It’s not quite the same as walking on water. But it’s close, and you could argue that it’s even better. Gliding across the surface of a lake at 20 mph (32 km/h) with the wind in your hair is a truly unforgettable experience. And it’s thanks to water skis that you have it.
Waterskiing is a simple sport. A person wearing what appears to be snow skis is dragged across the water by a motorboat. The water sport has a century of history behind it. Its development has coincided with that of motorised watercraft. You can’t waterski behind a canoe; you need to be towed by a motorboat travelling at least 20 mph. As a result, developments in motorcraft technology have only aided in the evolution of waterskiing. The skier will be faster if the boat is faster. Speed also translates to new manoeuvrability and tricks.
Although there is very little material available, it appears that waterskiing began in Sweden, as the term vatternskida, which means “to ski on a body of water,” can be found in Swedish dictionaries dating back to 1921.
Officially, though, the sport’s origins may be traced back to two Minnesota youths. According to legend, in June 1922, 18-year-old Ralph Samuelson of Lake City, Minnesota, had the brilliant insight that if you could ski on snow, you could also ski on water. For a few days, Samuelson and his brother Ben worked on their plan, and in early July 1922, Samuelson was able to stand up on two skis while being towed by a boat driven by his brother.
Their gear was rudimentary. To make his skis, Samuelson first experimented with barrel staves and lengths of wood tied together by leather strips. As a ski rope, he utilised a window sash. You could successfully glide over the lake if you leaned back with the tips of your skis facing up, according to Samuelson.
Knowing the physics principles that underpin waterskiing is helpful in understanding how the sport works. Several elements come into play when waterskiing.
To begin, familiarise yourself with the fundamental features of water. Turbulent and laminar fluids are two types of fluids in motion. Laminar water is smoother than turbulent water, which has a rough surface and abnormalities in its movement. The Reynolds number is a formula that is used to compare the two types of water:
v = Re = P (density) x L (obstacle length) x V (flow speed) (viscosity or internal friction)
A higher Reynolds number suggests that the fluid is more turbulent. A lower number indicates laminar water, which is ideal for water skiing due to its smoothness and ability to maintain a consistent flow.
Make sure your skis’ tips stay clear of the water before you take off. Your posture will apply pressure that will resist the boat’s force when it begins to pull you by lifting the tips of the skis out of the water. The lift that will bring you out of the water comes from the tilt of the ski. As you travel forward with the ski tip slanted up, the water will strike your ski, causing it to rebound downhill. This will cause the ski and you to rise in the air. You’ll stay afloat as long as the upward force of the water equals the downward force of gravity, and hence the weight of the skier. The weight of the skier, skis, and air above the water is determined by gravity, which is a constant force. The weight above the water’s surface is counterbalanced by the water.