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Bruce Parker Attempts to Water Ski with Snow Skis
To millions in eastern United States during the 1930's and 40's, Bruce Parker was "Mr. Water Skiing." No individual water skier before or since has commanded the attention of the media--newspaper, magazines, newsreels, --to the extent that Parker did.
Winter and summer. Winters in Miami and the Bahamas, summers in New York.
Hardly any stunt involving water skiing escaped his imaginative attention. Show skiing. Doubles acts with pretty girls. "Impossible" oceanic marathons. And, of course, competition.
Parker was the first National overall water ski champion, winning the title in the inaugural three-event National Water Ski Championships at Jones Beach, Long Island, in 1939 and retaining the crown a year later at the same site.
Parker could justifiably claim to be the first full-time professional water skier. When he was not participating in the summer-long water shows which he directed at Jones Beach, he was teaching the sport to beginners at his ski schools in the New York area, shifting his talents with the onset of cold weather to South Florida where he also taught fledgling skiers and performed regularly before the cameras to publicize Miami and Miami Beach.
Although there are no precise figures available, it is a fair assumption to credit Parker with introducing water skiing to more beginners at this ski schools than any other single individual. In the summer of 1949, Parker had seven schools going in New York and the New England area.
Parker first attempted to water ski in 1935 at the age of 19, using snow skis behind a speedboat. "Going straight ahead was OK," he recalls, "but when I tried to change direction, all sorts of things began to happen. My boots caught in the water, my skis crossed and then dove, only to shoot back up out of the water and crank me on the back of the head. I almost drowned."
He then tried with two redwood boards, six feet long and eight inches wide, which he grooved on the bottoms like snow skis. With the help of his boat driver and the elements, he did manage to get up on them but he soon found out why the tips needed to be bent "after a few spread eagles and having the boards suddenly dive under the surface."
The following summer, he met Dan Haines, who had ordered two pairs of water skis from France. Parker tried them and a relationship between Parker and Hains was insured. Joined later by Charlie Tilgner, an aeronautical engineer, they manufactured skis in the Tilgner basement until the orders got to be more than they could handle and they sold the operation to APCO. That company continued to manufacture "Bruce Parker Skis" for many years.
Hains hired Parker to organize the ski shows, which were a major attraction at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and1940. Pictures of Parker skiing not only made the news columns regularly, but they also were used in advertisements as promotional endorsements by the skiing star.
Joining Hains in founding the American Water Ski Association in 1939, Parker served as vice president of the association for more than 10 years. Hains used a silhouette action photograph of Parker as the centerpiece of AWSA's insignia that has continued in use through the years.