Water Skiing – What Do You Need To Get Started?

Your complete guide to getting started on water skiing and what is important to pay attention to when going out on the water

Have you ever dreamt about walking on water? I know I have! And I can safely say water skiing is pretty close to it, if not better.

Imagine being able to glide across the water at 32km per hour (20miles per hour), feeling as if you are going to fly. Water skiing is definitely a unique experience, and if you are interested in knowing what you need and about the types of water skis you need to get started, read on.

Within this article, you will learn all about:

  • The History of Water skiing
  • How Water skiing Works
  • The Physics of Water skiing
  • Water skiing and The Force That Drives You
  • Water skiing Basics: How to Get Started
  • The Right Water skiing Equipment
  • Types of Water Skis
  • Trick and Slalom Skiing
  • Ski Jumping, Racing, and Show Skiing

The history of water skiing

If you are interested in trying out water skiing, congrats! You’ll be doing it on the 100th anniversary of the sport. Yup, water skiing is that old. Feeling late? You’re not the only one.

Although there aren’t any official records backing this up, it may be that water skiing appeared in Sweden first before anywhere else in the world. Namely, the term “Vatternskida,which means to ski on a body of water, dates back to 1921 in Swedish dictionaries.

However, on the record, water skiing is recognized to have started by two brothers (only teenagers at the time) in Minnesota in 1922.

The 18-year-old Ralph Samuelson living near Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota, got the crazy idea that just as you ski on snow, you can ski on water too. So, with the help of his brother, Ben, they worked on realizing this revolutionary idea.

So, In July of 1922, Samuelson, for the first time, stood up on his two skis and skied on the water by being pulled by a boat his brother was driving.


Of course, at that time, their equipment was quite obsolete and basic. Samuelson used staves of a barrel and lengths of woods held together by leather straps to form his skis. He used a window sash as a ski rope.

Soon after trying out his equipment, he developed a method of how to do it right. He discovered that if he leaned back with the tips of your skis facing up, he could successfully glide over the water without losing balance.

After his invention got around, Samuelson was recognized as the father of the water sport by the American Water Ski Association, which credited him in 1966 as the first on record to attempt the sport. He never patented his invention, so in 1925 while Samuelson was touring the East Coast of the United States showing his new sports invention, Fred Waller developed the first water skis for sale and patented them as such, naming them Dolphin AquaSkees.

With the vast popularity around water skiing, the sport caught on pretty quickly in North America and Europe all throughout the 1930s.


So, in 1939 we have the first national waterskiing championship held at Jones Beach in Long Island, NY.

A few decades later, in 1972, at the Summer Games in Kiel, West Germany, water skiing was officially an Olympic sport, and fast forward to this present day, we now have more than 650 water skiing clubs and 11 million active participants in the United States alone.

It’s important to know that the development of water skiing and the development of motorized watercrafts went side by side as one complemented the other. I mean, you can’t really water ski behind a canoe, right? There has to be a motorboat going at least 25 kilometers per hour to pull you so that you can glide across the water instead of sink.

This is why, over time, technological advancements in motor crafts have only contributed to waterskiing’s evolution. Namely, the faster the boat, the quicker the skier and the more new tricks you can perform and maneuverability and control you can have overall.

With all that said, how does water skiing work anyway?

And why is that Samuelson found that pointing the tips of your skis up improved your skiing abilities?


How water skiing works

Water skiing as a sport is pretty straightforward.

If you want to try and water ski, you will have what looks like snow skis on your feet, and you will be pulled behind a motorboat across the water. Of course, the more advanced you get, the faster you can go, and the faster the boat that pulls you is, the more tricks you can perform and control you will have overall.

Nowadays, millions of people across the world water ski recreationally, and the sport also grows among competitive sports too. Only in the US, there are more than 900 tournaments held yearly. From small events for beginners to world-level competitions, anyone can compete in slalom, tricks, and jumping.

So, how do you stand on the water skis without sinking?

And what laws of physics work that enable you to perform tricks and glide over water seamlessly?

And if you are a complete newbie, don’t forget to check our selection of the best paddle boards of the year. After all, you have to start somewhere, right? Well, paddle boarding is an excellent introduction to all water sports.


The physics of waterskiing

Being interested in water skiing and wanting to start out requires that you truly understand the principles of physics underlying the sport. In fact, several factors come into play when you water ski.

The basic characteristics of water is that as fluid as it is when in motion, it is characterized as turbulent and laminar. When it is in motion and is turbulent, it has a rough surface and irregularities in its flow. When laminar, the water is smooth and calm.

For those who want to nerd out on this and dig deeper, I have a formula called the Reynolds number, which compares the two types of water:

Re = P (density) x L (obstacle length) x V (flow speed) / v (viscosity or internal friction)

A higher Reynolds number indicates a more turbulent fluid. A lower number suggests laminar water, which is optimal for water skiing because it’s smoother and maintains a certain flow.


If we go by basic recommendations, one thing you have to pay attention to is that before taking off, you should keep the tips of your skis out of the water.

