Best Way To Watch World Cup In Usa The History of Water Ski Racing in Britain

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The History of Water Ski Racing in Britain


For several years before the war, an annual aquaplane race was held from the Isthmus of Avalon to Hermosa Beach, California. It was a race and a test of endurance for both man and boat and usually less than 20% of the field managed to finish. The rest fell out due to problems with the ship or because the aquaplaner could no longer keep up. The last race before the war, on June 20, 1941, was won by Bob Brown, driven by Don Berry, in 1 hour 51 minutes.

In 1947, the Long Beach Boat and Ski Club formed and almost immediately took over sponsorship of the race, renaming it the “Grand National Water Ski Race”. In 1949, the competition changed to a circuit that started at the Hermosa Beach Pier, with skiers racing to the neck, circling the turn and returning non-stop to the pier. A skier was disqualified if he touched the boat or anyone in the boat at any time. Ed Stanley of Orange was the winner of this first lap race with a time of 1 hour 41 minutes.

Of course, the event is well known today as the Catalina, and just for the record, Chuck Steams first won the event at age 16 and went on to win it an astounding eleven times over the next few decades.


Now was the time for Australians to establish a piece of ski racing history and in the 1950s the Bridge-to-Bridge water ski race was launched. The 68-mile course on the NSW Hawkesbury River is now one of the most prestigious races in the world.


In 1966 Britain opted for waterski racing and a meeting was held at the Mandeville Hotel in London where 30 clubs were represented and the BWSF racing sub-committee was formed. The legendary Chuck Steams from California happened to be in London at the time and provided a copy of the California racing rules which formed the basis for the British racing rules.

Alan Taylor recalls; “We knew there was a race in Belgium three or four years ago, on the Scheldt at a place called Rupelmonde. The following year some people from the Whitstable Club went to Belgium and looked at the race and we invited a Belgian. team to compete in the first official cross-channel race”.

On 29 May 1967 the Whitstable and Varne Water Ski Clubs held the first cross channel water ski race and at least 56 teams, including one from Belgium, took part in the 42 mile run from Greatstone in Kent on a trawler. boat anchoring three miles from Cap Griz Nez and back.

The boats could take up to three or four people skiing in relays. The skis were common standard slaloms for speeds around 30 mph, as well as pairs, and the length of the ski had to be between 75 ft and 100 ft. Teams could also relay with more than one skier per team.

News soon leaked that skier 47 had registered as Mr AAJohnson was none other than the Earl of Snowdon, patron of the BWSF, who was attempting to conceal his identity from the press. The result was dramatic coverage of the event.

More than 20 of the 56 entrants did not finish the race due to a gale that whipped up 6-foot waves. The winners became members of the Chasewater Power Boat Club and completed the course in 3 hours 15 minutes. Team Snowdon finished fourth in 4h 10m and the next skier in the race was 14-year-old Bill Rixon. 3rd place overall was just the start for someone who was to become one of the legends of British waterski racing.

In 1968 the BWSF Racing Committee organized the first British Championship series which was raced at Chasewater, Greatsone, Hunstanton, Hartlepool, Penarth and the River Medway. John Boardman of the Varne club became the champion of the first series.

In 1969 the British Championship series was increased to eight races and was won by Brendan Bowles of the Penarth club. It was in this year that the European Water Skiing Championships were founded and competitions were held in Holland, Belgium and Britain. Bill Rixon became the first European champion in water skiing.


Rixon came to prominence in European racing in the 1970s with no less than six overall European Championship gold medals among many Britons. Bill said: “It is possible that the other two European titles are not yet counted”. He spent a lot of time in Italy skiing for Mostes in 1974/5 and made several disapproving visits to South Africa as well as hitting the racing scene in California.

Other names such as David Hutchinson, Guy Gooding, David Martin, Robin Mainwaring, Cliff Featherstone, Alan Hargreaves, Tony Cox, Gary Brooks and Colin Harris were scattered after the 1970s when British F1 ski racing was as strong as ever.

The other two names were brothers Steven and Andy Coe. Steven won the British Championships in 1978 and 1979 and Andy followed suit in 1980 with Tom Lumley taking all three titles. The top British women included Liz Hobbs, Sue de Donker and Kim Gooding.

Liz started skiing when she was 9 and by 15 she was skiing in her first race at Medway in 1975. The following year she won every race she entered and won the first of seven British titles. In the same year, she broke the women’s British and European speed records for a speedboat with a cigarette called “I Like It Too”.

During the 1970s, several British skiers, including the Coes, visited Australia and discovered a new way of skiing called “packing”. Terry Bennett from Sydney was the name behind the pack and discovered the technique purely by accident when he was trying to relieve back strain after an accident. So, along with Fred Williams’ racing skis and a wealth of Aussie experience, these British skiers introduced us to the way we all ski now.

Along with Ray Berriman and Alan Taylor, other early British race organizers were Arthur Dawe, Peter Felix, Ted Rawlings, Wally Neale and John Hoiles. John Hoiles actually became the European and World President of the IWSF and made a huge contribution to the sport.

The turning point in world waterski racing came on 9 September 1979 when the first Sperry Univac sponsored World Championships were held, with races at Whitstable, Allhallows and Welsh Harp. The organizing committee was chaired by Briton Ray Berriman.

