Watching a water-ski show
Spend a perfect summer evening watching flips, dance lines and pyramids.
Watch a water-ski show, and you'll want to climb into your Thunderbird and go get a chocolate malted.
There's something deliciously retro about spending a balmy summer evening listening to '50s party music and the roar of marine engines as spangled, sun-bleached teen-agers fly by.
A corny comedy routine is part of the show, but it's the tricks that keep the crowd enthralled: double flips, dance lines and pyramids that can go up to five tiers.
Show skiing is most popular in the Upper Midwest. Ralph Samuelson, who invented water-skiing on Lake Pepin in 1922, was a showman, and Tommy Bartlett began putting on shows in the Wisconsin Dells in 1952.
Wisconsin has many more show clubs than any other state, and the Janesville Rock Aqua Jays organized the first national championships in 1975.
The Madison club won that first championship and reigned from 2006 to 2009, until the team from Wonder Lake, Ill., unseated it in 2010. It won again in 2019.
In 2011, the Rock Aqua Jays took the title from Wonder Lake, kept it through 2014 and regained it in 2018.
In 2015, the Aquanuts from tiny Twin Lakes, Wis., won the national title, and Wonder Lake won in 2016. In 2017, the Sarasota Ski-A-Rees from Florida entered the tournament for the first time since 1998 and won.
Whether or not they place nationally, every team puts on a fun show.
Before going, check team schedules. A team may be away at a tournament or performing at a festival in another town. Sometimes, heavy rains affect lake levels and force teams to cancel shows.
In August, as days grow shorter, many teams perform half an hour earlier. Later in the month, most teams lose some of their stars to college.
The Wisconsin State/Regional Water Ski Show Tournament is held in July in Wisconsin Rapids, and the Division 1 National Show Ski Tournament is held in August, traditionally in Janesville, Wis.
All of the shows are free unless noted, but teams ask for donations to help pay for gas and costumes. You can also support the teams by buying concessions.
Some teams have bleachers; to see others, bring a lawn chair or blanket. Often, the first half-hour of a show is devoted to the junior development team.
Mad-City Ski Team in Madison. Shows are at 6 p.m. Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At Law Park, next to Monona Terrace on Lake Monona.
The team is the reigning national champion and is nearly always in the top three at the National Show Ski Championships.
Rock Aqua Jays in Janesville. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through July and 6:30 p.m. from August through Labor Day. At Traxler Park on the Rock River.
The team has won the national title 19 times.
Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club in Pewaukee. Shows are at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays from Memorial Day through early August and at 6:30 p.m. through Labor Day. At Lakefront Park on Pewaukee Lake, just west of Milwaukee.
Badgerland Water Ski Show Team in Waukesha. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays from Memorial Day through early August, then 6:30 p.m. through Labor Day. At Frame Park on the Fox River.
Beaverland Must-Skis in Beaver Dam. Shows are at 6 p.m. Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At Tahoe Park on Beaver Dam Lake.
Water Bugs of Muskego. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At Idle Isle Park on Little Muskego Lake, southwest of Milwaukee.
Southern Wakes United Water Ski Show Team in Whitewater and Lauderdale. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays around Walworth County, mainly at Scenic Ridge Campground on Whitewater Lake and on Don Jean Bay at Lauderdale Lakes in Lauderdale, seven miles north of Elkhorn.
Brown's Lake Aquaducks in Burlington. Shows are 6 or 6:30 p.m. Thursdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. At Fischer Park on Brown's Lake.
Ski Sprites Water Ski Show Team in Altoona. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from June 7 through Labor Day at Lake Altoona, just east of Eau Claire. County-park parking is $3.
River City Waterski Team in La Crosse. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays from mid-June to mid-August. At Airport Beach from French Island on the Mississippi River.
Aquanuts in Twin Lakes. Shows are at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend in this small town 10 miles east of Lake Geneva. In Lance Park on Lake Mary.
In 2019, the Aquanuts placed second in nationals.
Kwahamot Water Ski Club in Tomahawk. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. At Kwahamot Bay across from Veteran's Memorial Park on the Wisconsin River.
Chain Skimmers near Eagle River. Shows are at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. On Lake Pleasant near Conover, 12 miles north of Eagle River.
Waterboard Warriors Water Ski Show Team in Wrightstown. Shows are at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in June and July and 6:30 p.m. in August. At Brown County Park on the Fox River, between Green Bay and Appleton.
