Discover Ralph Samuelson: The Man Who Invented Water Skiing

Exactly one hundred years ago, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied across the waters of Lake Pepin in Minnesota. This feat instantly made him famous as the man who invented water skiing.

Discover Ralph Samuelson: The Man Who Invented Water Skiing

How it All Started

He got the idea of water skiing while he was skiing with his neighborhood friends down snowy hills in the winter of 1922. A few months later, the then-18-years-old Samuelson started his trials of standing on skis while being pulled by a boat. After a considerable number of attempts and errors, he eventually succeeded in skiing on water, which led to the birth of one of the world’s most beloved water sports.

Ralph Samuelson was already talented and experienced in aquaplaning — an exercise where an individual stands on a board while being pulled by a powerboat — but his ambition was to create something new, something unique.

Samuelson Invented Special Skies

For his first attempts, Samuelson used staves from wooden barrels but they turned out to be inefficient as they didn’t cover enough surface of the water. He then tried using snow skies but they also turned out to be unreliable. Finally, Ralph created a new pair of skis made of pine boards eight feet long and nine inches wide, which he bent up at the front tips by softening the wood.

His new pair of skis were perfect for water skiing, although he broke them while jumping wakes. Encouraged by his progress, Ralph Samuelson created a second pair, which he slightly modified before getting in the water. These skies are currently on display at the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, in Lake City, Minnesota.

Fred Waller Obtained the Patent for Water Skis

Unfortunately, Samuelson didn’t patent his invention, nor did his work gather sufficient public interest to stop the U.S. Patent 1,559,390 for water skis from being issued to prominent inventor Fred Waller on October 27, 1925. Waller, who is also known to have invented the cinema windscreen motion picture system, marketed his products as Dolphin Akwa-Skees.

To honor the man who invented water skis, Minnesota authorities decided to erect a new statue of Ralph Samuelson at Ohuta Park and Beach on the shores of Lake Pepin.