Crowds flocked out in droves to watch the 2024 Latin American Waterski Championships

Easter Spectacle: Crowds Flock to the Latin American Water Ski Championships


Easter spectacle: Crowds flock to the Latin American Water Ski Championships

Crowds flocked out in droves to watch the 2024 Latin American Waterski Championships

The Easter Bunny even made an appearance to entertain the crowd over the weekend (image: @ahumada_esqui_nautico)

By Jack Burden

The picturesque city of Villa Dolores in Córdoba, Argentina, recently played host to the 40th annual Latin American Water Ski Championships. Over 100 athletes from seven different countries across North and South America gathered for a weekend of thrilling competition, spanning various age divisions from under 10 to over 75.

What set this year’s championships apart was the presence of a lively crowd, a rarity at water ski tournaments in recent years. Along the banks of Ahumada Esqui Nautico, spectators gathered to witness the action, creating an almost festival-like atmosphere. From nearby Villa Dolores and beyond, people flocked to the event, drawn not only by the on-water competition but also by the array of off-water attractions, including exhibitions, night skiing, live music, and traditional Argentinian Asado (BBQ).

The crowds were no accident; the tournament organizers put an incredible amount of work into promoting the event on both traditional and social media. They held press conferences alongside city leaders to promote the event to locals. Two prominent TV personalities were onsite promoting the event on social media with high-production value videos. When presented well, even a junior riding over the ramp can be immensely exciting; those of us embedded in the sport tend to forget how extreme much of water skiing is.

On the water, the competition was intense. Latin America has emerged as a powerhouse in elite, particularly junior, water skiing in recent years. The field included multiple junior and Under-21 world champions, such as Tobias Giorgis and Martin Labra. But much of the weekend’s action was not at the elite level; the field was mainly filled with grassroots junior and senior competitors, the kind you’d see at most any tournament across the world. Events like this prove that competition can be exciting and engaging for a wide audience at any level.

Our sport has slowly transitioned from the public to the private sphere over the past 50 years, with almost all high-level skiing now happening on private man-made lakes. This trend, probably unavoidable as the keenest skiers sought better and better training conditions, does not have to mean that all skiing happens behind closed doors.

This year’s Latin American Championships is a great example; Ahumada Esqui Nautico is a private man-made lake, but the organizers put in a huge effort to invite outsiders to the site, providing facilities and off-water attractions, sometimes as simple as adequate shade, to support spectators. All of this takes work, but the rewards are immense.

As the weekend came to a close, it was the host country, Argentina, that emerged victorious in the team competition, marking a triumphant return to the winner’s circle after over a decade. However, the true winner was water skiing itself. After all, if a tournament happens on a lake but nobody is there to see it, did it really happen?

Get On The Water, Presented By Radar Skis, To Offer Free Learn To Ski Clinics

Get On The Water To Offer Free Learn To Ski Clinics | USA Waterski


Get On The Water, presented by Radar Skis, to offer free learn to ski clinics

Get On The Water, Presented By Radar Skis, To Offer Free Learn To Ski Clinics


On July 2, 1922, history was changed when Ralph Samuelson became the first person to successfully water ski. USA Water Ski & Wake Sports is honoring the birth of our sport this summer by offering everyone the chance to learn to ski all summer long.

USA Water Ski & Wake Sports, along with our affiliated ski clubs across the country, will host free learn to ski events June 1-August 31, 2024. USA Water Ski & Wake Sports recognizes that financial limitations often hinder participation in towed water sports and Get on the Water was designed to provide a fun, non-intimidating environment in which participants can learn to water ski for free.

Presented by Radar Skis, Get on the Water is a coast-to-coast initiative, waiving all sanctioning fees and guest membership fees for USA Water Ski & Wake Sports affiliated clubs that host basic skills learn to ski events through Aug. 31, 2024, providing clubs with a national platform, the opportunity to connect with their community, and the ability to better reach those who might not otherwise be able to participate.

The clinics are open to anyone who would like to learn to ski. Participants do not need any prior water-skiing experience to participate. The ability to swim is recommended but not required (each participant will wear a life vest).

