Charles Tilgner Jr.
Skied his first Nationals in 1946
The intricacies of organized water skiing -- laying out the ski courses, measuring precisely jump distances for the contestants, establishing fair rules for the three disciplines, even designing skis themselves--seems almost to demand the engineering mind. In the early days of tournament skiing, none filled this bill with greater capability than Charles Tilgner Jr. of Farmingdale, N.Y.
A stress analyst and later an aerodynamicist with Grumman Aircraft Corporation, Tilgner devoted his expertise to his favorite hobby with zeal and dedication that make a lasting impression on a sport that was just emerging as a viable competitive event when he came on the scene.
Tilgner had observed water skiing in the Long Island area but he tried it for the first time on a vacation trip to Pennsylvania in the early 1940's. He attempted to take off from shore, promptly went under water and came up sputtering, "If this a sport, there must be a better way!" There was and he found it back on Long Island with Bruce Parker, the widely known expert and instructor who later was to be elected to the Water Ski Hall of Fame.
Not only did Tilgner learn his lesson well but he set about right away to design his own skis for two reasons. In the first place, they were to hard find on the market but more importantly, in the words of his wife Edna, "Charlie was convinced that nobody could make anything any better than he could." He make his first pair in the basement of the Tilgner home with the assistance of two friends from Grumman, but he transferred the operation to a small shop in the village where he formed the Water sport Equipment Co. to turn out skis for marketing mostly in th4e New York area. The business later was sold to the Atlantic & Pacific Manufacturing Co.
Tilgner's first exposure to water ski Competition came in 1946 when he and his friend and ski business partner, Charles A. Johnson, went to Holland Mich., for the National Championships. Junior and senior skiers competed together at that time and when Tilgner and Johnson decided to enter the tournament, "the juniors beat the pants off them," Edna recalls. But Tilgner was hooked.
He volunteered to work on the rules, which were still in the developmental stage. His aim was to make the rules fair for everybody, and he worked toward that end mostly as chairman of the AWSA rules committee until 1959. His services as Chief Judge were constantly in demand during the skiing season, and he became almost a fixture as chief Judge of the National Championships. In an account of his work at the '59 Nationals in Laconia, N.H., the Water Skier magazine noted that Tilgner "had been Chief Judge at more tournaments than any man in America."
Tilgner was a member of the AWSA Board of Directors from 1948 unitl 1961, serving as secretary from 1949 until 1954 and as Vice President from 1954 until 1957.
Tilgner's failing health prevented him from attending tournaments and board meetings as an honorary Vice President in more recent years but his love of the sport and his interest in its progress never wavered until his death at age 77 in April of 1982.