I think of Mike’s time running Sky Ski from 1997 to 2004 as the golden days of foiling. His shop was in Lake Elsinore, just minutes from our homes in Canyon Lake. Now Mike was free to let loose with all the innovations and new designs that had been bottled up inside him for years. First came the foil. He added a keel for strength, increased the size of the front wing, and flipped the rear wing upside down. He streamlined, strengthen and refine his foils for better performance. The new Rock Tower seat was a breakthrough too. Air Chair’s seat was plastic, so Mike raised the bar with 6061-T1 aluminum tower with a larger sitting area that was moved forward.
He tirelessly tested and experimented to create the best product possible. His main motivation was to take away as much market share as possible from Air Chair. Mike’s dealers were loyal, and quickly committed to buy hundreds of his new “High Performance Hydrofoils.” His initial problem was actually too many orders.
Mike Murphy, Man on a Mission with Sky Ski (Bender, 1998)
“Mike Murphy’s Foiling History.” In his own words, with images.
One of Mike’s first moves was to hire Jake Kinnison. He moved down from Seattle to sunny SoCal to be the right hand man, and run the shop while Mike was on the road traveling and promoting. It was a far cry from pressing Air Chair decks at the HO factory for Jake. He was now in the midst of launching a new company, and all the challenges of launching with a small team.
From a press operator at the HO factory, to a vital role in Sky Ski, Jake was always in the middle of the action. (Kingman, 1998)
Jon Wilborn was another key guy in the early days of Sky Ski. He was a shop guy specializing in polishing and tuning foils that went on every Sky Ski. Mike also put Jon, who was known for his big air riding, in charge of developing a suspension seat to cushion landings. Jon worked with Bobby Taylor and Mike to develop the Shock Tower. The new cushioned ride was a big hit.
Jon Wilborn was instrumental in developing the Shock Tower. (Kingman, 1999)
There was a lot of foil testing going on in the early days, and hundreds of foils were ridden by Mike, Jake, and Jon before they were shipped. I was never a fan of testing, and here’s why. My job as a tester is to try and make the foil glitch or make the board stick. I was pretty good at finding twitchy foil, but did not like exposing myself to the risk of loosing control or falling. Nevertheless Mike always seemed to talk me into to testing his foils.
It was super important to Mike that his foils worked and his customers were satisfied, so testing of each foil went on for the first couple of years. Mike’s contention was that if a person was paying that much for his product, he wanted to make sure that it performed up to his standards.
I was amazed to see what it really took to get Sky Ski off the ground. I helped Mike put together the original dealer kits, and all the paperwork. I worked on the product manual and content for the website.
The schematic for the original Sky Ski with a Rock Tower by Mike Murphy, 1998.
The true fun came when the “Sky Ski Team Riders” headed to the River to shoot Mike’s promo video, “High Performance Hydrofoilers.” Mike finally got his submarine on video, and launched some huge front flips. Ron Stack showed off his unique style. Shonna and I like to joke that Ron was a “monkey on a springboard with all his crazy crabs, twists, and jumps. Grandma Murphy went for jumps at over 80 years old. I unveiled my gainer combo dismounts and the gainer floater. When it came time to put the video together I got to spend time in the edit bay with Mike and the professionals. The hours were long, but Mike was able to get exactly what he wanted up on the screen. It was fun to be in the thick of something new and exciting yet again.
Sky Ski “High Performance Hydrofoilers” (Part 1)
PART 1 FEATURING: Mike Murphy, Mary Murphy, Peter Shorno, Ron Stack, David Lester, Wayne and Bruce Rexwinkle, Cheryl Roberts, Mike Mack, Rick Roy, Brian Vesely, Sandy Bertha
Sky Ski “High Performance Hydrofoilers” (Part 2)
PART 2 FEATURING: Tony Klarich, Vicki Mack, Teresa Wilborn, Jon Wilborn, Crash Compilation from Flight Worlds.
Sky Ski Junky: and original song with video highlights from Sky Ski “High Performance Hydrofoilers”
Mike Murphy became the heart and soul of hydrofoiling with his new company. He constantly sought to improve and refine his hydrofoils. He put together an extensive team rider program, supported almost every event with his time, and gave away tons of free product.
