2023 Water Ski Season: Records Shattered and Dominance Prevails

Year in Review: RTB’s Top Five Stats of 2023

Analysis

Year in review: RTB’s top five stats of the 2023 water ski season

2023 Water Ski Season: Records Shattered and Dominance Prevails

The moments that defined the 2023 water ski season.

By Jack Burden


The 2023 water ski season proved to be a historic one, with outstanding performances and records tumbling across various categories. Here’s a glimpse into the remarkable achievements that defined this unforgettable season:

1. Rabbit Remains Unbeaten

Jacinta Carroll’s victory at the 2023 Moomba Masters was her 34th consecutive* professional jump title, maintaining an unbeaten streak since 2013. Her career winning percentage stands at an impressive 79%.

2. The Highest Scoring Year, Ever!

Over 25% of all trick scores exceeding 12,000 points were accomplished in 2023. Even more remarkable is the fact that over half of the female trick scores surpassing 11,000 points were achieved in this same year.

3. A ‘Joel of All Trades’

Throughout 2023, Joel Poland attained podium finishes in slalom, trick, jump, and overall in professional competition. He stands as the sole individual in the 21st century to accomplish this remarkable feat within a single year, and only the second man this century, following Adam Sedlmajer, to achieve it over the course of his career.

4. Among the Greats

Securing his fifth consecutive World Championships victory, Ryan Dodd became the second oldest skier ever to clinch a world title, only three days younger than Andy Mapple. Only Mapple in slalom and Patrice Martin in overall have won more golds (six) in a single event.

5. Records on the Big Stage

Joel Poland’s performance at the WWS Florida Cup marked the first instance of a world record being broken at a professional tournament since the 2005 U.S. Masters. Additionally, the two world records set by Regina Jaquess and Poland at the Malibu Open marked the first time multiple world records were set in a professional tournament since the 2002 Malibu Open.

* Carroll’s 34 consecutive victories did not include Moomba Night Jump victories. If you add those and her World’s titles it is an astounding 42 consecutive wins at elite events!

King of Darkness Water Ski Tournament

Show Me The Money! Exploring the Resurgence in Professional Water Skiing

Analysis

Show Me The Money! Exploring the Resurgence in Professional Water Skiing

King of Darkness Water Ski Tournament

King of Darkness, along with other new events like Kaiafas Battle ProAm and WWS Calgary Cup, attracted large crowds this year (Image: Waterski Pro Tour)

By Jack Burden


In recent years, professional water skiing has appeared to be undergoing a resurgence. Record prize purses, a thriving European tour, and a jam-packed schedule are all positive signs. However, the question arises: is the situation genuinely improving or are we simply more attuned to all the events in this digital age? In this article, we delve into the cold hard facts of professional water skiing’s prize money.

Both 2022 and 2023 marked record-breaking years for professional water skiing, boasting higher prize money than seen in the past 15 years. Also notable is the change in distribution between men’s and women’s prize money. For years, women received around 60 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in skiing events, yet this gap has remarkably reduced to just 10 cents over the last three years.

Professional Water Skiing Prize Money
Professional Water Skiing Prize Money by Gender

Total advertised prize money for IWWF sanctioned professional tournaments. (Source: IWSF, Waterski Pro Tour, etc.)

This is an incredible success story for our small, fledgling sport. The ability to sustain a proliferation of professional events while the base of tournament skiers has diminished reflects the remarkable efforts of tournament organizers in securing sponsorships.

Credit is also due to the season-long storyline of the Waterski Pro Tour, which transforms once-isolated, lesser-known tournaments into significant events. Similarly, the WWS Overall Tour has excelled in attracting sponsors from beyond the sport’s confines, presenting us with the first consistently organized professional overall events in this century.

Thanks to the convenience of webcasting in the present digital era and the exceptional efforts of TWBC, now might indeed be the best time ever to be a fan of the sport. Water ski enthusiasts can enjoy streamed events nearly every weekend throughout the summer.

Nonetheless, even the most dominant athletes struggle to sustain themselves solely from professional victories. Many competitors supplement their income through coaching, regular employment, or the benevolence of affluent parents – indeed, this is a sport largely for the elite. Even Nate Smith, who has outperformed all others in tournament wins over the past decade, has found himself needing a traditional job in recent times.

The surge in prize money hasn’t been distributed evenly either. While it’s undoubtedly a golden era for slalom skiers, especially women, other disciplines haven’t fared as well. Jumping, arguably the most thrilling and marketable aspect of water skiing, has witnessed a substantial decline over the past decade, with total prize money now less than half of what it was a decade ago. Additionally, trick skiing, while showing some progress, still falls significantly short of the prize money available during the discipline’s heyday in the 2000s, during the era of IWWF World Cup stops.