Namely, if you lift the tips of your skis, your position will apply pressure that will counter the force of the boat when it begins to pull you. By doing so, you create a tilt of the skis, which is the primary source of the lift that will pull you out of the water. With the ski tip-tilted up, the water will strike your ski as you move forward, creating a rebound downward from the ski.

This will create an upward force on the ski and you. As long as the force of the upward water is equal to the downward force of gravity, and accordingly, the weight of the skier, you’ll stay afloat. Gravity is a constant force that determines the weight of the skier, skis, and the air above the water. Water counterbalances the weight above its surface.

If we go by another law, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, we learn that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, when the boat accelerates, it’ll begin to pull you. Then, you supply e equal and opposite pull against the boat as you lean back to counter the force of the boat. And since, obviously, the force of the boat is much greater than your own, it will pull you up and out of the water.


Water Skiing And Centripetal Force

Further, in the physics realm, an additional important element is the speed of the boat that is pulling you.

For instance, if you are approx. 75 kilos (150 pounds), the speed of the boat should be between 32 and 40 kilometers per hour (20 to 25 miles per hour).

However, if you are using only one ski, then the speed needs to increase because there is less surface building up pressure against the water.

When you are being pulled by a boat in a straight line, the two main forces acting on you are the force of the tow rope, which is created by the forward movement of the boat, and the force of the water on the skis. If there’s a constant tension in the tow rope, you’ll travel at the same speed as the boat.

However, when you are moving in a perpendicular direction of the boat, then the waves created by the boat and its engine bring up a centripetal force, which also comes into play.

Namely, this is a force that comes into play when a body moves in a circular path around another object, based on the fact that some force is pulling the body toward the center object.

The rope onto which you hold yourself will keep you traveling in a circular path around the boat. Then, when an object moves on a curve, it accelerates. So, when you start moving on a curve around the boat, you accelerate significantly.

Now that I have bored you with physics, let’s go into the practicalities of water skiing, the basics of the sport, and how to start.


Water skiing basics

Even though the majority of the performance depends on your water skiing skills, the person on the boat also has to know what they are doing in order to enable you to glide on the water unobstructed.

To smooth things out, you and they have to have a method of communication worked out.
Namely, here’s what you do at each stage of skiing.

The Start

To start water skiing, you begin by being in a sitting position in the water with your knees bent, and weight shifted to the back of your skis. Make sure the front tips of your skis are poking out of the water.

Be sure to maintain your balance as the force of the pushing and pulling of the boat may make things a little tricky.

As you feel the speed of the boat accelerating, and you feel the stronger pull, that’s a sign that you can begin to stand up. But how do you stand up without losing balance?

  • Keep your arms straight out as until now, straighten your back and start straightening your legs, but bend your knees for optimal control and maneuverability.

However, you cannot just perfect this stance on the spot as the boat accelerates, and you have to stand up for the first time. First, you have to practice at home before you hit the water.

  • Try stretching your arms out straight and lowering yourself in a chair as you would sit but don’t sit. Keep your back straight and maintain a firm stance right above the seat of the chair.

During all times, as you are gliding on the water, you should keep your knees bent. This will help you maintain balance through any bumps you might encounter. While skiing, make sure that you are behind the boat as it turns in order to stay inside the boat’s wake – the waves created by the boat.

Otherwise, if you are outside the wake and you are following to the side of the boat, as it begins to turn, you’ll whip around pretty quickly. Of course, as you advance, there are all sorts of tricks and jumps you can perform outside the wake, but leave that for when you accumulate enough experience.

Then, when you feel you want to stop, lower your body slowly until you sit on your skis and let go of the rope. As you sit and the boat is no longer near you, you will glide for a while longer and then come in for a smooth landing.

Don’t ski into the docks, though. It’s the safest to land away from any object you could collide with.


Waterskiing equipment

Now, before we go into the type of equipment, let’s talk about why solid gear is important and the potential dangers of unsafe skiing.

Namely, as a skier, you can reach up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour), and at that speed, if something goes wrong and you lose balance and take a tumble, you may end up with serious consequences.

Among water skiers, knee and facial injuries are the most common, although the arms and the whole upper body aren’t spared too.

I don’t mean to scare you off with this, but you should be informed so that you know what to watch out for the most.

Jumps, twists, and other maneuvers put a lot of strain on your knees, which is why keeping them slightly bent at all times is mandatory. Also, professionals’ recommendation is to exercise and strengthen the legs and arms well before you water ski so that your body is more resilient.

Now, what kind of equipment you should buy in order to have the most enjoyable water skiing experience?

Before we start dwelling on the types of water skis, the first two things that come to my mind are:

  • A life jacket – safety comes before everything
  • A boat that can reach speeds of at least 32 to 40 kph (20 to 25 miles per hour).
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as of 21/05/2024 16:14
Last updated on 21/05/2024 16:14

Types of Water Skis

Skis made of fiberglass are the best in terms of durability and long-lasting quality.

As for the length, how long of a ski you buy will depend on the type of skiing you will do, and your level of experience.

