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The History of Water Ski Racing in Britain
In the pre-war years, there were annual seaplane races from the Isthmus of Avalon to Hermosa Beach, California. It is a race and a test of the endurance of man and boat, and usually less than 20% of the men make it through. The rest dropped out due to problems with the boat or because the planer couldn’t hold on any longer. The last race before the war was June 20, 1941, when Bob Brown won in one hour and 51 minutes with Don Berry in tow.
In 1947, the Long Beach Boat and Ski Club was formed and almost immediately took over sponsorship of the race, renaming it the “National Water Ski Championships.” In 1949, the race became a round trip. Starting from the Hermosa Beach pier, the skiers ran to the isthmus, circled the boat, and returned to the pier non-stop. Skiers are disqualified if at any time they touch the boat or anyone on board. Orange’s Ed Stanley won the first round in 1 hour and 41 minutes.
Of course, the event is now known by the Catalina name, and for the record, Chuck Steams first won the event at the age of 16 and went on to claim an astonishing 11 victories over the next few decades.
It’s time for the Australians to make a piece of history in ski racing, and in the 1950s, bridge-to-bridge waterskiing began. The 68-mile circuit on the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales is now one of the most prestigious races in the world.
The UK’s foray into water skiing began in 1966 with a meeting at the Mandeville Hotel in London, attended by representatives from 30 clubs, and the BWSF’s competition subcommittee was formed. California legend Chuck Steams, who happened to be in London at the time, provided a copy of the California racing rulebook that formed the basis of British racing regulations.
Alan Taylor recalled; “We knew there was racing in Belgium three or four years ago, at a place called Rupelmonde on the Scheldt. The next year some of the Whitstable Club went to Belgium and saw For this competition, we invited a Belgian team to participate in the first official cross-channel competition”.
On 29 May 1967, the Whitstable and Varne Club water ski clubs organized the first cross-channel water ski race, with no fewer than 56 teams, including one from Belgium, taking part in a water ski race from Greatstone in Kent to a The trawler’s 42-mile run marks the boat, mooring three miles from Cap Griz Nez and returning.
Boats can carry up to three or four people on relay skis. Skis are normal standard slalom skis at about 30 mph, and pairs, ski lines must be between 75 feet and 100 feet long. Each team may also relay with more than one skier.
Word quickly leaked that skier number 47 had registered because Mr AA Johnson was none other than the BWSF patron, Lord Snowdon, who was trying to hide his identity from the media. The result was dramatic news coverage of the event.
More than 20 of the 56 entrants failed to finish the race as high winds whipped up 6-foot waves. The winners were members of the Chasewater Powerboat Club who completed the course in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Team Snowdon finished fourth with 4 hours and 10 minutes, and the other skier in the race was 14-year-old Bill Rickerson. Finishing third overall, it was just the beginning for the soon-to-be one of the legends of British wakeboard racing.
In 1968 the BWSF Racing Committee organized the first British Championship series, with races at Chasewater, Greatsone, Hunstanton, Hartlepool, Penarth and the River Medway. Varne’s John Boardman became the first series winner.
In 1969, the British Championship series was increased to eight, with Brendan Bowles of Penarth Club winning the championship. It was in this year that the European Waterski Championships were established, with competitions held in the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain. Bill Rixon becomes the first European wakeboard champion.
Rixon started to make his mark in European motorsport in the 70’s and won no fewer than six European Championship gold medals among many Britons. “It’s possible there are two other European titles that are not counted,” Beer said. In 1974/5 he spent a lot of time skiing for Mostes in Italy, he made several unwelcome visits to South Africa and raced in California.
Other names such as David Hutchinson, Guy Gooding, David Martin, Robin Mainwaring, Cliff Featherstone, Alan Hargreaves, Tony Cox, Gary Brooks and Cole Lyn Harris was scattered throughout the ’70s, when British F1 ski racing was as strong as ever.
The other two names are brothers Steven Coe and Andy Coe. Steven won the British Championships in 1978 and 1979, Andy followed in 1980, with Tom Lumley witnessing all three victories. Britain’s top women include Liz Hobbs, Sue de Donker and Kim Gooding.
Liz started skiing at the age of 9 and at the age of 15 she took part in her first race at Medway in 1975. The following year, she went on to win every race she entered and won the first of seven British Championship titles. That same year, she broke British and European women’s speed records in a cigarette motorboat called “I Like It Too”.
In the 70’s, some British skiers, including the Coes, visited Australia and discovered a new way of skiing called “wrapping”. Sydney-based Terry Bennett, the founder of the wrap method, discovered the technique by accident while trying to relieve pressure on his back after an accident. So, along with Fred Williams skis and a wealth of Australian experience, these British skiers introduced us to the way we ski now.
Alongside Ray Berriman and Alan Taylor, Arthur Dawe, Peter Felix, Ted Rawlings, Wally Neale and John Hoiles were among the early organizers of British racing. John Hoiles actually went on to serve as the European and World President of the IWSF and made a huge contribution to the sport.
A turning point for world wakeboard competition came on September 9, 1979 when the first World Ski Championships, sponsored by Sperry Univac, were held at Whitstable, Allhallows and Welsh Harp. British Ray Berryman served as chairman of the organizing committee.
