Water skiing got its start in the summer of 1922, when Ralph Samuelson rode two wooden skis on Lake Pepin in Minnesota. The world’s first water skier received a tow from a low-powered inboard boat, but he also experimented with speeds of up to 80 mph behind a World War I Curtis Flying Boat during the summer of 1925. For much of the next few decades, people towed with whatever boat they had.
Then, in the fall of 1959, Leo Bentz, a Miami Beach water-ski-school operator, changed the game with a boat he built and named Ski Nautique. Manufactured in fiberglass, the Ski Nautique boasted direct-drive inboard power. Tracking, wake characteristics, power and top speed took center stage.
Because water skiing has mutated into so many different tow sports, from boarding to skating to surfing, the wake designed by Bentz doesn’t fit all needs. Today, each sport has its own preferred wake size and shape, and boatbuilders have devised a host of ways to respond. It all starts with the power, and how it’s delivered.
Installed amidships, direct-drive inboards provide the quick planing, minimal wake and precision tracking required by tournament skiers.
For competition-minded slalom skiers who want the best tow, the direct-drive inboard remains the pre-eminent boat. Why? The amidships placement of the engine provides excellent balance for the boat’s tracking and steering. It helps the hull to plane quickly for easy starts. The engine’s location, along with a relatively flat hull, creates the small wakes desired by water-skiers. The goal is to keep the wake narrow and the tracking straight. Competition skiers can tell if the boat is off course by as little as three inches.
While today’s ski boat is bigger and wider than the 17-foot-9-inch-long Ski Nautique of 1959, hard-core ski boats are the smallest tow sport boats — at about 20 feet in length — within the market segment. Innovation continues in ski boats, like the new closed-bow Carbon Pro by Centurion featuring carbon fiber reinforcement for more hull strength but less weight, contributing to a small wake.
The most passionate skiers stick with a closed bow, but manufacturers do offer open-bow tournament boats, like Nautique’s Ski Nautique 200. Ditto for the Malibu Response LXi, the MasterCraft PS 197 and the Tigé 20i. Families who want high-quality tow characteristics with more interior space should sea-trial the Tigé 22i.
To adjust the wake on its boats, Tigé uses its TAPS system, an electronically controlled trim plate located at the base of the transom near the hull. Changing the attitude of the trim plate adjusts the wake from small to big, giving everyone a choice of wake shape and size.
Let’s not forget barefooters. Like the water-skier, the barefooter wants a small wake, but the wake table needs to be flat and less turbulent to make wake crossings and starts inside the wake easy. To please barefooters, the Sanger DXII direct drive features plenty of hull deadrise. Deadrise causes the hull and propeller to run deeper, making the water smoother and less turbulent inside the wake.