Helping non-Olympic and growing sport federations establish a global presence, increase athlete participation, and build their membership

Spotlight on Waterski and Wakeboarding

Waterskiing was first invented in 1922 when basic equipment like a pair of boards and a clothesline were used by Ralph Samuelson on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota. He experimented with several techniques until he settled on the method of leaning back with the ski tips poking out of the water. His brother Ben was in the boat towing him. Ralph spent a further 15 years teaching people how to waterski. During this period, he also built several variations of skis and eventually settled on lumber with bindings made of leather strips, but never patented his design. The first patent went to Fred Waller of Huntingdon, New York, in 1925. Since then, several other inventors brought out their designs, but it was Don Ibsen from the West Coast who took the sport further by developing his own line of waterski and founded The Olympic Water Ski Club in Seattle in 1941. Don was also a leading promoter of the sport.  

Further important figures within the sport were Swedish engineer, Gunnar Ljungström, who pioneered slalom skiing, and Dick Pope Sr., known as the ‘Father of American Water Skiing’ who completed the first jump on water skis. His son, Dick Pope Jr., was the inventor of barefoot waterskiing. Waterskiing was eventually included in the 1972 Olympics. During competitions, there are three disciplines. These include Slalom, Jump, and Trick. Barefoot water skiing is performed in a specially designed wetsuit instead of the life jacket. This is to add further protection in case of a fall. The speeds achieved during barefoot waterskiing is higher than with normal waterskiing. The back of the wetsuit is also thicker to aid the skier when they glide on their backs. An aluminum bar fastened to the side of the boat can also be used instead of a rope.  

Wakeboarding is a water board sport that combines waterskiing, surfing, snowboarding, and skating. This explosive and energetic activity consists of a rider standing sideways on a short, wide board while being towed by a boat. The boat creates a big wake, which is then surfed and used as a ramp by the wakeboarder, translating into incredible big air tricks, grabs, flips, and jumps. It all started in the mid-sixties in the United States, when surfers looked for other ways to create waves to surf when the ocean was flat. Reasonably enough, they pioneered into getting towed behind a loaded-up speedboat (to create more wake) and be able to surf. Later, they improved their boards, strapped boots to them, worked on their tricks and jumps, and unknowingly invented one of the sports that would change watersports forever.   

After a slow, centralized start, wakeboarding spread in the mid-eighties across France and other countries, making the sport known across the globe, inviting athletes of different disciplines to try it and fall in love with it. Nowadays, the sport has evolved immensely; even though the wakeboarder still gets towed and takes advantage of the wake that the boat creates, the impulse of the wake has been replaced by ramps of different sizes, slides, fun boxes, and other obstacles that allow the athlete to do tricks that would be impossible to achieve just by using the impulse of the water. In competition, wakeboarding is a sport that requires incredible skills from the wakeboarder.   

The International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) is the world governing body for all competitive and recreational towed water sports. It is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and one of the seven founding sports of the World Games. Not only does it promote and develop wakeboarding to make it an inclusive sport, but it also regulates, supports, and represents the athletes. The IWWF is based in Chertsey, England. 

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