Interested clubs should visit for vital information as well as a step-by-step How to Sanction a GOTW Event Guide.

Get on the Water is presented by Radar Skis and sponsored by Indmar Marine Engines, MasterCraft Boat Company, and Visit Central Florida.

Blue & Green Water Ski Lakes in the California Desert

California Dreamin’ – Why Does America’s West Coast Produce So Few Elite Skiers?


California Dreamin’ – Why Does America’s West Coast Produce So Few Elite Skiers?

Blue & Green Water Ski Lakes in the California Desert

California’s hidden water ski lakes (image: West Coast Aerial Photography, Inc)

By Jack Burden

When it comes to water skiing, California seems to have all the ingredients for producing elite skiers: a large population, numerous skiers, abundant tournaments, a wealth of man-made water ski lakes, and enviable weather conditions, especially in Southern California that allows comfortable year-round skiing. Yet, the puzzling reality remains that America’s West Coast, including California, has only seen a handful of water skiing professionals rise to the top ranks in the last two decades. In this article, we explore the factors that contribute to this enigma.

At first glance, California seems poised to dominate the world of water skiing. It boasts the second largest number of competitive skiers and tournaments in the United States. Additionally, the presence of numerous man-made water ski lakes and the mild climate present an ideal breeding ground for ski talent. Despite these advantages, the list of elite professionals hailing from or based in California remains relatively short.

When scanning the current roster of professional water skiers, the number of prominent names emerging from California is modest. Terry Winter, Marcus Brown, and Brian Detrick are some of the notable figures of the 21st century. Young talent like Blaze Grubbs adds promise to the list, yet it’s evident that California doesn’t dominate the scene. The western region also claims Erika Lang and the Abelsons in Arizona, but the concentration of elite skiers remains highly diluted when compared to other regions.

A Historical Perspective

The history of water skiing in California boasts numerous milestones. The state hosted the first professional tournaments in the U.S. and has served as the residence for some of the sport’s most exceptional skiers, including the LaPoints, Mike Suyderhoud, and Deena Brush. Moreover, the region holds the distinction of pioneering the concept of man-made lakes for the sport. The first, Horton Lake in the Mojave Desert, was completed in 1969, and numerous others, such as Radar Lake in Washington, were excavated in the early 1970s. Notably, California emerged as a favored water ski destination in the 1980s and early 90s, housing flourishing ski schools like Suyderhoud’s and Horton’s.

The Florida Advantage

Florida’s dominance in the water skiing arena might hold the key to unraveling the California puzzle. Several factors have earned Florida its reputation as the “water skiing capital of the world,” overshadowing California. The abundance of natural water bodies, coupled with a lower cost of living, proved appealing. Florida’s proximity to the Midwest and East Coast allowed it to tap into a wider range of prospective skiers, while its accessibility to Europe became a critical advantage. California’s ski schools, although popular locally and with skiers from Australia and New Zealand, couldn’t match the network effects generated by Florida’s concentration of top-tier athletes.

The history of top skiers from California relocating to the Sunshine State is a prime example of this trend. The migration of talent has contributed to Florida’s stronghold on the sport. The Garcias, Taylor and Ali, were born and came up through the junior ranks in California but relocated to Florida to access the coaching and training opportunities of the Sunshine State. This pattern dates back much further, with icons like Rhoni Barton, the Roberges, and Deena Brush all making moves from California to Florida. This history of talent migration has reinforced Florida’s network effects, further concentrating elite skiers in the region and enhancing its competitive edge.

The Contemporary Scenario

Today, California’s water skiing landscape reflects a distinct trend. The sport has shifted towards a country-club style, predominantly taking place behind closed doors on private man-made lakes. This shift has come at a cost. The scarcity of ski clubs, coupled with some of the country’s highest tournament entry fees, has limited the sport’s accessibility. Demographics mirror this shift, with California experiencing a relative dearth of junior skiers compared to other regions.

The three most expensive states for tournament skiing are in the western region.

