run, with the boat driver handing them to him for each pass into the glare. Others attempted to mitigate the increasingly difficult glare with eye black. In a candid interview, Freddie Winter commented on the conditions, emphasizing that “we’re all trying to survive as opposed to perform.” Further stating “it’s dangerous, it’s scary, and it minimizes our performance.”

Despite the challenging conditions, most of the top skiers successfully advanced to the finals. Notably, two-time former champion Will Asher suffered an early exit at 10.25m (41’ off). The day concluded with an electrifying eight-way runoff for the final two spots, with young Vincenzo Marino attempting a 10.75m (39.5’ off) pass in what might be the coldest start ever after not skiing for three days. In the end, Cole McCormick and Corey Vaughan secured their tickets to the finals.

rick action at the 2023 IWWF world waterski championships

Image: @johnnyhayward_photo

6. Font Pushes the Envelope

Before Patricio Font broke the world trick record in 2022, it had been the longest-standing record in three-event waterskiing, remaining unbroken since 2011. Proving that it was far from a one-off performance, Font extended his world record to 12,690 at the Master’s LCQ in May, before pulling out the record run in his victories at the Botaski ProAm, setting a professional tournament record, and in the preliminary round of the World Championships, setting a World Championships record.

This top seed position proved critical, as Louis Duplan-Fribourg, after executing a superb hand pass, seemed poised to achieve another big score. However, an equipment malfunction caused his toe strap to release before his final toe trick, preventing a score that could have totaled 12,580 points. Patricio Font, realizing the opportunity presented by Louis’ misfortune, opted for a less challenging run, omitting his Ski-Line-Seven, and cruised to victory with another huge score of 12,470 points.

With a stated goal of breaking 13,000 points, Font is at the forefront of a new wave of trick skiers redefining the boundaries of the sport. Although his potential record of 12,770 was ultimately downgraded upon IWWF review, we expect more big scores from him in the future.

Some moments from the dock during the final day of the King of Darkness.

Image: @waterskibroadcasting_

5. Clutch Performances from the Nightmare

Although still a regular at the top of the podium, Freddy Krueger showed signs of slowing down throughout the season. At the MasterCraft Pro, his second professional win of the season, he very nearly missed the final after failing to qualify on his first two jumps. The 48-year-old veteran then delivered the biggest jump of the tournament on his third and final attempt with 70.7 meters (232 feet).

The following weekend at the Malibu Open, Joel Poland set the pace early with a jump of 69.3 meters (227 feet), which held firm through six skiers and seemed poised to force a jump-off for the title. However, Krueger clinched the championship with an extraordinary 71.0-meter (233 feet) jump on his third and final attempt.

Finally, at the World Championships, Krueger was in serious danger of missing the final, not to mention jeopardizing U.S.A.’s chances in the teams competition, after managing only 56.4 meters (185 feet) from his first two jumps. Yet again, his wealth of experience came to the fore, enabling him to qualify on his third attempt, ultimately going on to finish runner-up in the final and help Team U.S.A. to a world title.

Frenchmen Louis Duplan-Fribourg ready to jump

Image: @johnnyhayward_photo

4. Duplan-Fribourg Takes Flight

In a picturesque setting in the south of France, the WWS Overall Tour opened its 2023 season with an extraordinary performance by Louis Duplan-Fribourg. The Frenchman soared to new heights, setting a national jump record at 68.1 meters (223 feet), igniting the local crowd and taking the lead in the overall competition. Announcer Glen Williams acknowledged Duplan-Fribourg’s achievement, stating, “We’ve talked for a long time about Joel Poland and Dorien Llewellyn, and now there are three names in that category.” Duplan-Fribourg’s performance positioned him among the world’s top overall skiers.

“I was a little stressed after Louis’ big jump; when someone goes out and jumps that far, it’s intimidating,” said Poland in his post-jump interview. In the tightest overall battle of the year, Poland managed to win the event by the razor-thin margin of less than 3 overall points—equivalent to a quarter buoy or a side slide.

As the WWS Overall Tour unfolded, the French contender’s newfound jump form combined with his world-class tricking kept him ahead of the rest of the pack, finishing close second to Poland in all four tour stops. The final stop in Florida saw him extending the French national jump record, and shortly after, he clinched his first professional jump placement at the MasterCraft Pro.

His trick performance at the World Championships broke both the French national and World Championships records in the preliminary round. This impressive foundation paved the way for his breakthrough world title, cementing his status not just as a trick skier but as a rising star among the world’s top overall skiers.