Murphy’s support of riders and events lead to big wins and huge support
Mike’s tenure as the owner/operator of Sky Ski also forced Air Chair to improve their product. It wasn’t like the old days when they did not have to innovate because they were the only game in town. Air Chair came out with the Stealth. It had a polished aluminum seat, and a polished foil with several wing options. It also came standard with three shims to fine-tune the ride. The Stealth was a vast improvement for Air Chair, and the new curved wings made it a Skidding machine.
In the midst of the heated competition between Sky Ski and Air Chair, dozens of Fly-Ins sprang up all over the world. Over 300 participants showed up to a single one in Parker. Show time on the River reached new heights. Other big Fly-Ins became annual events that drew hundreds of riders while fostering the growth and fellowship of the sport. They became like family reunions, and each one developed its own personality. The Tennessee Fly-In organized by Steve McCrary, Mark Pilkington, and Rob Plamondon was held on rented houseboats, and was oriented to families. The Texas Fly-In on the Brazos River was another popular event with younger riders like Todd Kyser, DMV, Thomas Freeman, and Leland Speed around to spice things up and party down. In Florida, Phil Dixon and Laurie Petersen, rolled out the red carpet for riders of all ages. In 10 years they hosted more than 1,000 participants. A fun and unique aspect of the Florida Fly-In was the honoring of key families in foiling at some of the events. The Honkalas, Yauchlers, and our family of Murphy-Klarich all had their own year of recognition. About a half dozen families bought a home in the area as it became a foiling hot spot.
4-generations riding at the Florida Fly In show: K2, Tony, Grandma Murphy, Nick Murphy. Photo Gunstenson, 2005
Phil Dixon and Laurie Petersen out on the Florida Fly-In for 10 years. Here’s the 2005 group photo that honored the Murphy-Klarich family, photo: Gunstenson,
Florida Fly-In 10 year anniversary with Phil Dixon, Laurie Petersen, Angela Yauchler, Geno Yauchler & Jake Bradley
Competitions took flight. In addition to the Worlds, Rick Stocks and his INT-League sponsored the first series of amateur hydrofoil events in Arizona and California. In 1997 Schörno and company continued with the Swiss Championships held in conjunction with their summer hydrofoil summit. An independent company, Motor Sports Marketing, put on the Florida State Hydrofoil Championships with respectable prize money and TV coverage. Ron Stack and I made the trip to the Sunshine State to compete, and I came back with a nice check for a first place finish. The mass media picked up on the exciting new way to ride, and foilers got tons of dynamic coverage on TV networks like the Discovery Channel, the Speed Channel, and Outdoor Life. My newsletter, Flight Hydrofoiling, was at full steam, covering every exciting new development and spreading the word to a hungry contingent of foilers and key people in the watersports industry.
In 1997 Rick Stock and the Arizona INT-League kicked of the first series of hydrofoiling invents. Parker winners Blaine Sholinder, Jake Kinnison, Barrie Regan, Brian Vesely
Air Chair sold about 12,000 units from 1989 to 1997, the year that Mike started Sky Ski. The Air Chair was a slowly evolving product, so there was little reason for established riders to buy a “new” model. But with the release of the high performance oriented Sky Ski, there was a surge of growth as riders made the switch or bought foils for the first time.
Hydrofoiling was growing, and a cottage industry built up around all the new developments. Bill and Jake Kinnison founded Air Junky. Their website became the key online site for foilers. Their listbot became the first open online forum for hydrofoilers to spread the word of foiling, no matter what they chose to ride. Air Junky also offered Traxx Padz: non-skid for the feet and seats. Air Junky sold a few other products, and plastered the sport with their distinctive stickers, but in the end it was more about a frame of mind than an all out business. The Seattle based crew also included Boeing materials expert Bill Curley, and Kevin Thayer, who appeared in an iconic photo doing a gainer silhouetted against a sunset. The photojournalist who captured all the action was Ian Lauder at Cyber-Sea. Ian was the Webmaster for the original Sky Ski website and the Flight Worlds website for many years, in addition to taking thousands of photos at events across the nation. Air Junky was the first group on foiling that represented a state of mind, an attitude, and the relentless pursuit of big air.
