Water skiing excluded from the 2025 World Games, wakesurfing to debut instead
TWG 1981 Santa Clara, USA (image: World Games)
By Jack Burden
In a surprising and disappointing development for water skiing enthusiasts worldwide, the sport has been left out of the roster for the 2025 World Games scheduled to be held in Chengdu, China. This departure from tradition is significant, considering that water skiing has been a consistent feature in every edition of the World Games since its inception in 1981. Instead, the allocation of 88 athletes for towed watersports will spotlight wakeboarding, both cable and boat, and wakesurfing—making its debut at the World Games. The decision was reached through consultations between the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) and the Chinese national federation.
Over the years, the Games has showcased water skiing’s traditional three events—slalom, trick, and jump—or overall competitions, providing a platform for athletes to exhibit their skills on a global stage. Water skiing has such a rich history in the Games that Patrice Martin sits at 6th on the all-time individual medal standings and was recently nominated for the World Games greatest athlete of all time. Other former champions include IWWF Hall of Famers such as Sammy Duvall, Bob LaPoint, Helena Kjellander, and Emma Sheers.
However, due to the evolving landscape of the World Games and the allocation of athlete quotas, compromises have been necessary over the years. From 2001 to 2009, as the number of disciplines expanded to include barefoot and wakeboard, the count of traditional three-event athletes and medals had to be reduced. The compromise was to compete only in overall, displaying all three events on this significant global stage but narrowing the pool of competitors. Since 2013, the Games has included three-event water skiing alongside wakeboarding.
The decision to exclude water skiing from the 2025 Games was influenced by various factors. The host country, China, has shown limited interest and participation in three-event water skiing in recent years. No Chinese athlete has competed in an IWWF-sanctioned water ski tournament since before the Covid pandemic, and prior to that, participation numbers were low, and the sport had been in decline. In contrast, the sports included for 2025 highlight China’s recent robust participation, with active involvement in the IWWF Asia Wakefest wakeboard and wakesurf series, including hosting an event earlier this month.
Moreover, considerations about the designated venue, Sancha Reservoir, played a pivotal role. Setting up the infrastructure for traditional three-event water skiing—involving jump ramps, courses, and officiating technology—demands substantial resources and manpower. Wakeboarding and wakesurfing, being less infrastructure-intensive, were deemed more suitable for the venue.
The 2022 World Games in Alabama faced similar challenges, underscoring the logistical hurdles of organizing water ski events at non-specialized venues. Athletes have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with repurposed venues, as seen in the criticism of the World Championships in France and Malaysia.
Critics within the water skiing community often point to the sport’s efforts to be included in the Olympic Games in the ’90s and 2000s as a contributing factor to its decline. While the impact of these endeavors is debatable, the exclusion from the World Games raises concerns about the sport’s visibility on a global scale.
The World Games, often considered a stepping stone to the Olympics, provides valuable exposure for water skiing, including mainstream media coverage. The decision to exclude the sport, in favor of other towed water sports, reflects a broader industry shift towards wakesports, leaving traditional three-event water skiing on the sidelines.
In the face of this setback, the water skiing community hopes for a reevaluation of future editions of the World Games, advocating for the inclusion of the sport that has been an integral part of the event for over four decades.