The scene in California serves as a microcosm for larger challenges facing the sport. The issues of accessibility, limited access to public water bodies, and the scarcity of ski clubs are emblematic of a broader struggle. While private man-made lakes provide an exclusive arena for the sport, they inadvertently contribute to its limited visibility and accessibility. The higher cost associated with these facilities hinder the involvement of a diverse range of participants. This trend is mirrored across various regions, reflecting a broader dilemma in water skiing—a balance between exclusivity and broader accessibility. Understanding these challenges within the Californian context could offer valuable insights for steering the sport towards a more inclusive future on a national and international scale.

In conclusion, California’s puzzle of producing fewer elite water skiers than expected is a complex one. While the state boasts all the prerequisites, a confluence of historical choices, geographical advantages of Florida, and changing dynamics of the sport have shaped the present scenario. Nonetheless, California remains critical to water skiing’s future as it grapples with these challenges and seeks to strike a balance between its rich legacy, the evolving demands of the sport, and the need for a more inclusive and accessible path forward.

Twin Lakes CornFest

Twin Lakes CornFest: The Midwest’s Ultimate Towed Water Sports Extravaganza


Twin Lakes CornFest: The Midwest’s Ultimate Towed Water Sports Extravaganza

Twin Lakes CornFest

At its core, TL CornFest is centered around building community. (Image: @tlcornfest)

By Jack Burden

Over the past two months, we have witnessed some of our sports’ top trick skiers submitting videos of their three-trick lines for a wacky-sounding event in the Midwest. What is this corn-based social media phenomenon? And why are renowned athletes like Joel Poland, Adam Pickos, Jake Abelson, and Giannina Bonnemann Mechler jumping on the bandwagon?

The answer is the Twin Lakes CornFest, hosted on Lake Mary at Lance Park in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Scheduled from August 17-19, 2023, this marks the 4th edition of the exciting and innovative event. This year’s festival is set to be the grandest yet, with over 200 water skiers ranging in age from 4 to 67 years old, representing various disciplines within towed water sports, including collegiate and three-event athletes, show skiers, wakeboarders, and more.

CornFest spans three action-packed days and offers a diverse range of towed water sports competitions. Events include Feet on Fire, Trick Ski Showdown, Freestyle Jumping, Ramp Master Superstar LD Jump, Legends of Wake, Swivel Showcase, Lowrider Rumble, and the TL Cornfest Kids Rising Stars.

This year’s competitors include world record holder Erika Lang, 200+ foot jumper Brandon Schipper, and wakeboarding legend “Dirty” Mike Dowdy – just to name a few.

In a sport that often seems stale and regimented, the CornFest is a breath of fresh air. The format is incredibly innovative, showcasing all facets of towed water sports. The Trick Ski Showdown follows the popular three-trick line format that has taken over social media platforms, encouraging skiers to compete on any apparatus or discipline, from trick skis to wake skates, with judges subjectively evaluating creativity, flow, difficulty, authenticity, and, most importantly, stoke!

The Ramp Master Superstar LD Jump event is distance jumping with a twist. Skiers earn points not only for distance but also for style. Rather than measuring the jumps, the goal is to hit or land as close as possible to a target 100-125 feet from the jump. The judges will also evaluate skiers based on categories such as style, aerial maneuvers, body position, and hangtime.

If traditional three-event purists aren’t offended enough already, the entire event will be towed behind a Centurion wake boat, with no switch for jumping.

The Twin Lakes CornFest lineup includes every towed water sports discipline imaginable, except thankfully wake surfing, fostering a sense of camaraderie between athletes and spectators alike. Where else do barefooters, show skiers, wakeboarders, and three-event water skiers rub shoulders and compete together? This big tent approach to towed water sports promises something for everyone, and the variety is fantastic for spectator engagement.

Everything about the event, from the all-you-can-eat-corn gimmick to the infectious exuberance for summer days at the lake, is so quintessentially Midwest, you can’t resist calling it corny. Bad puns aside, this event is exactly the kind of spectacle we need to bring water skiing back into the public eye. So, if you’re anywhere near Wisconsin on August 17-19, you should check out this fantastic event. It’s a celebration of athleticism, community, and the love for the water that unites us all.

