National ski show tournament got its start in Janesville
Janesville's Rock Aqua Jays water ski team has been performing on the Rock River for 50 years.
JANESVILLE When Duane Snow organized the first water ski show national tournament in 1974, he was confident it was going to be the best thing that ever happened to the American Water Ski Association.
He was right.
Nine teams from Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois competed in the first two-day National Water Ski Show Championships, hosted in 1975 by the Rock Aqua Jays on the Rock River at Traxler Park.
“It was a rousing success,’’ Snow said.
“These water ski show teams were looking for a venue to exhibit what they do, and this tournament gave them that avenue,’’ he said.
Today, show ski nationals—known as the Super Bowl of show skiing—has grown into a three-day tournament that attracts 14 teams and hundreds of competitive skiers from around the country plus tens of thousands of spectators.
The Aqua Jays, of which Snow is an honorary lifetime member, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011 and will host show ski nationals again this year.
Snow’s involvement with show skiing has evolved since 1972, when he began skiing as a clown with the Aqua Jays. A couple years later, he became the club’s representative to the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation and later its liaison with the American Water Ski Association.
“That’s when I got more into the organization and the politics of the sport. One thing led to another, and by 1974 I focused on creating a national show ski tournament,” he said.
Knowing teams wanted more tournaments, Snow had a grand vision.
“A national tournament sounded like a good idea,’’ he said.
So Snow spoke with WWSF and AWSA leaders, who were receptive to the concept. Then he wrote a bid—modified from a three-event national form to fit show skiing—and submitted it to the executive board of the Midwest Region Council of the AWSA.
“They received the package, accepted it and wished us good luck,’’ Snow said.
But a big challenge remained: getting the tournament sanctioned by the AWSA.
When Snow walked into AWSA headquarters in Winter Haven, Fla., President Bill Clifford told him he wasn’t sure a national show ski tournament would benefit the association.
“He said, ‘I’m not sure I want to put AWSA’s name on this because it’s something so new and hasn’t been done before. I’m not sure it’s going to be a success,’” Snow said.
That’s when Snow removed his AWSA membership card from his wallet, placed it on Clifford’s desk and said: “I’m not sure the AWSA is going to last that much longer. You give me a call when it’s a success, and I might join up, again.”
Snow wanted Clifford to be as confident as he was that the tournament was going to be a success. His conviction convinced Clifford, who granted the sanction.
When Snow returned to Wisconsin, he and his wife, Barb, wrote 250 invitations and mailed them to every show ski team in the country.
“We got responses from half the teams; many who wrote back and thanked us but said it was too far to travel to compete and wished us luck,” Snow said.
Snow organized tournament officials with the help of fellow Aqua Jays member J.R. Wilson, who had numerous contacts in the sport. He visited every Janesville City Council member to get their blessings. He contacted police, water utility and parks department officials and coordinated site preparations and event promotions in preparation for a crowd of more that 3,000.
When the first national tournament was over, Snow was on a mission to make the next ski show championships bigger and better. The Aqua Jays hosted the next three nationals and over the years has hosted the championship tournament 15 times—more than any other show ski club in the country.
“It gives me a great sense of pride,’’ Snow said.