Webfooters Water Show Team in Fremont. Shows are at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from early June through August. On the Wolf River between Appleton and Waupaca.
Ski Sharks in Shawano. Shows are at 6 p.m. Wednesdays from early June through mid-August. At Wolf River Park.
Hydroflites Water Ski Show Team in Chetek. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays from mid-June to late August. On Lake Chetek.
Twin Bridge Water Ski Team near Crivitz. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays from mid-June mid- August. At Stephenson Town Park on High Falls Flowage, 12 miles northwest of Crivitz.
Aqua Skiers in Wisconsin Rapids. Shows are at 5 p.m. Sundays from mid-June to late August. At Lake Biron on the Wisconsin River, between 64th and 80th streets northeast of town.
The Aqua Skiers host the state tournament in mid-July on Lake Wazeecha, east of town.
Badwater Ski-Ters in Spread Eagle. Shows are at 6 p.m. Wednesdays from mid-June to mid-August and Sundays from mid-June 14 to Labor Day. At Vagabond Park on the Menominee River, five miles west of Iron Mountain, Mich.
Aqua Devils near Three Lakes. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from mid-June to mid-August. At Phyllis B. Felland Memorial Water Ski Park on Big Stone Lake, 3½ miles east of Three Lakes.
Min-Aqua Bats Water Ski Club in Minocqua. Shows are at 7 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from mid-June to mid-August. At the Aqua Bowl on Lake Minocqua.
Founded in 1950, this is the longest running amateur water-ski team in the nation.
Chain Skiers in Waupaca. Shows at 6 p.m. Saturdays from late June to early August. At Rainbow Lake from the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, three miles southwest of Waupaca
Skiing Skeeters in Manitowish Waters. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays from late June to late August. At Rest Lake Park.
Plum Ski-ters Water Ski Show Team in Sayner. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays. At Statehouse Point on Plum Lake.
Water Walkers in Wausau/Mosinee. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. from June through Labor Day on Tuesdays at D.C. Everest Park on the north shore of Lake Wausau and Thursdays south of Mosinee on Lake Dubay, just west of the intersection of U.S. 51/I-39 and County Road DB.
Little Crow Water Ski Team in New London. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. in June and July and 7 p.m. in August. At Neer Park on the Crow River. $5, $8 for reserved seats.
In west-central Minnesota, this is the little team that could; it didn't form until 1979 but won national championships in 1994 and 1998.
Twin Cities River Rats in Minneapolis. Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays from early June to late August, with extra shows during Aquatennial. On the Mississippi River just north of downtown Minneapolis, between the Broadway and Plymouth bridges.
Ski Loons in Brainerd. Shows are on many Sundays at 5 p.m.; check for the schedule. They're on Rice Lake in Lum Park, on the northeast side of town just off Minnesota 210.
Ski Otters Water Ski Team in White Bear Lake. Shows are at 6 p.m. Sundays from mid-June through August. At Little Goose Lake north of St. Paul.
Bald Eagle Waterski Shows in Centerville. Shows in this northern Twin Cities suburb, just east of Lino Lakes, are at 7 p.m. Thursdays starting in late June.
Wonder Lake Ski Team in Wonder Lake, Ill. Shows are at 7 p.m. Fridays from Memorial Day to mid-August. At Center Beach, just across the border from Lake Geneva, Wis., where it performs for Venetian Festival in August.
This team has won five national championships and is an annual contender.
Ski Broncs Waterski Show Team in Rockford. Shows are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays from June to the last Friday before Labor Day. At Shorewood Park on the Rock River in Loves Park.
Backwater Gamblers in Rock Island. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. On the Rock River, near its confluence with the Mississippi.
Waterhawks Ski Team near Waterloo. Shows are at 6 p.m. Fridays or Sundays from June through Labor Day. $5, $3 for students. At Eagle Lake in Evansdale.
Five Seasons Ski Team in Cedar Rapids. Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays from the last weekend of May to Labor Day. At Ellis Park on the Cedar River.
Ski Bellevue in Bellevue. Shows are Fridays on the Mississippi River, below Lock and Dam 12.
Silver Lake Ski Club in Fenton. Shows are at 7 p.m. Tuesdays from June through mid-August. At Silver Lake Park, west of town.
Lake City Skiers in Warsaw, Ind. Just south of Elkhart, this team performs at 6:30 p.m. Sundays on Hidden Lake.