The event brought together official top teams from around the world for the first time and while Australia’s Wayne Ritchie and the Bronwyn Wing claimed gold, Great Britain’s Kim Gooding finished second in the women’s category, Bill Rixon in second in the men’s category and Steven Coe in second. three. Team Great Britain has clearly established the country as a force to be reckoned with on the world wakeboarding stage.
As Rixon’s unprecedented racing career draws to a close, it’s time for some newcomers to take the stage and step into the limelight. Liz Hobbs and Steve Moore were two of the biggest names in the early ’80s, becoming world champions and earning MBEs. In fact, Leeds won the world title in 1981 and 1984, and she has won the European title on at least four occasions.
But life in the 80s was not so sweet for Liz, despite her incredible success, because in Penarth in 1984, she fell and broke her neck. She also broke her sternum in three places, six ribs, one of which punctured a lung. On top of that, Liz’s heart stopped beating.
Amazingly, Liz returned to skiing the following year and resumed her winning streak in 1986. In the late ’80s, she was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year and won Sports Writer of the Year. After taking the public stage with the help of a publicist a few years ago, Liz went on to host her own series Hobbs’ Choice with Yorkshire Television and has since become Britain’s best-known skater. One of the world’s water sportsmen.
Steve Moore started competing in 1980. He’s one of those guys who falls and gets up, and then falls and always gets back up. Eventually, he stopped falling and became an incredible water machine. By 1983 he had attempted a speed record at Windermere behind Alf Bullen’s F1 catamaran, but managed 115mph.
Moore won no fewer than five European titles, five British titles and the 1988 World Championships in Sydney, Australia. He also won the World Cup in 1986. This includes the Catalina in Australia, the Giro del Lario and the Botany Bay Classic. He won all three titles in the same year, becoming the first British skier to win Catalina outright.
In the late ’80s, a lad from London followed in Moore’s footsteps by taking part in his first ski race in 1977. His name is Darren Kirkland, and aged just 18, Kirkland first represented Great Britain at the 1985 World Championships in Spain and is about to enter his eighth World Championship in 2001.
The ’80s featured some incredible racing in Britain, with Coes, Rixon, Cliff Featherstone, Paul Llewellyn, Gary Brooks, Tony Cox and others battling for victory throughout the decade. Nicky Carpenter and Lisa Coupland were also successful in the ’80s.
As the boom of the ’80s faded away, the recession led to a decline in racing numbers. A similar pattern emerged in Europe, Australia and the US, but that hasn’t stopped the sport from becoming more competitive with the promise of grabbing some limelight.
Kirkland went on to win his fair share, having pretty much dominated British racing since the 90s. Renowned for his perseverance, Kirkland won ten British overall titles, five European titles and became a highly respected skier around the world. On top of that, Kirkland won the Catalina in 1994, an enviable six-time Belgian Diamond and two Giro del Lario in Italy .
But for the past 16 years, the crown jewel has been slipping away from him. A world championship is so close and so far away for a man who has come so close to winning it more than once. In 1995, Italy’s Stefano Gregorio was honored in Belgium, and Kirkland thought he had the title. He finished third in Australia in 1997 and second in Spain in 1999. This year he will try again, to win one of his most desired achievements.
In January 1997, Kirkland was awarded the BWSF General Lascelles Trophy in recognition of his great achievements in water skiing. At the 1999 World Championships, Australia’s gold medalist Stephen Robertson publicly paid tribute to Kirkland after claiming the crown.
In the early ’90s, Rachel Casson performed well at the 1991 World Championships in Darwin, Australia. So close to winning one of the rounds, Rachel fell at over 100 mph and suffered horrific injuries. Rachel is determined to succeed on the world stage as Britain’s top female skier, but has been plagued by Darwin injuries for years. Gilly Clements was also a strong contender in the 1980s and 1990s, representing Great Britain on numerous occasions.
Great Britain have been strong in Europe over the years, winning numerous titles in all categories, including at least four coveted team trophies. A lot of people did well, but in the women’s category the standouts were Liz Hobbs, Nicky Carpenter, Lisa Coupland, Rachel Casson and Gilli Clements. Recently, Kim Lumley has etched her name on the British Championship trophy three times. Paula Newland, originally from Penarth Club, also finished sixth at the 1999 World Championships in Spain.
Darren Kirkland still dominates the British men’s division, but the likes of Karl Brooks and Danny Evans are slowly closing in on the 34-year-old. How long will he remain at the top of British racing? – Only time will tell.
On the official side, British player Ray Berriman was instrumental in the first UK World Championships in 1979 and this year is chief referee at the 2001 Las Vegas World Championships.
It is impossible to list here all the people who have played an important role in the history of British water ski racing. There are many more names not mentioned. But this article hopefully gives you a high-level understanding of wakeboarding, and it’s gone.
All in all, Great Britain continues to play an important role in world ski racing. No doubt it will continue to do so for years to come.
Written by Robbie Llewellyn in 2001
Credits: Aubrey Sheena, Alan Taylor, Darren Kirkland, Steve Moore (MBE), Mike Waterman, Martin Brooks, Tom Lumley, Liz Hobbs (MBE) and the Guinness Book of Records for Waterskiing.
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