Professional Water Skiing Prize Money by Event

Total advertised prize money for IWWF sanctioned professional tournaments. (Source: IWSF, Waterski Pro Tour, etc.)

Certainly, we must also factor in inflation. While there have been large increases in recent years, adjusting for inflation reveals that the total prize pool for 2023 is essentially comparable to 2015 levels, and notably lower than the offerings during the peak years of the pro tour in the eighties and nineties.

Although we might still be quite distant from the bygone glory days, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the sport has embarked on an impressive upward trajectory in recent years. Broadly speaking, now is the best time in the last decade to be a professional water skier, and probably ever for fans of the sport. This progress is something to be celebrated, and to all the diligent individuals toiling behind the scenes, we say thank you!

USA Waterski mandated SafeSport training for all members in 2022

SafeSport, USA Water Ski, and the Decline of Tournament Participation

Analysis

SafeSport, USA Water Ski, and the Decline of Tournament Participation

USA Waterski mandated SafeSport training for all members in 2022

Image: Aaron Katen

By Jack Burden


In 2022, USA Water Ski and Wake Sports (USAWS) implemented mandatory SafeSport training for all its members. This decision sparked controversy and heated debates among members (see the 36 pages of bickering on BallOfSpray). However, USAWS had little choice in the matter as the U.S Olympic Committee (USOC) imposed the requirement via Congressional mandate. Even if they were to break away from the USOC, any alternative organizing body would still face the challenge of obtaining exorbitantly priced or unattainable insurance coverage without a similar program in place. As we reflect on the past year, it becomes crucial to evaluate the impact of this mandate on tournament participation within the water skiing community.

The training aims to enhance awareness and prevent the sexual exploitation of minors in the sport, thereby ensuring a safer environment for young athletes. The initial course takes approximately one hour, followed by a brief 15-minute refresher annually, and is required for all members, including those unlikely to directly supervise youth activities. The concern lies not in the quality of the training—no one disagrees with its goals—but rather in the potential for adding another requirement for USAWS membership to further diminish the perceived shrinking membership base.

So, what does the data say? Tournament participation did indeed decline in 2022. However, this decline is part of a longer-term trend. Determining the specific impact of the SafeSport Mandate and whether it accelerated this decline is more challenging. In 2022, there were 220 fewer tournament participants compared to 2021—a decline of 7%. While significant, it pales in comparison to the 440 participants lost in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, of whom only about half returned in 2021.

Total rounds skied by class 2019-2022 (Source: USA Waterski)

Notably, there has been a consistent decrease in Class C tournament participation over the years. Conversely, record tournament participation has remained relatively stable over the past four years. This aligns with the notion that skiers who are more invested in the sport are more likely to undertake a one-hour training course or continue skiing despite a pandemic. Fluctuations in participation primarily occur among casual skiers who only compete in a few Class C tournaments per year, as they assess whether a $90 USAWS membership, a one-hour course, and tournament entry fees are worthwhile for the upcoming season.

Delving deeper into the trends of 2022, we observe clear patterns. Tournament participation at all levels experienced a setback in 2020, followed by a rebound in 2021. However, while record tournament participation remained unchanged from 2021 to 2022, Class C participation declined by 10%. Similarly, among skiers who enter five or fewer tournament rounds per year, membership declined by 15%, despite remaining relatively stable from 2019 to 2021.

For those concerned about the future of our sport, particularly at the grassroots level, these trends are alarming. Without a robust base of casual skiers, we lack a stable foundation for the expanding infrastructure of high-level competitive water skiing. The professional water skiing scene, thanks to TWBC, Waterski Pro Tour, and the WWS Overall Tour, is currently the strongest and most exciting it has been in the past 15 years.

Of course, declining tournament participation can be attributed to other factors, with affordability and accessibility being chief among them. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle: as the market for big-ticket items like ski boats shrinks, manufacturers continue to reduce production and position their boats as luxury items, further exacerbating the issue.

This is not to place the blame on SafeSport either. As noted at the outset, USAWS was compelled to act, and our sport is not immune to issues of sexual exploitation of minors. It is difficult to quantify the value of preventing another Larry Nassar.

The unfortunate reality is that SafeSport presents yet another barrier to the sport’s growth, and it is not going away. To attract more casual skiers, who make up a substantial portion of potential tournament participants, we need to find ways to increase the value proposition of tournaments. This may involve innovative formats, social activities, or lower entry fees. It is an uphill battle, but for the dedicated members of our community, it is a battle worth fighting.