Water-skiing began in the United States in 1922, when Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson built the first pair of skis and was towed on them behind an outboard-powered boat.
It developed officially into a competitive sport in 1939 when the American Water Ski Association was organized and held the first National Water Ski Championships at Jones Beach, Long Island, New York.
(Source: USA Water Ski, the national governing body for organized water skiing in the United States)
HEAD:History of water-skiing as a sport
CROSSLAKE -- Verna Clark learned to water-ski at age 6 on Cross Lake, using handmade skis her father fashioned out of pieces of plywood.
Now, 49 years later, Clark still can be found slaloming on Cross Lake, though she's upgraded her skiing equipment significantly since then.
Clark, 55, is ranked 10th nationally in her age division in amateur water-skiing tournaments, and she holds the women's state record in competitive slalom skiing in her age division as well. She competed in the slaloming competition during the 2002 National Water Ski Championships held Aug. 13-17 in Houston, Texas, for the first time this year. She's been competing in slaloming events throughout Minnesota since 1987.
In 1982, Clark noticed someone had laid out a slalom water-skiing course on Cross Lake. Curious, she find out who the owner was and asked if she could try it.
"I tried to ski it and I got two buoys," said Clark. "But I was hooked."
Throughout that summer, Clark would ski the course with the men who put it out on the lake. She would tag along with the group of about six men, all 15-20 years younger than she was, who were avid skiers. Five years later she competed in her first tournament. There was only one other woman in her age category and Clark beat her, taking home a first-place trophy.
"Here I had this trophy and it was so much fun. It was a thrill. I went home and showed it to the men I had skied with," she said with a laugh.
Pretty soon Clark was skiing as well as a few of her male water-skiing buddies. As her skill level increased, she would slalom at a faster speed and a shorter rope. Many of the women she competes against are former professional water-skiers who competed in their youth.
In competitive slalom skiing, a skier chooses his or her starting speed within the minimum and maximum speeds set for that age division, according to competition rules. Then the skier must round all six buoys laid out on a course. When the skier completes a pass successfully, the speed is raised in 2 mph increments. Once the maximum speed is reached, then the ski rope is shortened until the skier is unable to complete a full pass.
The top skier is the one with the shortest rope who completed the course in the fastest speed.
"It's a great way to stay in shape and it's very difficult," said Clark. "I never finish a practice session and don't want to go one more time. It's a thrill. I think everyone should have a sport to be involved with. It could be darts, pingpong, it doesn't matter."
Clark has her own slalom course on Cross Lake, which she practices on as soon as the ice goes out on most of the lake. Jim Martin, Crosslake, drives the boat and takes her out about four times a week. It takes Clark about 18 seconds to complete a pass and she usually completes about eight passes during a practice session. She travels to California and Florida each spring for weeklong training sessions with a professional water-skiing coach. She then competes in about 10 water-skiing tournaments in the state and goes on to regionals each summer.
Clark competes in the 53-59 age division for women. She said she can't wait until she's old enough to compete in the ages 60-64 division where she'll be one of the youngest in competition.
In competitive slalom skiing, there are 28 age divisions based on sex and age, including children younger than 9 with no upper age limit. The oldest woman competing at the national competition in August was 89. Clark hopes to beat her record some day.
When she's not up on skis, Clark works in the Brainerd lakes area as a decorative painter.
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