Adirondack Journal — Water Skiing


As the use of recreational motorboats gained in popularity, water enthusiasts and dare devils found new ways to extend their fun. Some of the first boat-towed sports such as water skiing were highly entertaining, with skiers creating wacky ways to be pulled behind a boat.

The earliest recorded trip on water skis occurred during the summer of 1922 in Minnesota. The Merriam-Webster College Dictionary defines the water ski as "a short broad ski that is worn while gliding over water behind a towing boat." The term came in to common use in 1931. The Adirondacks saw a boom in recreational waterskiing in the 1940s. Boat towed sports have been popular in the North Country ever since and increasingly controversial as well.

In the early days of water skiing there were also the freeboard and the aquaplane. Each was made from a wide wooden plank five to six feet long with a rounded nose. A rope from the towboat was attached directly to the aquaplane, while the person riding the freeboard held directly on to the rope. Some brave and talented riders added challenge to an already tricky task by perching on top of a chair or stepladder as well.

Charles Adams recounts his summers in the 1940s on Big Moose Lake, New York in Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks: The Story of the Lake, the Land, and the People. He describes the watery tricks he and his friends came up with — or read about excitedly in magazines. Competitions to see who could top the other's tricks on skis, the freeboard or aquaplane were hotly pursued. Jumps were built and slathered down with soap flakes. Human pyramids arose on skis or aquaplanes. Juggling on skis behind the boat was not unheard of.

Competitions between amateurs sometimes turned into summer performances that spectators watched from shore. Adams describes "shows" he and his pals planned, and how they traveled to other places in the Adirondacks such as White Lake and Indian Lake, N.Y. to perform their tricks.

In the twenty-first century, boat towed sports have become more sophisticated, with mass-produced high tech skis, wakeboards, kneeboards, and tubes. There are, of course, jet skis that require no boat at all. The days of tying clothesline behind the speedboat and strapping on homemade boards have passed. Recreational skiing is still popular on Adirondack lakes although not everyone is a fan.

Some see skiers as "wreaking havoc" and disrupting the beauty of peaceful Adirondack lakes. A conflict of interests has developed over the ways in which lakes should be enjoyed.

There has been a long-standing tension between those seeking the enjoyment of secluded, quiet recreation such as paddling, swimming or camping along the shore and motor sport enthusiasts. Complaints of excessive noise, dangers to swimmers, ruined fishing, and shoreline erosion are sometimes sited in opposition to boat-towed sports and motorized boats themselves.