Winter Haven: The Water Ski Capital of the World

By: Peyten Palo

July 2nd 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the sport of water ski. And where better to celebrate than in Winter Haven and Polk County? Beautiful lakes, bountiful opportunities, and gorgeous weather are a big reason why Polk County is the Water Ski Capital of the World.

Cypress Gardens water ski team skiing on Lake Eloise

Winter Haven: The Water Ski Capital of the World

For water skiers, no location is as storied as the banks of Lake Eloise, the home of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. It is fitting that the central point in the sport’s centennial celebration is here in Florida’s Sweetest Spot. Learn all about how we are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Sport of Water Ski!


Water skiing may have been born in Minnesota, but it grew to adulthood in Winter Haven, thanks to Cypress Gardens. Soon, Hollywood took note and filmed numerous movies and TV shows there.

As the water ski craze caught on, celebrities soon flocked to Lake Eloise to have their photos taken with Cypress Gardens water skiers. Such notables included Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett.

Carol Burnett skiing at Cypress Gardens in 1961.

Carol Burnett skiing at Cypress Gardens, 1961. Polk County History Center collection, 2001.30.061

At the same time, many of the water skiers themselves became stars. Willa McGuire Cook became Cypress Gardens’ prima ballerina — and an inventor in her own right with the creation of the swivel ski, allowing her to pivot on the water like a dancer on stage.

And the world took notice. Soon, other water-bound daredevils found their way to Winter Haven to work with, and compete against, other water skier. The developing popularity of talent athletes and innovators were a creative whirlpool. More water ski records have been set and innovations created on the waters of Winter Haven than anywhere else in the world.

Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team

Today, that tradition continues. Records continue to be set in Winter Haven thanks to the semi-annual Chain of Records event. Additionally, there are more water ski schools per square mile in Winter Haven than anywhere else in the country. In fact, many of the instructors were once Cypress Gardens water skiers themselves. Students come from all around the world, including Belgium, Mexico, Colombia, Germany, England, and Australia.


In 2011, when LEGOLAND Florida officially opened its doors, the park wanted to make sure they honored all of the history from the original theme park, Cypress Gardens. With it being home to a popular ski show and the site of a few movies that incorporated early watersports like synchronized swimming (look up Esther Williams and Florida-shaped pool), Lake Eloise has been the site of waterski shows since the 1930s! In 2011, the lake was invaded by Captain Brickbeard and his crew who have worked to establish their newest academy of pirates on the site of so much rich history (because, let’s face it, they love anything that’s “rich” or shiny!)

For more information on the 100th Anniversary of Water Ski, follow us on Instagram!

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