Air Junky ad featuring World Record of nine riders behind one boat, 1999
Kevin Thayer’s iconic photo by Ian Lauder, 1998
Foil tuning was still going strong with Mike Mack, Chris O, Dan Corey, Blaine Sholinder, and many others. A group in Texas called Toxic Foils even started shaping front and rear wings using wild designs and materials.
The new moves kept coming with innovations and variations of all sorts. My revelation that you could do a combo roll using the sink style was featured in Flight Hydrofoiling, and it inspired many riders to a whole new way of riding. The sink style provided extra time to get ready for the next move, and for many it was much easier than the swoop style combo.
I applied the sink style to several moves including the jump to backside roll and jump to front flip. Mike became an expert using it for his back rolls. He’d punch out six or seven in a row riding in the trough next to the wake. It looked like he was jumping on a pogo stick. The sport was growing so quickly that by 1997 four US ski schools offered expert instruction specifically for foilers.
Damon Moore and Geno Yauchler started challenging the old guard of Murphy, Stack, and myself. With those guys on our heels we worked even harder to try and stay one step ahead.
Mike Murphy and Jon Wilborn were the first to push the limits of big air, but Damon took his air to a level never seen before. His biggest move was a 20-foot high stalled out front flip that was truly breathtaking.
Damon Moore stalling out a gigantic front flip. (Kingman, 1999)
Being one of the top riders in hydrofoiling had its perks. Uncle Mike and I made a trip to Moscow to help put on a 30-minute extreme show as entertainment for a world-class economic summit. Jon Wilborn scored the cover of the Bart’s catalog in the summer of 1997. Grandma Murphy, at age 80, got sponsored by Body Glove for her annual ride to Catalina island and back: a distance of over 52 miles in open ocean. We ran chase boat for her in the 72‘ Body Glove boat “Disappearance,” with company co-founder Bob Meistral at the helm. Grandma’s amazing trips garnered her a full-page story in the National Enquirer and TV coverage on Inside Edition and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Catalina “Queen Mary” Murphy. Catalina crossings. (Klarich, 1998)
Video Link: (includes a portion of grandma’s song and Catalina photos)
Mary Murphy on Inside Edition
Grandma Murphy’s exploits inspired me to write a song, and Tommy Phillips helped out on lead guitar.
Here’s a little story about my grandma,
Her name is Mary Murphy.
She’s 87 years old with a heart of gold,
And a sweet little lady.
Well she makes cactus jelly, bakes cookies from scratch,
Her egg salad sandwiches can never be matched.
You see her out walking most every day,
Or down at the beach acting half her age!
Here’s a little story about my grandma,
Her name is Mary Murphy.
She’s 87 years old with a heart of gold,
And a tough old lady.
When she skis across the ocean, 52 miles,
Dodging sharks and dolphins with a great big smile.
Waving to the people who are so amazed,
They’re saying, “Go! Go! Grandma! You’re so great!”
Hey grandma, you know I love you,
You taught me right from wrong.
Grandma, you’re my inspiration,
I hope when I grow up I can be so strong.
So there’s my little story about my grandma,
An everyday hero.
She’s sweet and tough, and it’s enough,
To know that she loves me so.
Mike’s final brochure for Sky Ski featured many innovative products, 2003
Images (used with permission)
“Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 3, Hydrofoiling – Cover,” photo: Ian Lauder, 1999.
“Mike Murphy Headshot,” Kurt Bender, 1998.
“Mike Murphy Sky Ski Back Roll,” Ian Lauder, 2000.
Damien Klaas, photo Kelly Kingman, Damon Moore, photo Ian Lauder.
“Sky Ski Riders Prevail -Ad,” Flight World Hydrofoiling, Volume 4, Number 3: Fall, 2000, back cover.
“Florida Fly-In,” photo Jason Gunstenson, 2005.
“Air Junky -Ad,” Flight The Hydrofoiling Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 2: Summer, 1999, 2.
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