It may be hard to imagine, but there used to be a time when water skiing was the #1 sport behind a boat. But much as the water ski gave birth to wake boarding which begat wake surfing, Aquaplaning was the sport that started it all.
The best origin story comes from Southern California. The story goes sometime before 1910 or so near Coronado Beach a Captain by the name of J.L. LeRoy was at the helm of a boat named “Neptune”. He and his passengers had taken it out for a fishing and swimming adventure. Apparently it was a really nice day for swimming because one of the young men didn’t want to get out of the water. So they decided to tow him. Captain LeRoy heaved over a heavy fish box cover with a rope attached and the young man grabbed on and started the ride back.
Other stories state that in 1909 and 1910, participants attempted to ride a toboggan or an ironing-board-shaped plank, tied to the boat.
As time went on, they got more and more popular. By 1911 there was a company called the Aquaplane Company selling Aquaplanes. In 1914 and 14 several publication were running articles on the new sport - such as Harpers Weekly and Outing.
In 1922 Coca Cola got in on the popularity with big advertisements promoting the sport. And speaking of ads in 1926 there is a magazine ad with the headline “Bring Honolulu’s greatest sport to your beach: Surf riding, aqua planing! With a guy riding behind a cool wooden boat of some sort.
The sport evolved over the years. Where at first just staying upright was considered an accomplishment, aquaplaning became a prime component of fun water competitions and stunt displays. Riders were soon standing on their heads, or sitting on a partner’s shoulders while racing at high speeds. Check out this awesome Popular Mechanics article on racing.
Then came water skiing.
Water skiing was started in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson, but if you look Fred Waller’s 1924 Akwa Skees , they were a direct modification of the aquaplane, where instead of one big board, there was one for each foot. The skis were still tied to theboat, but each ski had it’s own rope coming to a handle.
But the ultimate originator of water skiing was Ralph Samuelson, and adept aquaplaner but he hoped to create something like snow skiing on the water. He first succeeded on June 28 by starting off wearing skis while standing on top of an aquaplane board, and then slipping one foot and then the other into the water.
Water skiing eventually took over and is stil around today, of course. Some other sports that came after water skiing, such as kneeboarding in the 1950’s, “skurfing” in the 80’s (which is itself a bit extinct) and eventually wakeboarding/wakeskating/wake surfing all hark back to Aquaplaning!
And what about Aquaplaning? Is it dead? Hmmmm. Not quite. T