Since about the turn of the century, skiers have been actively pursuing first descents on waves. The idea, however, traces back further than that. What follows is a complete history of the idea and the sport, or as close to complete as we’ve been able to ascertain. This is a living document and any contributors are encouraged to make yourselves known.
2001: Mogul skier Trennon Paynter and Woody Bouma successfully tow into waves on skis in their native Austrailia. Paynter is currently the Canadian halfpipe ski coach and team manager. Other riders said to have towed into waves on skis around this time in Hawaii are uber-surfer Chuck Patterson and tow-surfing pioneer Dave Kalama
2004: First Starr Surf Skis prototypes built and tested on Colorado river waves and boat wake waves.
2007: Skier Shane McConkey discusses the idea of skiing waves in an interview with lat34.com. McConkey had turned heads four years earlier by mounting a pair of 1970s-era water skis with a snow ski boot/binding setup and skiing powder on them for Matchstick Productions’ 2005 release “Focused.” McConkey also water skied behind a boat using snow skis in the same movie. Known as a skiing visionary, he is credited with pushing the ski industry toward the rockered powder ski designs that are now standard. McConkey was killed in a ski base-jumping accident in 2009.
An excerpt from the Lat34.com interview:
Lat34: I have to ask, it might be all bullshit, but have you ever thought about towing into big waves on some sort of ski set up? The guys who tow in on boards say it’s a lot like snowboarding, but with a huge avalanche chasing you.
McConkey: Yea I’ve thought a lot about it. I spoke to Chuck Patterson about it a bit when he was trying it. I would love to try it … I have done some waterskiing behind a boat with my snow skiing gear. It was quite easy. I’m sure that stepping it up to a wave could be managed with a bit of practice. I would need an experienced tow guy. I think this could be done easily though.
2007: Jason Starr, inspired by the emerging stand up paddle discipline of surfing, works with Mike Richardson of Electric Duck Surfboards to design the first stand up paddle skis, making it possible for the first time to ski waves without a motorized tow-in. Starr also successfully drops the rope behind a boat wake and skis the wake wave by force of the wave alone.
As a dedicated skier growing up in Massachusetts, I was always enthralled by surfing: the culture, style, athleticism and ocean environment. Whenever it was on TV I was mesmerized. I now know that many skiers have this fascination and desire to surf. The spirit of the two sports are so connected.
The first time I got a chance to surf (age 22), I stood up on a wave and I felt like I was snowboarding. It was the same heel/toe method of turning I had learned on snow so many years earlier when snowboarding was first cracking the mainstream. Being an obsessed skier, one of my first thoughts on the surfboard was, ‘okay, I’m snowboarding … why can’t I be skiing this?’ And I couldn’t think of a reason why not.
The more I thought about it, the more it became a challenge to myself to look at waves as a new piece of terrain for skiing. Now that the first wave has been skied, it’s become a call out to all skiers to see how well we can ski on surf.
2009: Mike Douglas and Cody Townsend set up shop on the north shore of Maui for a month-long quest to ski waves. They achieve unprecedented success towing into and skiing big waves and release the footage as part of the web show “Salomon Freeski TV.”
I’ve been a skier my whole life and a surfer for 20 years. Every time I go surfing I always wonder ‘could you ski on this thing?’ It’s something that’s always been burning in the back of my mind and when the opportunity arose, I said ‘hell yeah.’
2010: The Return of Chuck. Pro surfer and former pro skier Chuck Patterson works with Starr Surf Skis and McDermott Shapes on new designs for tow-in surf skis and uses them in big waves with spectacular, unprecedented success. Patterson’s set up includes snow ski boots, bindings and poles.
2011: Chuck Patterson skis the fabled Hawaii big wave break Jaws. Salomon Freeski TV films the session as a follow up to their 2009 Wave Skiing episode. The footage gains national attention, ending up on Good Morning America.
Others to be mentioned in the development of the sport: Jan Wrona of New Hampshire worked in the 1990s to create a pair of surf skis using a knee-paddle technique. The skis were designed to be connected while paddling from the kneeling position, then to be disconnected by hand once the wave was caught. The prototypes did not function as planned, Wrona reports.
Connecticut-native James Verinis worked on a surf ski concept in the late 1980s, building and testing a few prototypes. Says Verinis:
I began attempting to ski waves in Rhode Island in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I went to college at the Rhode Island School of Design and my friends were helpful. But I never really took it to the design level. It seemed like a natural thing to try and do … I have an image in my mind of paddling in with little more gear than my own two arms and two sleak skis and carving down the line of a large wave. There was at that time, and remains, an inventive spirit in the air surrounding surfing and skiing.