One of the Earliest Manufacturers of Water Skis
For all he knew, Don Ibsen was starting the whole thing back in 1928. He had never heard of Ralph Samuelson, who began water skiing in 1922, or Fred Waller, who thought he was inventing the sport on Long Island in 1924.
An aquaplaning and swimming enthusiast for years, Ibsen was convinced that if you could ski on snow, you should be able to ski on water. So he set about to prove it.
Snow ski didn't work, neither did tow snow skis per foot tied together. So Ibsen retired to the basement of his home in Bellevue, Washington, cut two cedar boards, seven feet long and eight inches wide, and softened them for carving over a five-gallon can of boiling water. They worked.
Ibsen became the talk of the town. He would stand on the shore of Lake Washington and wave to passing boats to give him a tow. He would ski behind anything with enough power to pull him-- cars, motorcycles, seaplanes. He once skied behind a horse galloping along an irrigation ditch.
This love affair with water skiing, begun when Ibsen was 18, was still going strong when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Ibsen was one of the earliest manufacturers of water skis, turning out a few pairs after his 1928 discovery and then making them on a regular basis after he and his wife Dottie were married in 1935. They would pool their funds from their regular jobs, buy lumber and work together in the basement of their home until the wee hours making skis.
All the while, Ibsen's exhibitions were attracting media attention far beyond his home base in the Seattle area. Ibsen was the first to feature costuming as an integral part of his act, and his imagination paid off. Life Magazine featured him in 1954, skiing across Lake Washington in his business suit, with hat, briefcase and all, on his way to work. On another occasion, a mock wedding starred Ibsen in tuxedo, his bride in full white gown and a (backward-Skiing) preacher in clerical dress, all skiing across San Francisco Bay. Newsreels featured Ibsen one New Year's Eve, skiing as Father Time, then as a diapered Baby New Year.
His costuming was a hallmark of his Ski-Aquatic Follies, which he took on the road throughout the West. It was on one of his tours in Portland, Ore. That Ibsen discovered a young skier named Willa Worthington whom he encouraged to enter the National Championships in 1946. She won and went on to a career in water skiing that culminated in her induction in the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Another first for Ibsen in the West was his ski school, which he started in the mid-30's. The enthusiasm of many of his students led to the organization in 1939 of the Olympic Water Ski Club, one of the first ski clubs in the nation.
One of the early directors of the American Water Ski Association, Ibsen served as vice president for the West from 1946 until 1955 and continued on the board until 1957. Ibsen was responsible for bringing the National Water Ski Championships to Seattle in 1950, the first time the tournament was held west of the Mississippi. The AWSA board made him an honorary vice president in 1971.
The Ibsens have raised a water skiing family. Their sons, Don, Jr., and Ron, their daughter Kathy, and all of their 12 grandchildren are avid water skiers. Don's sister, Norma, was his skiing partner for many years back in the early days.
Ibsen has remained close to the sport professionally. His job as a manufacturers' representative for a number of marine firms as positioned him almost constantly to extol the virtues of the sport, and his enthusiasm never fails to rub off on all who are around him.
In a column on Ibsen in the San Francisco Examiner in 1982, Dwight Chapin wrote, "He is 71 going on 17…He lives the same way he talks, non-stop." And his major topic of conversation is water skiing.