  • Beginners should use longer skis that have a larger surface on the water for increased stability. Also, their flat bottoms will help you turn more easily.
  • Sharp-edged skis allow you to move more quickly.
  • And, skis with large tips enable you to pull up more quickly.
  • There are skis that have fins installed on the bottom, which adds to maneuverability, while the size of rockers, the curve at the bottom of the ski, allows for varying degrees of acceleration.

With that general run-through of the types of skis, let’s talk about the different types of skis more in-depth.

Combination pairs
These are the most common and easiest to master water skiing with. Their wider tips allow for greater control.

Slalom skis
These water skis are used for skiing with one ski. With them, you can take sharper turns and can go faster. Beginner slalom skis will have wider tails and flat bottoms to make it easier to get up and stay straight.

Intermediate slalom skis will be a bit more difficult to use or to get used to them, but once you do, you will be able to make sharper turns.

Advanced slalom skis are the hardest for beginners to use because they are the sharpest and most narrow, but they allow for the best maneuverability and turning once you get the hang of water skiing.

Trick skis are specifically designed to make it easier for you to jump, spin, and do different tricks. Their design is short and wide with no fins, which makes them more challenging to control but easier to turn and slide.

Jump skis, as their name suggests, are designed for jumping off-ramps. They are long but light, which is vital in jumping across large distances.

No matter the type of skis you pick, you should pay attention to the bindings. They should be made of gummed rubber or neoprene with adjustable hold-down straps and reinforcing pieces across the heel.


Choosing the Rope

Another part of the water ski equipment is the rope. When buying one, it has to have the following characteristics:

  • Slightly elastic to provide some space as you change speeds
  • Its length should be between 21 to 23 meters (70 to 75 feet)
  • Made of Polypropylene, which is a material that can stretch 2 to 3 percent under an average skiing load. It is also very good because it can absorb the shock of a wake.
  • One-quarter-inch diamond braid polyethylene or polypropylene with a breaking strength of more than 362 kilograms (800 pounds)

Choosing the handle

Choosing the right handle is also important, so look for the following characteristics:

  • Injection-molded rubber or plastic grip
  • Molded so that it floats
  • The diameter of 1 to 1.25 inches (2.54 to 3.17 centimeters), depending on your hand size
  • Length of 11 to 18 inches (28 to 45.7 centimeters), depending on your size
Last updated on 21/05/2024 16:14

The ways to water ski

As a beginner, you start with recreational water skiing, but what other types of competitive water skiing are there? Stick with me to show you the several most popular types of water skiing.

Trick Skiing

As the name suggests, when you are trick skiing, you perform tricks on the water.

You would have short, finless skis instead of the usual skis so that you have nothing holding you back from doing all sorts of tricks akin to gymnastics. With trick skiing, you can ski on one or two skis, which will determine the style of your water skiing.

So, when using one ski, you can do surface and wake tricks holding the rope in one or two hands. Most of the skiers use two hands, while more advanced skiers can even slide their back foot into the handle.

During a competition in trick skiing, skiers have two 20-second passes to attempt as many tricks as they can. Tricks that earn the largest amount of points are wake flips and multiple turns with the handle attached to the foot.

Slalom Skiing

When skiing slalom style, the skier will use one ski with two-foot bindings to negotiate a course of six zigzagged buoys.

The boat that is towing the skier will increase by 3.2 kilometers per hour (2 miles per hour) until a maximum speed is reached (the competition’s rules set the maximum speed). Once the full speed is reached, the rope is shortened in measured lengths.

The winner of the competition is the skier who rounds the most buoys without falling or missing.

Ski Jumping

The ski jumping style is all about optimizing distance. This type of water skiing is performed on two long skis with short, wide tail fins designed to support your weight while on the ramp.
Here it is all about the jump, so it is up to the skier how they perform the jump and how they increase speed.

For instance, they can make a single, three-quarter, or double-cut in order to increase the speed and get a long jump.

The records for such jumps show that male jumpers have approached speeds of more than 96 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour) at the base of the ramp, because of which they are able to jump more than 73 meters (240 feet) off a 1.8 meter ramp (6 feet).

Female skiers have set the record for jumping more than 51.8 meters (170 feet) from a 1.5 meter ramp (5 foot).

Ski Racing

Ski racing is the fastest type of water skiing that takes place when several water skiers race around a set course.

The ski racing team is consisted of a boat driver, an observer, and one or two skiers. The boat driver is in charge of towing the skier while the observer is there to watch the skiers’ signals and relays them to the driver.

Show Skiing

Show skiing is a performance in which the multiple boats and skiers put on a show for a crowd.

The skiers choose a theme, music, multiple boats, or other elements of entertainment, and they perform poses and tricks in various forms. The team that wins is the team that gets the most points based on the difficulty of the performance and the showmanship.

Whatever the type of water skiing, this is an exhilarating sport that takes a lot of practice to master. If you have any other questions regarding water skis for sale or type of water ski for a particular style, or water skiing in general, do not hesitate to reach out.

In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you on my Facebook and Instagram accounts for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle boards and kayaks.

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Review written by: Tom

Hi! My name is Tom. During the year I try to be on a paddle board as much as possible. By reading this blog you'll stay updated on everything I test on the water :)