Vintage, Collectible, Antique and Retro Water Skis

Japanese man wakeboarding
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Vintage water skis are a great collectible because you can do a number of things with them, from giving a room a nautical vibe to using them to build funky furniture and more. 

A Brief History of Waterskiing

Waterskiing as a sport has its roots in Minnesota. In 1922, an 18-year-old named Ralph Samuelson got the novel idea of being towed by a boat while he wore wooden planks attached to each foot, much like the skis an Alpine skier would use. The idea wasn't completely far-fetched. Samuelson was already skilled at the sport of aquaplaning, which is similar to wakeboarding except that the rider stands rather than kneels on the board. 

Samuelson began promoting the new sport across the country in the 1920s, but he never patented his invention. In 1925, a New Yorker named Fred Waller patented the first pair of water skis, which he dubbed Dolphin Akwa-Skees. In 1928, a second water ski was patented by Don Ibsen of Washington. By the time the first trick ski was invented in 1940, waterskiing was slowly becoming a popular pastime, especially on the West Coast and in Florida. 

Water Ski Construction

The first water skis were made of wood, usually mahogany or northern ash. Wood looks beautiful, but it's very heavy and is very inflexible when compared to modern materials like fiberglass. Wood water skis are much harder to maneuver than contemporary skis are. Some of the most common brands of vintage skis are Cypress Gardens, Hydro-Flite, Wave King, Lund, Maharajah, Aqua Rite, and Healthways.

Today's water skis are made from either fiberglass, graphite, carbon fiber, or a compound of two or more of these materials. Fiberglass is cheap and easy to shape, but it's heavier than other materials, making these skis harder to maneuver. Fiberglass/graphite compounds make for lighter, more flexible skis, but they're also pricier. Carbon fiber is the costliest material used to make water skis, but it's also very strong, even when the skis are thin. Pro-grade skis are typically made of carbon fiber.

Vintage Water Skis

Unlike antique camera equipment or vintage electronics, which can be used today as easily as it was back in the day, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a reason why you'd want to go waterskiing on vintage skis because they're so clunky compared to modern skis. But retro water skis have other value. Look at Pinterest, Etsy, or eBay, and you'll find a range of waterskiing projects and collections. 

You can find old water skis for sale on online auction sites for between $100 and $300, depending on their condition, brand, and material. A pair of water skis hung over a fireplace makes a great room focal point. Or if you're crafty with power tools, you can use old skis to build Adirondack chairs, wine racks, coat racks, and more. Sites like Pinterest are great for design inspiration.

Fun fact: If you're ever in Clear Lake, Ind., check out the Wood Water Ski Museum. You'll find dozens of old skis from the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and '50s when the sport was coming into its own. 

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