For five days, Ralph Samuelson tried in vain to get up on his water skis. He knew he could do it. An expert aqua planer, he had put on his skis while riding his aquaplane and had cast off, one foot at a time, until he was planning on two boards. He actually skied for several yards before he fell. The date was June 28, 1922. The site was Lake Pepin, in Lake City, Minnesota.
The record should probably show that this was the first time that anyone had ridden water skis, as we know them today, but for Ralph Samuelson that short ride didn’t count. He was determined to get up on his skis without any assistance other than the boat. He continued into the weekend, trying anytime hisolder brother Ben would give him a tow behind his workboat which was powered by a converted Saxon truck engine (top speed 14 knots). Then on Sunday, July 2, Ralph had an idea. He had been attempting to take off with his skis level or even with the tips slightly lowered in the water. What would happen if he pushed back on his skis and tried with the tips slanted upward? Finally he was skiing, it worked and it has been working for waterskiing ever since.
Once Samuelson got the feel of skiing, he began jumping wakes. One day, slamming down after crossing a particularly big wave, he crashed a ski and had to make another pair. Except for reinforcing the tips and moving the leather straps further back to make the boards easier to maneuver, Samuelson duplicated his original skis. (This 2nd pair is currently on display in the AWSEF Water Ski Experience and Museum in Florida).
Samuelson took his skis and his talents on exhibition tours in other areas of Minnesota. He became the star performer at summer weekend water carnivals, and at an exbition on Lake Pepin on July 28, 1925, he became the first water ski jumper. A floating diving platform, 4’ by 16’ was converted into a ramp by removing floating supports from one end. After one false try with his skis sticking to the 30 degree incline while he went off the 5’ end head first, Samuelson greased the surface with lard and succeeded. That same summer, he skied successfully behind a Boeing flying boat at 80 MPH to become the fledging sport’s first speed skier.
Samuelson became a celebrity as “The Father of Waterskiing”, honored not only at the unveiling of a monument in Lake City commemorating his lake Pepin feat, but as the Guest of Honor at water skiing’s 50th anniversary celebration at the 1972 National Waterskiing Championships in Seattle, Washington, and the dedication at the new national headquarters of the American Water Ski Association and Museum/ Hall of fame in Winter Haven, Florida, January 22, 1977.
Ralph Samuelson died in 1977 with the knowledge that what he started in 1922 was giving countless hours of pleasure and physical conditioning to millions of water skiers around the world.
This information courtesy of the USA Water Ski Foundation