For more details go to or check them out on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.

TL CornFest | Highlights 2022

USA Waterski mandated SafeSport training for all members in 2022

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


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.

Krista Rodgers Schipner Dear Water Skiing

Dear Water Skiing | Waterski Magazine


Dear Water Skiing, It’s Not You. It’s Us.

Krista Rodgers Schipner Dear Water Skiing

Image: @waterski_mag

By Krista Schipner

Waterski Magazine

April, 2017

I urge the water-skiing community to remember where and how they fell in love with the sport in the first place. Many of our current die-hards are third generation water-ski babies. Where did their parents or grandparents first fall in love with the sport?

For most of us, it was having fun under the sun and on the water with family and friends. And the skier was more concerned about getting a PB or impressing someone in the boat than he or she was about how perfectly straight the boat path was or if the time was indeed 16.95.

Skiers today – and their moms, dads and grandparents – likely fell in love with this sport behind an old outboard boat, or a wooden ski with a binding that resembled a flip-flop more than a Wiley’s. The passion was probably developed over the summer, at someone’s family cabin after days of out-the-fronts, mouthfuls of water, and skiing doubles with friends.

Water skiing, you’ve provided us endless hours of fun, sore muscles and memories. You’ve taught us to get up after falling down time and time again. You gave us a place to bond with our parents, neighbors, friends and strangers. You’ve taught us life lessons about strength, humility, determination and dedication.

You’ve given us a world where our hometowns, language and culture fall second to how we identify ourselves. Being a water-skier and part of this family always comes first.

Thank you for giving us early mornings smelling like sunscreen and gasoline and late nights consisting of sunburned skin and blistered hands. Thank you for providing that feeling, that one every water-skier knows, of breaking glass under your ski.

Thank you for the joy. For the laughs. For the triumphs and the competition.

Compensation adds enjoyment. A new set of goals, benchmarks and adventures. New friends, trips, events and memories.

But we apologize. We apologize for taking you for granted. We apologize for trying to make you something you are not. We apologize for making it too complicated.

We became selfish.

We became enthralled with ourselves. We turned inward instead of reaching out. We focused on fractions of feet, inches of deviations in a ramp, quarter buoys and new standards for judges. We added layers upon layers of technology to the sport in an effort to chase a futile Olympic dream. We made it daunting. We made it hard in ways it shouldn’t be. We took advantage of volunteers.

Competition brings joy until too many rules squelch it. It becomes too much of a burden to bear for the technical-controller volunteer or the promo-boat owners. It is too much.

We became exclusive. Elitist.

Self-serving. That is not what you are about. That is not the heart of the sport. We lost sight of why we are all here in the first place.

From beginners to pros to retirees and everything else in between, remember you work for the industry, the industry doesn’t work for you. We are all in this together and need to contribute in the best ways we can. We took advantage, and now it is time to take responsibility.

Water skiing is not dying. The box that we’ve tried to put it in, however, is collapsing. Weekend warriors are soaking up the sun on a public lake, someone is trying the course, and another has finally got the nerve up to ride a tube for the first time. These are our people. They are part of our water-ski family too.

For most of us, water skiing is a lifestyle that is just as much dedication to craft as it is a social activity. I invite the ski family to remember the first time they got up and the joy it brings them to teach others, and I challenge them to continue to spread that joy.

Water skiing, we are sorry, but we are not done. We’ve seen where we’ve gone wrong, and we see the bigger picture. We will teach new people to ski. We will invite our friends who have left the sport to come and take a ride. We will embrace the kids who just want to tube or kneeboard, and we will praise the barefooters who get the early-morning butter. We understand that we are all part of the same team with a shared love for being behind the boat, and we will be better teammates moving forward.

With love,


This article originally appeared in Issue 1, Volume 39 of Waterski Magazine.

