At the turn of the 20th century small boats called launches were just becoming powerful enough to tow riders. The first craze in towed watersports was a big flat board resembling a large door. The aquaplane was a popular device for decades, often referenced in early newspapers as an offshoot of surfing inspired by Hawaiian wave riders.
Kevin Desmond’s classic book “The Golden Age of Water-Skiing” has plenty of pictures and stories about the aquaplane. Desmond recounts the story of the “first” aquaplane rider based out of Coronado Beach in Southern California in the early 1900s. Captain J.L LeRoy was at the helm of the “Neptune” for a fishing and swimming adventure.
“One of the young men, reluctant to leave the water, decided that to get him home, they would have to tow him. Whereupon the ingenious Captain heaved over a heavy fish box cover, with a rope attached, and the return was triumphantly started.”
In the online article “Before Water Skiing There Was Aquaplaning” Lawrence Gooley pushes the timeline back to 1909 where “participants attempted to ride a toboggan or ironing board shaped plank.”
1911 advertisement for “THE AQUAPLANE CO.” in “Motor Boating.”
By the mid 1910s several print publications were spreading the word about the new sport.
In 1922 Coca-Cola created a large (32×40) window display featuring this young lady riding the aquaplane.
The popularity of aquaplaning certainly inspired the creation of water skiing by Ralph Samuelson in 1922.
“Ralph Samuelson” by Scinauticando.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Fred Waller’s 1924 Akwa Skees were a direct modification of the aquaplane, one for each foot.
1926 Ad with the headline “Bring Honolulu’s Greatest Sport to Your Beach!
1926 movie poster for The Palm Beach Girl starring Bebe Daniels
Aquaplaning became a frequent subject of newsreels shown before movies.
Blimp Water Skiing – The New Sport of 1932.
In the 30s and beyond several publications provided directions for how to build an aquaplane.
LINK: Motor Boating: June 1931
The famed Catalina Ski Race off the coast of Los Angeles was first done on aquaplanes prior to the forced halt during World War II.
Even while new types of traditional skiing were being developed the aquaplane was still popular, and underwent various changes such as a convex bottom, and attachment to the boat via a single rope for better maneuverability.
It was only recently that I discovered the rich heritage of the aquaplane. As I prepare to ride 50 different things in 1 day to celebrate turning 50 years old, it only seems fitting that one of these rides is the aquaplane.
I am currently planning construction of an aquaplane from an article in a 1932 edition of Popular Mechanics. This is a very fitting date as the location of my 50 for 50 is the Long Beach Marine Stadium, originally built to host the rowing event for the 1932 Los Angles Olympic Games. How cool is that?!
Explore the rich history of towed watersports with your guide, Tony Klarich