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History of University Water Skiing

As in most sports, origin is somewhat of an innocuous term. Suffice it to say, Collegiate (University) Water Skiing probably got it’s start about the same time that ole Ralph Samuelson strapped on that pair of longboards, back in Minnesota. However, our first formal reports of a “collegiate element” come from “Barefoot” Stew McDonald who claims he was both the organizer and a participant in the first collegiate tournament, which was held at Cypress Gardens, Florida circa 1948. With rules “made up on the starting dock” the sport evolved into a series of “team” tournaments, culminating in a Southern Collegiate Championships. While only Florida schools competed at that time, these championships were held continuously for many years and, at the time, it was the 2nd oldest continuous tournament in the world, second only to the U.S. Nationals”.  Over the next 70 years, collegiate skiing slowly spread across the United States and a few other countries as well, including Japan and Australia.

First International Event

Late in 1988, the National Collegiate Water Ski Association of the United States received a surprising invitation to compete in, of all things, the 1989 World University Games. Only one problem, these were the games of the FISU “Winter” Universiade to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Although the request from the United States Olympic Committee raised a few eyebrows at the NCWSA, the decision was made to pick up the gauntlet, and work immediately started on team and staff selection. While water skiing was to be a demonstration sport, competition would be against the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria and West Germany.

Competition was to consist of the traditional 3-events of slalom trick and jump. With tricks (figures) taking place in a 50 meter pool in the athletes village, slalom and jump were scheduled at a “heated site” in the hydropark.

In the words of former NCWSA Chairman ED Walker, who managed the USA team, on his first visit to the hydropark, : ” Shocked, probably does not accurately describe how we felt. First, there was no roof as somehow we had expected but lost in the translation. Second, while it was an established lake, it had been drained down for extensive shore modifications and was nowhere near skiing level. Third, the amount of water being pumped into the lake (according to lake staff personnel) would only raise it about 15cm per day. There appeared to be no way that we possibly would ski our slalom and jump events”.

While the lake was about 1,000 meters long, the Rixen Cable System installed at the hydropark took up only 310 meters and was installed in the form of a circular racetrack. To everyone’s surprise, they were able to fill the lake sufficiently enough to hold the slalom and jump event, albeit with snow on the ground and a temperature of 8% C (seemed like both water and air). Tricks was a walk in the park in the heated pool. The  Soviet Union won the trick event followed by the United States and Bulgaria, but since that’s all the Soviets did, Bulgaria won the team overall followed by The United States and West Germany.

Now if someone asks you “who was the first IWSF country to win a team overall gold medal in water skiing at the World University Games?” You will be able to answer Bulgaria.

Thus began the dream of bringing university water skiing to the world stage.

1ST IWSF World University Trophy Tournament
Milledgeville, Georgia, USA
July, 1996

So remarkable was the experience of competing in an international event such as the World University Games, ED Walker and the NCWSA board of directors began toying with the idea of establishing an international collegiate water ski federation. It was felt that, under the banner of the IWSF, an international organization made up of collegiate organizations, like the NCWSA, could provide a tremendous potential for grass roots development and greatly assist in our quest to become an Olympic Sport.

Though it took six years and a tremendous amount of perseverance to implement, the initiative paid off and the 1st IWSF World University Trophy was held in 1996.

While small in number of participating countries, the 1st WUT was a huge success with names like, April Coble, Karen Truelove, Freddy Kruger, Natalie Hamrick, Leander Curry , Scott Smith, Michael McCormick and Kyle Peterson among the participants.

The Gold and Silver medals went to Team USA Blue and Team USA Red respectively with Canada winning the Bronze.

Before the success of the tournament could even be celebrated, ED Walker (the host) was killed in a tragic accident at his home.

2nd IWSF World University Trophy Tournament
Cleveland, Tennessee
June, 1998

After recovering from the shock of Mr. Walker’s tragic death, the NCWSA board, under the leadership of new chairman Phil Chase, set out to keep the dream alive and put together a second World University Trophy for 1998. This was done with the understanding that the next tournament would be moved out of the United States and, hopefully, hosted by a new collegiate organization.

Participation improved in the way of more countries and skiers. Highlighted by names like, Rhoni Barton (who set the IWSF Women’s World Overall Record at this tournament). Chris Sullivan, Simon Siegert, Ryan Fitts and Seth Stisher.

The United States again finished 1-2 with Team USA Red winning the Gold and Team USA Blue the Silver. The feisty team from Colombia led by jump champion Simon Siegert took the Bronze.

It was here at the 1998 WUT that plans for an international collegiate organization under the IWSF umbrella began to take shape. Attending the tournament as an observer was Mr. Toru Homma, Chairman of Japan’s Collegiate Waterski Federation and Mr. Chris Owen, then president of the Irish Water Ski Federation

A student/skier exchange program was started between the NCWSA and Japan which brought several Japanese collegiate skiers to the states for training the following year. NCWSA Chairman,Phil Chase and Arizona State Coach, Dave Phillips attended the Japanese Collegiate Nationals that same year where they had an audience with a member of Japan’s Royal Family. The Japanese reciprocated by sending a delegation to the 1999 NCWSA Nationals in Sacramento.

The strong ties between these three people from the US, Japan and Ireland formed the basis for development of the IWSF World University Commission and what has now become a movement toward an international consortium of university programs among IWSF member federations, in affiliation and partnership with the International University Sports Federation (FISU)