Once considered a miracle and the preserve of gods, walking on water was initially seen as an impossibility. Now anyone with a pair of skis and a motor boat can traverse the surface of the water at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, doing tricks that make merely walking on it look like a walk in the park!
Water skiing is a thrilling, exhilarating and exciting activity, even if all you do is get pulled along by the boat. Some of the more spectacular images from water skiing are those of enormous waves breaking off the edge of the skier’s board as they complete a specific manoeuvre. Or the sight of a skier leaving the take off ramp, soaring into the sky and then landing gracefully on the water with hardly a splash!
Water skiing was first conceived of in 1922 by an 18-year-old native of Minnesota, called Ralph Samuelson. Ralph posited the idea that if you could ski on snow, why not water? Working with his brother Ben and some "skis" fashioned out of barrel slats; Ralph was eventually able to stand up on the skis while being pulled along by a boat driven by his brother. In actual fact the motorised boat was of critical importance to the invention of water skiing. Up until this point in history, water skiing had been impossible because without motorised boats you cannot achieve the speeds necessary to ski on water.
Over 90 years later, water skiing has developed into a very popular leisure and sporting activity with over 20,000,000 participants in the United States today alone. The sport of water skiing has evolved to include racing, slalom, trick skiing, barefoot skiing, show skiing, wake sports, and ski jumping.
Since water-skiers can reach speeds of about 50 miles per hour (80 kph), mishaps, should they happen can have quite serious consequences. Hence it is vital that you:
1) Have the correct sport and safety equipment,
Possibly more important than the skis (you can always ski barefoot!) is a life jacket. No matter how strong a swimmer you are you still need to wear a life jacket. It will keep you buoyant in the event that you are unable to swim or tread water should you fall off and need to let go of the tow-rope.
Skis are made of fibreglass. If you're a beginner, longer skis are easier to master as their flat bottoms make it easier to turn and remain stable. The speed of the ski is determined by the size of the rockers (the curve at the bottom of the ski). Fins located on the bottom of the ski add to manoeuvrability.
Skiing in cold water or weather increases your susceptibility to hypothermia. Therefore, you may need to wear a wet suit.
Obviously you'll need a motorised boat capable of speeds of at least 20 miles per hour, a qualified driver and an observer in the boat. It is not always possible for the boat driver to watch the skier and operate the boat safely at the same time, even if they have a large rear view mirror.
2) Learn and practice the basics – this can be done on land. An ideal way to learn to water ski safely is to join a local water skiing club and take lessons from a suitably qualified professional.
As well as the basics of water skiing, participants also need to learn how to communicate with each other. There are internationally recognised hand gestures for communicating between the boat driver and the skier. The essentials are: give the “thumbs up” to go quicker, and the “thumbs down” to go slower, and the “ok” sign (curling you middle finger and thumb into an “O” shape) to say you’re happy with the speed and conditions. When you’re ready to finish your ski, then the most common sign is to wave your hand horizontally across your throat side-to-side.
3) Work on improving your overall strength and fitness so that you can improve your ability to balance and control your movements on the water. Whilst almost everyone can start water skiing, whatever the level of their current fitness, improving your strength and cardiovascular fitness will boost your performance. Specific muscles to work on to improve water skiing include: calves, thighs and core muscles for stability and balance. Biceps, pectoral and deltoid strength for dealing with the forces created by the tow-rope as you are pulled along at increasing speeds.
Here are some exercises you can do that will not only improve your water skiing skills but are also good for all round general fitness and wellbeing.
Pull ups strengthen your arms and your upper back. You will need a pull-up bar such as Technogym’s OMNIA - OMNIA3 straight pull up bar. Grab hold of the pull up bar with your palms facing you. Keeping your forearms and back straight, lift yourself upward as high as you can; hold for a count of three, and set yourself down again in a controlled fashion…don’t just drop with gravity! Repeat this 5-10 times.
Shoppers’ walks are an easy exercise for strengthening your forearm grip. Place two weights (such as from the Wellness Rack) that you are comfortable lifting either side of your body. Stand straight, feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Squat down, grab the weights, and stand back up. Let the weights hang down either side of you, like someone carrying two bags of shopping. Now walk forward for about 15 paces (or to the end of the room you are in). Keep a straight back and steady grip. Squat to set down the weights. Repeat 5-10 times
Squats mimic the proper water skiing position (particularly for beginners that use Combo Water Skis), ensuring that you will already know how to stand. They also strengthen your legs and core.
The plank position greatly increases your arm and core strength, allowing you to pull yourself up to ski.
Technogym’s range of Pure Strength gym equipment is ideal for providing the versatility and challenge that will assist you in improving the strength of targeted muscles.
Water skiing may not be an every day fitness activity unless you are lucky enough to live by open water. However, it is a fun way to improve your fitness and keep cool in the summer months. So why not join a club and give it a try.