Hanna Wins Jump at 2023 Malibu Open

Image: @malibuopen2023

3. Sweet Home Malib-Ama

The Malibu Open, with over two decades of history, returned to LymanLand in Alabama for the second consecutive year, delivering nearly nonstop record-breaking excitement. First, Regina Jaquess solidified her status as one of the greatest women’s slalomers of all time by setting a new world slalom record of 5 at 10.25 meters (41‘ off) in the preliminary round. Then, Hanna Straltsova became only the third woman ever to jump over 190 feet during the finals, not only claiming victory in the tournament but also securing the season title of the Waterski Pro Tour. Finally, Joel Poland broke his second world overall record in as many weeks, achieving scores of 2@10.25m in slalom, 11,680 in tricks, and 69.3 meters (227 feet) in jump. The latter score very nearly won him the jump event too.

In an interview following her record-breaking performance, Jaquess shared her elation and gratitude, saying, “Oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to say, I’m shaking. I think getting out of two this morning unlocked a little bit of mental pressure because it was my best score. I haven’t gotten a three since my ACL [surgery], so thank you, Andrews Sports [Medicine], for getting me back together. This is unbelievable, and to do it at the Malibu Open behind Malibu Boats… I got mental; I should have run it… it felt so amazing.”

2023 U17 IWWF World Waterski Championships

Image: @nicolasnelson_

2. New Year’s Double Run-Off

For number two, we go all the way back to the very start of the year, to the Under 17 World Championships in Santiago, Chile. This tournament was filled with promising young talents and exhilarating moments on the water. However, the peak of tension unfolded during the boys’ slalom final. Skiing early in the lineup, positioned 3rd and 5th off the dock, respectively, Australian Lucas Cornale and Mexican Nicolas Nelson set an early pace with 3 @ 10.75m (39.5’ off), falling just half a buoy short of the World Championships record. This combined lead persisted through all 12 competitors, necessitating a runoff to determine the winner.

Starting at 11.25 meters (38′ off), Nelson skillfully navigated the pass, narrowly missing four ball at 10.75 to match his initial score. As Cornale entered the course for his chance to challenge, announcer Tony Lightfoot noted, “Nicolas Nelson [is] still in the course.” Cornale fell early around buoy two but promptly signaled for a reride by raising his ski in the air. Meanwhile, Nelson, having initially stayed within the buoy line, was slowly making his way to the shore, perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion. After a split decision from the judges, Cornale’s request for a reride was denied. Nevertheless, the Australian team lodged a formal protest citing unsafe skiing conditions, which was ultimately upheld.

Seizing this opportunity, Cornale successfully completed the 11.25-meter pass, matching Nelson’s runoff score of 3 @ 10.75m. Once again, the young men found themselves in a runoff, this time with Cornale starting first. Unfortunately, the Australian fell early at 11.25m, leaving the door open for Nelson, who ultimately claimed the world title by navigating around three buoys. This dramatic double runoff set the stage for an intense start to the year.

Getting knocked down happens, getting back up is a choice.

Image: @fotografacamilabernal

1. Poland’s New Haircut

It should come as little surprise that our top pick for the number one moment of 2023 involves the hottest commodity in world water skiing right now – Joel Poland. Many moments came to mind for the extraordinarily talented Brit: his first 70-meter (230-foot) jump at the California Pro Am, and his back-to-back world records set live on webcast to close out the professional season—any of these could have easily made this list. However, it was his World Championships effort, ironically one of the only events he didn’t win, that stood out the most.

Poland, who only needed 10,000 points to make the trick final, stood up in his opening toe pass “like clockwork,” as remarked by announcer Glen Williams. Williams added, “I don’t think he has a B run; [he] pretty much just goes for it no matter what.” Fifteen seconds later, Poland, along with his overall aspirations, were in deep water after he fell during his signature Super-Mobe-Five, ruling himself out of the final and overall contention—or so it seemed.

The following day, the down-and-out Joel Poland, who had shaved his head overnight, skied with the determination of a man with nothing to lose. Poland took a bold approach, attacking the 10.25m (41’ off) pass rather than taking the safer route of securing his spot in the final with an S-turn mid-pass. The Brit produced the defining performance of the World Championships, becoming the newest member of the 41-off club. Suddenly, he was back in the overall title race.

Poland described his emotions, saying, “I’m not gonna lie. I lost sleep over that trick run, I’ll probably lose a little more too. But, the job was not done and giving up is not an option. After a small talk with myself and a new f*cking haircut, I felt like I had nothing to lose… that’s a dangerous feeling. Now the rest is history.”

Poland would ultimately come up short of the 70.6-meter (232-foot) jump he needed to secure the world overall title, finishing in second to the well-deserving Louis Duplan-Fribourg. However, his comeback will be remembered as one of the greatest World Championships performances of all time.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jacinta Carroll’s continued dominance on the Yarra
  • Three skiers running 10.25m (41′ off) in a single round at the Kaiafas ProAm
  • Three skiers jumping over 70m (230′) in a single round at the California ProAm
  • The incredibly tight battle for Waterski Pro Tour season title in women’s slalom
  • Nate Smith’s close call with the jump ramp at the Traver’s Grand Prix
  • Dorien Llewellyn’s and Lauren Morgan’s injury comebacks for World Championships medals
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