Waterskiing has moved to private paradises like Crystal Point in Arizona

The Sport of Kings | Waterski Magazine


The Sport of Kings. How to Afford the High Cost of Skiing Without a Royal Bank Account

Playa Del Rey in Gilbert, Arizona is a luxury, gated community with it’s own private Water-ski lake (image: Zion Realty)

By Jim Frye

Waterski Magazine

April, 2014

Horse racing has long been called the “sport of kings.” With its million dollar thoroughbreds, caviar hors d’oeuvres and Kentucky Derby style, it wears this moniker well. Of course, it’s not the only well-heeled sport. With waterfront mansions; sleek, pricey inboard boats; and far-flung international ski sites, the sport of water skiing is no slouch. As a matter of fact, with participation slipping, many wonder if our sport’s royal road to riches is keeping everyone else outside the kingdom walls.

Is our sport solely the domain of one percenters and lakefront homeowners who can pony up $50,000 to $100,000 for a top-of-the-line boat, or is there room for everyday nine-to-fivers with used skis and borrowed gear who chip in gas money for a ride on their buddy’s ’90s -era Supra Comp?

“Water skiing’s been called the sport of kings, but I don’t know if we should apologize for that or run from that,” says Jim Emmons, president of the Water Sports Industry Association. “It is what it is.

“Let’s turn that questions around,” Emmons says. “The folks who water ski are generally in the upper echelon of education and earnings potential. But think what it would be like if it was accessible to anybody; think what our waterways would be like. You’d be taking turns in a long line to get a pull every moment of every day.”

Although Emmons admits that he, along with others at towed water sports companies, would love to see the 5 million active water skiers grow to 10 million, he wonders about capacity. He questions if perhaps it’s better to have slow and steady growth instead of a rapid increase. He does have a point. For example, if it cost only $1,000 to field a NASCAR team, every gear head with a piggy bank would be clogging the racetracks below the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi. The same thing goes for golf, snow skiing, surfing and countless other sports for that matter. No athlete would have much fun with jam-packed links, ski resorts or board-to-board waves.

Are Water-Skiing Costs Pushing People Out?

Let’s face the facts. Boats aren’t cheap. Skis cost money. And tournaments don’t pay for themselves. But how much is too much? Is water skiing pricing itself out of reach of the common athlete? Have the costs become such a barrier to entry that a limited number of new skiers are able to enter the fold?

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Water Skiing Participation Report 2013 turned up some interesting – and sobering – statistics. Total participation in water skiing in the United States dropped 5.6 percent from 2007, when 5.9 million participated, through 2012, which had fewer than 5 million skiers. Participation by casual skiers dropped by 3.9 percent, whereas core skier participation dropped by 8.9 percent. What’s the reason for declining numbers?

“Skiing is becoming more and more elite because its costs are out of control,” says Wisconsin skier Zach Jachowicz, an average-joe skier who hits the water about two or three times per week. “I for sure agree that there’s a ton of engineering and money that goes into the skis, bindings and boats, but some of these prices are outrageous.”

Jachowicz told us that when he and his family attend tournaments, they feel almost like outsiders, partly because the world of competitive water skiing is a close-knit-community but also because it’s a seemingly very affluent community. To Jachowicz, it seemed almost like a clash of classes. And keeping up with all the newest equipment is almost impossible. “It’s not cheap to keep up with the latest and greatest gear,” he says. “I purchased my first new ski, a Radar Vice with double Vector bindings, last year at the Malibu Open. The last new ski I had before that was an HO Extreme from maybe 2001.”

What Does it Cost?

Longtime coach and high-end equipment retailer Steve Schnitzer, who invented the wing and the adjustable fin, says that rising costs are definitely pushing people out. “I’m continually hearing from clients about the price of a boat, with most new boats over $60,000.” New slalom boats can retail anywhere from the $50,000s, $60,000s or higher, depending on options. Wakeboarding and crossover boats – for those who like to keep a foot in both worlds or just to keep the family happy – can run as high as $120,000 or more. Yowza!

Is that something most people can afford? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for 2013 was $52,100, which is down somewhat because of the recession. That means that half of all household incomes were above that number, and half were below.

