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100th Anniversary of Waterski in Polk County

Water Ski Capital Of The World

Baseball has Boston’s fabled Fenway Park.

Football has the legendary Lambeau Field.

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.

Nowhere else in the sport has had more records broken or inspired the continued evolution of the sport. Water skiing may have been invented in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson on Lake Pepin in Minnesota, but Dick Pope, Sr.’s Cypress Gardens and Central Florida’s Polk County transformed it into a global sport and entertainment phenomenon.

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100th Anniversary of Waterski in Polk County

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100th Anniversary of Waterski in Polk County
100th Anniversary of Waterski in Polk County

Plan A Trip

100th Anniversary of Water Ski in Polk County

There is so much to do on the water in Central Florida.

  1. Learn about why Winter Haven is considered the Water Ski Capital of the World.
  2. Check out why we are considered the water ski epicenter and all of the history at the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Hall of Fame.
  3. Enjoy many waterfront dining options.
  4. See the new upgrades to the Winter Haven water tower.
  5. Watch former Cypress Gardens water skiers perform each month on Lake Silver in Winter Haven.
  6. Learn about the splashiest theme park in Florida: Cypress Gardens.
  7. Check out the many Things to Do on the Water in Central Florida.

IWWF World Water Ski Show Tournament

Serving as the capstone event for the 100th Anniversary of Water Ski, the 2022 IWWF World Water Ski Show Tournament will be the largest tournament to date. Teams and individuals from around the world will travel to Winter Haven, FL. the “Water Ski Capital of the World,” to compete for the internationally recognized discipline of show ski.

Friday, October 21

This is the first official day of competition starting with Individual Swivel Ski event followed by Adagio Doubles.

Saturday, October 22

Day two of competition where all competitive teams compete.

Sunday, October 23

Day 3 of competition will start with teams placed by their scores from Saturday.  The Individual Freestyle jump competition will follow in the late afternoon. Medal Ceremony will conclude the day.

The International Food & Drink Street Festival

Be sure to also attend the International Food & Drink Street Festival the evening of October 20th in Downtown Winter Haven! Mingle with the participants and attendees at this event hosted by Main Street Winter Haven. Admission is Free!

Waterski History

1917
One of the first newsreel-men ever seen in Winter Haven, shot a film of a 17 year old stunt man cutting fancy capers on an aquaplane. (Dick Pope Sr.)
1924
Ralph Samuelson heads to Florida to stage his one-man water shows.
1925
Dick Pope sets out to test an aquaplane with a wing.
1929
Malcolm Pope became the first person to make an outboard jump.
1936
Dick and Julie Pope open Florida’s first theme park Cypress Gardens that launched Florida’s Tourism Industry.
1942
Julie Pope organizes the first ski show at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, FL.
1944
The first ballet on water ever filmed was performed on a Jitter board.
1947
Water ski shows are established on a daily schedule at Cypress Gardens and became the longest continued daily entertainment production in the world.
1947
Dick Pope Jr. is the first barefoot water skier to be recorded by photograph.
1947
Chuck Sligh holds the first record in long distance jumping at 49ft.
1948
The first 2 tier human pyramid.
1949
Practicing trick skiing for the World Championships, Willa and Red McGuire design a special binding that swivels. Willa then adapts Swivel to ballet and soon creates graceful routines for girls.
1950
1950
Charlene Zint Welborn became the first women to barefoot water ski.
1950
1950
Water Skiing World Championships were held at Cypress Gardens. (Dick Pope Jr. and Willa McGuire Overall Champions)
1952
City of Winter Haven incorporates a water skier in the logo.
1952
“This is Cinerama” program featured performers of Cypress Gardens and jump boats, one which was piloted by the first women jump boat driver in the world Betty Skelton Erde.
1952
Dick Pope landed one of his largest promotional deals; convincing a major film studio to shoot a motion picture at Cypress Gardens. “Easy to Love”
1952
Florida Southern College formed the first collegiate water ski team under Glenn Kirkpatrick.
1953
Cypress Gardens Skiers built the first 3 tier human pyramid for the movie “Easy to Love”.
1953
Ken Tibado becomes the first person to perform a two ski barefoot jump out.
1956
Cypress Gardens show skiers appear on the Ed Sullivan Show with first triple Helicopter.
1957
Water Skiing World Championships at Cypress Gardens. Joe Cash and M. Doria are Overall Champions.
1957
1957 The first World Kite Championships were held at Cypress Gardens. Ken Tibado, a Cypress Gardens Skier, won the event.
1957
Winter Haven resident William Clifford was the associations First President.
1959
New AWSA headquarters is in Winter Haven, FL
1961
Carol Burnett visited Cypress Gardens for a taping of the Garry Moore Show.
1961
First person to successfully backwards barefoot was Randy Rabe of St. Petersburg, FL.
1962
Jerry Imber is the only skier to grace the cover of “Sports Illustrated”
1963
Wakesurfing was first popularized at Cypress Gardens.
1963
First public demonstration of hydrofloiling was done by Buster MacCalla.
1964
Barbara Cooper Clack becomes first women to break 100’ mark in jumping.
1968
Johnny Carson came to Cypress Gardens to do a live broadcast.
1968
Don Thomson, the first to do Barefoot Piggyback (doubles) with Barbara Nathy.
1969
The AWSA writes the rules to sanction water ski racing events. The first event under these rules is held in Lakeland,FL.
1972
First US National Delta Glider Championships were held at Cypress Gardens.
1973
The first International Barefoot Tournament was held at Cypress Gardens.
1975
First four man front flip was the Ramp Masters of Cypress Gardens.
1976
360 Swivel Ski skills were introduced by Sally Winter and additional skills from Betty Bonifay.
1976
The American Water Ski Association expands their operation headquarters and moves to a new location in Winter Haven. Also included is a preview of the Water Ski Hall of Fame Museum.
1979
Cypress Gardens troupe performed the first four tier human pyramid.
1982
The AWSEF Celebrates the inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
1982
“Vacation” by the Go-Go’s music video includes footage of water skiers from Cypress Gardens.
1986
The first 5 tier human pyramid was performed for the first time at Cypress Gardens.
1993
Cypress Gardens Ski Shows celebrate their 50th Anniversary.
1994
Zane Schwenk completes the first two ski double front flip off a ski jump.
2000
2000
The Water Ski Hall of Fame and USA Water Ski moves to I-4 in Polk City, Fl.
2001
Cypress Gardens Ballet Line sets record, 24 girls performing a toe turn.
2011
LEGOLAND, FL opens and incorporates water ski show.
2017
Central Florida’s Polk County holds most Guinness World Water Ski Records.
2021
New home of the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame at Central Florida’s Vistor Information Center.
2022
Winter Haven hosts IWWF World Water Ski Show Tournament and celebrates 100th Anniversary of water skiing.
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