Man’s eternal desire to run on water has given us a variety of towed watersports. We have come a long way from a man on a pair of pine wood boards to athletes on fiberglass boards and skis of all shapes and sizes. The boats have changed so much along the way, providing proper wakes if you want to get airborne, comfort, leisure, and way more perks. There are endless activities you can enjoy behind your boat. Read on to know more about the fundamentals and evolution of towed watersports.


It all began 100 years ago. Armed with snow skis and barrel staves, eighteen-year-old Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota wondered: “If you could ski on snow, why not on the water?”

In his quest, Samuelson’s partner was his brother Ben, who drove a boat powered by a converted Saxon truck engine. On July 2, 1922, Samuelson tried a different position after many failed attempts with his skis level or below the water line. He leaned backward in the water with his ski tips poking out of the water. 

Ben steered the boat, and off went the two brothers, reaching a speed of 32 kilometers per hour (20 mph) and taking waterskiing on a long journey of progression from there. The seated start posture has remained the same, but waterskiing has come a long way in the century.

Basic waterskiing involves two separate skis, one for each foot. Riders start in the water, crouched, with their legs together. The drivers take off at full speed once given the cue, and the waterski riders hang on. 

Slalom Skiing

The same as basic waterskiing, but with just one ski called a slalom. Beginners who use combo skis progress to slalom by dropping one along the way. Eventually, with enough confidence, you can do a deep-water start with one ski.

The slalom ski’s tail is narrow and designed to cut through the water at high speeds rapidly. The maneuverability works in competition, where a slalom skier glides around obstacles called buoys. 

Historians also credit Ralph Samuelson with inventing slalom skiing during an exhibition. After developing waterskiing, Samuelson spent the next few years teaching the sport and performing shows. During one such show, when he lost one ski to a large wave, Samuelson managed to finish the event on the other. 

Jump Skiing

Unlike slalom, jump skiing competitors use two skis. These skis are longer and lighter, providing stability and maximum lift. They have short, wide fins to support the body weight. A towboat pulls jump water skiers over a ramp, approaching speeds of over 60 mph. Men skiers can jump over 230 feet off a six-foot-high ramp, while women have recorded over 170 feet off a five-foot-high ramp.

Who was the world’s first waterski jumper? Ralph Samuelson rode over a greased diving platform in July 1925. But it was Dick Pope, Sr., who first completed a jump on water skis, jumping 25 feet off a wooden ramp in 1928. 

Trick Skiing

In 1940, Jack Andresen patented the first fin-less, shorter ski: the trick ski. The New Jersey native also laid the foundation for modern trick skiing by introducing 180 and 360-degree turns. 

Trick skiing has since become the most technical water skiing event. Trick skis are shorter, wider, and rounder than others and have flatter bottoms and no fins. They are challenging to control but easier to turn and slide while gliding forward, backward, or sideways. Beginners can use two skis, but advanced skiers use one.

In competition, skiers have two 20-second runs to perform their best tricks. The spins and flips have an assigned value, and the skier with the most points wins.

Barefoot Skiing

Perhaps the most extreme version of waterskiing, barefoot skiing has the skiers travel at higher speeds than usual. Laying in the water while holding a tow rope, the skiers get to their feet and dig their heels into the water as the boat speeds up. The toes are exposed to the sea breeze as one travels at 30-45 mph.

Beginners usually wear a wetsuit and barefoot water ski shoes to prevent injuries and focus on their form. Experienced skiers, meanwhile, compete in slalom, tricks, and jump while barefooting.

In 1947, Dick Pope, Jr. became the first to be photographed barefoot skiing.


Sit down, strap in, ride the water, and “fly” in this craziest member of the skiing family. A hydrofoil comprises three main parts:

  • The seat or the tower
  • The board with two bindings
  • The foil assembly (for changing the direction)

As the towing boat gains speed, the boat assembly lifts the board, and the rider, upwards. Less strength is required than skiing because the wake or chop doesn’t affect your ride.

Wakeboarding, Wakeskating, and Wakesurfing

As the names suggest, these three sports feature riders towed behind motorboats across their wakes. Unlike waterskiing, there is a distinct element to these activities.

Wakeboarders are bound to their boards and also have foot bindings on. It means they can do fewer tricks. The wakeboard is smaller than the other two, and one can choose not to wear shoes.

Wakeskating practically is aquatic skateboarding. The riders are not bound to their boards and are free to do kickflips, heelflips, and hard flips on water. A wakeskater is required to wear shoes.

In wakesurfing, however, riders get on the wake and drop the tow rope, essentially riding the water like surfers.

Wakeboarding started as “skurfing” in the 1940s, but the first wakeboard wasn’t manufactured and sold until 1981. Wakeskating began in the 1970s as skaters began putting grip on wakeboards. While the origins of wakesurfing are disputed, photos from the 1950s and 1960s show surfers riding surfboards behind motorboats.

Choose Your Fun

For having fun on the water, the possibilities are endless. Take the next step in the world of towed watersports and learn more about top-tier equipment with Miami Nautique. Our list of esteemed brands includes Masterline, Connelly, D3, Radar, Reflex, Goode, HO Sports, and many other manufacturers. 

Stop by our pro shop or browse our site for the best skis, wakeboards, wakesurfs, foils, and other family friendly watersport equipment like kneeboards and tubes.

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