Although a boat is the single largest investment a person will make in the sport, Schnitzer helps us sort out some of the other expenses. “A top-of the line blank ski with a fin can start around $1,940,” he says. Add in shipping charge, and you’re at roughly $2,000. From there, you’ve got hard shells at around $650. The ski case is another $70. Add in a rope for $90 and a nice handle for about $110. Now you need a vest for $150 and gloves for $60. “To show up and ski behind your friend’s boat is over $3,000,” he says. “Sure, you can buy used and cut your cost down. But that’s without even a bathing suit.”

There are other, less obvious, costs that can also chomp up your bank account. Since skiers tend to crave private lakes to sharpen their skills, access to those private lakes becomes an issue. Take the Rocky Mountain Water Ski Club at Sweetwater Ranch in Dostero, Colorado for example. Members get access to the private course, the clubhouse, hot tub, picnic areas and the 19-foot ski boat. The price? More than $200,000. Of course, by becoming one of only 15 members, you also become a one-fifteenth owner of this exclusive skiing wonderland.

The topic of escalating costs burned up the forums on recently. “I think the main factor which has driven up the cost of skiing is the increase in price or lack of lakefront property,” says lifelong skier David Stowe, who hails from Mooresville, NC, near Lake Norman. “Young people who would become lifelong skiers are unable to buy in at higher property values. Thus, they can’t conveniently ski and really never pick up the sport. Slowly over time, the number of skiers decreases, and the cost of certain necessities, like ski boats, increase due to economies of scale.”

How to Ski on the Cheap (AKA Buddies with Boats)

Ok, so water skiing is expensive. And many of its ardent participants aren’t hurting for dough. Which begs the question: How can the rest of us get in on the fun? Is it possible to ski on the cheap?

Absolutely, according to Dave Ross, a skiing fanatic and resident “onthecheap expert” who told us how the other half does it. He lives in Litchfield, Minnesota, an hour west of Minneapolis, on the 550-acre Lake Ripley, where he’s been president of the Lake Ripley Improvement Association since 2002. “I live on a public lake within the city limits and have a mint ’91 Ski Centurion Falcon Barefoot on my lift,” he says. “The boat sees lots of family duty pulling tubes, wakeboarding and barefooting and is used for general boating and driving fun. I bought it in ’99 from my dad for $13,000 and the maintenance has been minimal. I don’t ski buoys with the Centurion, but having now owned it for 15 years, I’d say that is family fun on the cheap.”

But he doesn’t stop there. Ross has a group of buddies with boats and resources to help each other feed their skiing passions. “I split another ski site with my buddy Bob 10 miles from home,” he says. “We call it ‘the swamp’ [Hoff Lake]. We pay a landowner a total of $750 [$375 each] to keep a dock, boat lift and ski boat extended from his property.” They installed two slalom course. Bob’s ’87 MasterCraft ProStar 190 pulled the guys for years until 2010, when Ross bought a 2000 Ski Nautique 196 with 84 hours on it and PP classic for $17,000. “We still ski that boat today and will for many years to come,” he says.

Boat Co-Ownership and Cable Parks

One way to defray the costs of boat ownership is to purchase one with a group of friends, Everyone pays; everyone helps with cleanup; everyone buys fuel – sounds like a good deal. And spreading the cost of a boat purchase out among four to eight people puts boat ownership well within reach.

Take Richard Doane’s group in Burien, Washington, for example – four guys who jointly purchased a 2011 Malibu Lxi. “The LLC we formed for our ‘club’ boat has been a great thing now for three seasons,” Doane says. “As with any group, you need to have some rules in place, and expectations spelled out in the beginning. People typically rise up to the expectation that you set.”

But make sure there are solid expectations. “I had four friends who purchased a mid-1990s Ski Nautique, and it turned into a huge mess for them,” says Rod Long, an ex-Canadian ski junkie and soon-to-be lakefront homeowner at Ski Texas south of Houston. “In the end, the boat got sold, and a couple of friendships were ruined. That was my sign to figure out how to do it on my own when I could afford to.” Long says he plans to be on the water daily as soon as he’s into his almost-completed home 50 feet from his boat.