The event was the first to bring together the official top teams from around the world and although Australia’s Wayne Ritchie and Bronwyn Wing won gold, Britain’s Kim Gooding took 2nd place in the women’s, Bill Rixon 2nd in the men’s and Steven Coe 3rd British team clearly established Britain as a force to be reckoned with on the world waterski competition scene.


As Rixon neared the end of his unprecedented racing career, it was time for new names to take the stage and enjoy the limelight. Liz Hobbs and Steve Moore were two big names in the early 1980s and both became world champions and were awarded MBEs. Liz won the title of world champion in 1981 and 1984 and won the title of European champion at least four times.

But life in the 1980s was not so sweet for Liz, despite her incredible success, as she fell and broke her neck in Penarth in 1984. She also broke her sternum in three places, six ribs, one of which punctured her lung. Plus, Liz’s heart stopped.

Surprisingly, Liz returned to skiing the following year and returned to her winning streak in 1986. Later in the 1980s, she was nominated for the Sports Personality of the Year Award and won the Sports Writers of the Year Award. After climbing onto the public stage with the help of a publicist a few years ago, Liz went on to host her own TV series for Yorkshire Television called ‘Hobbs Choice’ and has since become one of the region’s best known waterskiers. world.

Steve Moore started racing in 1980. He was a guy who fell but got up, then fell again but always got up. Finally it stopped falling and there was an incredible machine on the water. In 1983 he attempted the speed record at Windermere behind Alf Bullen’s F1 catamaran but fell short at 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 consisted of Catalina, the Giro del Lario and the Botany Bay Classic in Australia. He won all three in the same year, becoming the first British skier to win the Catalina outright.

Hot on Moore’s heels in the late 1980s was a young lad from London who skied his first race in 1977. His name was Darren Kirkland and aged just 18, Kirkland first represented Britain at the World Championships in Spain in 1985 and is about to enter his eighth event of the 2001 World Championships.

With Coes, Rixon, Cliff Featherstone, Paul Llewellyn, Gary Brooks, Tony Cox and others fighting for victory throughout the decade, the 1980s hosted some incredible races across Britain. Nicky Carpenter and Lisa Coupland were also successful names in the 1980s.


As the prosperous 1980s faded, economic decline saw the number of factories decline. A similar pattern has occurred in Europe, Australia, and the US, but that hasn’t stopped the sport from becoming even more competitive in its determination to grab some of the limelight.

Kirkland has had his fair share and has virtually dominated British racing since the 1990s. Kirkland showed the endurance he is renowned for, winning a total of ten British titles, five European titles and becoming a respected skier around the world. In addition, Kirkland won the Catalina in 1994, the grueling diamond race in Belgium an enviable six times, and Italy’s Giro del Lario twice.

But the jewel in the crown has eluded him for the past 16 years. The world title was so close and yet so far from the man who had come so close to winning it on more than one occasion. In 1995, Italian Stefano Gregorio took the award in Belgium, just when Kirkland thought he had the title wrapped up. In 1997 he took 3rd place in Australia and in 1999 he took 2nd place in Spain. This year, he will try once more to win the one success he so longs for.

In January 1997, Kirkland was awarded the BWSF General Lascelles Trophy in recognition of his tremendous achievements in the sport of water skiing. And at the 1999 world championships, gold medalist Stephen Robertson of Australia paid a public tribute to Kirkland after receiving the crown.

In the early 1990s, Rachel Casson produced an outstanding performance at the 1991 World Championships in Darwin, Australia. So close to winning one of the rounds, Rachel fell at over 100 miles per hour and suffered horrendous injuries. Determined to succeed on the world stage, Rachel became Britain’s top female skier, but was dogged by Darwin’s injury over the years. Gilly Clements was also a strong contender in the 1980s and 1990s, representing Britain on many occasions.


Over the years, Britain has been very strong in Europe, winning countless titles in all categories, including the much-coveted team trophy no less than four times. Great performances from many but especially in the women’s category from Liz Hobbs, Nicky Carpenter, Lisa Coupland, Rachel Casson, Gilli Clements. Recently, Kim Lumley etched her name on the British Championship trophy three times already. Paula Newland, originally from the Penarth club, was also there and secured 6th place at the 1999 World Championships in Spain.

Darren Kirkland still dominates the men’s division in Britain, but Karl Brooks and Danny Evans are slowly closing in on the 34-year-old. How long will they maintain their place at the top of British racing? – Only time will tell.

On the official side of things, Briton Ray Berriman, who took part in Britain’s first ever World Championship in 1979, is this year’s head referee at the 2001 World Championship in Las Vegas.

It is impossible to mention all who have played a part in British waterski racing history here. There are so many names that are not mentioned. But this article has hopefully given you an insight into high-level waterski racing and is a thing of the past.

All in all, Britain continues to play a major role in world ski racing. He will undoubtedly continue to do so in the years to come.

Written in 2001 by Robbie Llewellyn

With thanks to: Aubrey Sheena, Alan Taylor, Darren Kirkland, Steve Moore (MBE), Mike Waterman, Martin Brooks, Tom Lumley, Liz Hobbs (MBE) and the Guinness Book of Water Skiing.

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