USA Water Ski executive director Bob Crowley sees other ways to overcome costs and increase participation. “One of the best alternatives for those who can’t afford a boat is the growth of cable parks around the country,” he says. “Yes, right now they’re primarily catering to wakeboarding, but it can also work with water skiing there too.”

Schnitzer agrees. “What ski companies and the industry need to do to get more people into the sport is to introduce more cable parks,” he says. “Ski all day for $30 or $40 bucks. Correct Craft is now investing in cable parks. They see the handwriting on the wall. A cable park is economical; it costs next to nothing. It’s like going to the mountain [snow skiing] for a lift ticket.”

“Cable parks are coming online faster and faster,” Emmons says. “One’s just been approved outside Washington D.C. They’re opening up all over the country, and they can be a feeder system for watersports. You can get a tow without having to buy a boat.”

Ski Clubs: Our Best Hope

“Clubs,” Crowley says. “That’s how new people can get interested in the sport. They can connect to the clubs in their area who have their own boat. That’s the biggest hurdle to getting started,” He stresses that clubs provide great camaraderie and make trying out the sport immensely more affordable.

Taryn Garland, the new USA Water Ski program development coordinator, emphasizes the importance of clubs in the life of the sport. “Introducing new people to the sport is where clubs really come into play,” she says. “They all pool their resources for the common good. They chip in for gas. You can ask for help and be open to networking. If you get plugged into a club, they usually have extra equipment in their garage. Clubs are like family.”

Garland carved many a lake as part of Wisconsin’s Mad-City Ski Team for 11 years – and five national titles – and it’s there in show skiing that she sees a great opportunity to increase the accessibility and visibility of the sport. “You want a way to involve as many people as possible,” she says. “Sometimes in three event, there are only so many people who can ski at a time. Show ski teams allow many people to participate.” Those skiers will often go on to compete in three-event tournaments.

The Future

How do we stem loss of participation due to costs? Everyone has an opinion, but it’s encouraging to hear that all facets of the industry – from the boat and product manufacturers, to USA Water Ski, to instructors, to athletes – are responding.

“A lot of our top-level water skiers have moved to private lakes, and our sport is no longer as much in the public eye as it was 15 years ago,” Crowley says. “Knowing that we’re all connected, we’re encouraging our big-time athletes to reach out on Twitter, Instagram and open up their life a little bit for people to see.” USA Water Ski is also looking to more strategically transition collegiate skiers back into the American Water Ski Association, offering “starter skits” with exclusive discounts on gear to collegiate teams.

“The future of our sport depends on everybody being able to work together and growing it together,” Garland says. To that effect, USA Water Ski is celebrating its 75th year with a campaign celebrating “Life on the Water.” The whole purpose is to get more people on the water and build the base of the sport through grass-roots clubs, basic skills clinics, membership drives, dealer days and any other way to increase visibility. For a list of ski clubs in your area, visit

With almost 5 million people water skiing in the U.S., there is a lot of life left in this sport. Cost doesn’t have to be a barrier to entry. Whether it’s through cable parks, boat co-ownership, dealership promotions or joining a ski club, there are many ways to make it work and get people to see the allure of a “life on the water.”

“I wouldn’t hesitate to sell off all my other toys in order to keep playing and having fun on the water,” says Rod Long. “My motorcycle would probably be the first to go.” Jachowicz echoes that sentiment. “I would do anything to continue to pursue skiing,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of Waterski Magazine.

Water skiing at the Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee

The Greatest Shows in Skiing | Waterski Magazine


The greatest shows in skiing.

On the lake and off, a new way of hosting water ski events is changing the way a pro ski event comes to life.

Water skiing at the Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee

The Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee (image: Joel Hughes)

By Josh Sampiero

Waterski Magazine

July-August, 2012

It sounds simple. Throw out some buoys, gas up the boat, invite some hotshot skiers, and bam, you’ve got a world class event. Easy, right? “Ha!” exclaims Dana Reed, organizer of the Malibu Open. “People have no idea the manpower that goes into putting on a water ski event. It’s a lot of hard work!” Reed should know. Over the past decade, he’s put on nearly 50 amateur and professional water ski events.

The most important lesson he’s learned? Forget what the lake looks like, and start looking at what’s around it. “If I can’t see skyscrapers within a quarter mile of the event venue, I’m not interested.” This summer, Reed’s pet project, the Malibu Open in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a groundbreaking event in Orlando called Soaked! Are poised to get the world of professional water skiing – and hopefully a whole lot of new fans – pretty wet.

Competitive Evolution

From competitive water skiing’s glory days until just a few short years ago, the format of competition remained fairly static, with little thought given to how to make events appeal to nonwater-skiing spectators, Reed says. “At the Malibu Open, I get asked 100 times a day how the event is scored,” he says. A few nontraditional formats have emerged to combat this, including head-to-head skiing, or elimination rounds that nonskier spectators can follow, Like Marcus Brown’s Last Man Standing contest held at BoardStock in 2007. After narrowing down the field to six skiers, the finalists all skied one pass at a time, shortening the line after each round. Skiers who missed were eliminated, and the rounds continued until only one competitor remained. “Because there was one guy after another at the same pass [the spectators] knew who won,” Brown explains. “They knew who got the furthest because they just saw everybody try 39 within a two-minute time frame … it happens quick.”

Case Study: The Malibu Open

Hard-to-understand formats weren’t the only thing holding pro skiing back. The inclination had been to hold events at private or hard-to-reach lakes. They may have offered pristine water skiing conditions, but very little in terms of visibility. But in 2011, the Malibu Open put pro-level water skiing in front of 13,000 spectators at Milwaukee’s Veteran’s Park Lagoon, which features a highly trafficked promenade, just a short distance from downtown.

Securing such a venue isn’t easy. He has to pay the paddleboat business loss of income for two days, on top of what it costs him to bring in 25 vendors, rent a 15-foot JumboTron, and get 150 posters and banners hung up in 24 hours. But it’s worth it. “I have two goals,” says 56-year-old Reed, who has been water skiing since he was 20. “To get the athletes as much money as I can, and to put as many spectators as possible on the shore for the sponsors. It’s all about putting our sport in front of people and making it grow.” It’s pretty had to argue, considering the success he’s had. This year, Reed hopes to see 15,000 or more visitors over the two-day period.

Soaking up $100,000

The Malibu Open isn’t the only event that’s generating buzz this summer. Over Surf Expo weekend in Orlando, we’ll see the debut of a new event called Soaked. Put together by former pro water skier Mike Morgan and attorney/water ski buff Steve Garcia (both of whom have children who will be competing in the event) and promoted by Australian-born Paul Lovett, Soaked is pulling out all stops and creating an absolute spectacle, right on downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola. The lake hasn’t seen a water ski event since the ‘80s.

Not only will there be pro-level slalom and jumping happening in the afternoon and at night, but there will be three stages with live band, a vert ramp with professional skateboarders, and a muscle-car and custom-motorcycle show, while local graffiti artists on the premises ink up original work. Sounds more like a party, I tell Lovett. He laughs. “When Freddy’s jumping and Ryan’s jumping, it’s awesome. When the boat’s just doing lap after lap, it’s boring. I have to think of what I can do to make this interesting for the spectator. And after 30 years of promoting events, I’m not just putting my toe in the water,” he says. “I’m diving in.” Why? It’s simple. He believes in water skiing. “We’re in a sport that’s ready to explode. Someone just needs to kick it in the ass again!” How big of a kick does it need? A $100,000 kick – one of the largest prize purses ever offered at a ski event.

The Next Show

So, is all this effort paying off? Will new formats, higher-profile venues and more people in the stands pay off in getting more water skiers on the water and increasing the visibility of the sport on the national scale? Unfortunately, there’s no instant answer to that question. We’ll have to wait and see. But for Dana Reed, what’s going to happen next is obvious. After two years of success with the Malibu Open, he’s looking at other locations, such as Denver, Colorado and Dallas, Texas. The only requirement? “Skyscrapers!” Reed exclaims. Of course.

This article originally appeared in the July-August 2012 edition of Waterski Magazine.