Exceptional Skier, Driver and Woodcarver
Jack Walker drove his first twin rig with both hands behind his back.
One hand was on the control handle of a 10-horse Mercury; the other was on the handle of a 25-horse Johnson. The boat was a 14-foot plywood runabout Jack and two of his friends had built when they thought they wanted to get in the boat manufacturing business.
It was Walker's first water ski rig, a far cry from the vast array of sophisticated outboard twin rigs and sleek inboards he drove for the next 35 years, many of them in major water ski tournaments worldwide.
That 14-footer was the beginning of Walker's love affair with boat driving for water skiers that was continuing even after he began to pull back from a rigorous schedule that was averaging more than 20 tournaments a year.
Walker has left behind a record that may never be surpassed; the drive for at least 500 tournaments in the U.S. and 10 foreign countries, including 7 world championships, 19 Nationals and 21 Masters tournaments. He has been honored repeatedly with the prestigious Fred Wiley Memorial Award, named for the only other person elected to the Water Ski Hall of Fame for his boat driving contribution to the sport and presented annually to the outstanding Nationals driver by his peers.
Born John C. Walker in Savannah, Ga., February 27, 1924, Jack (as he has been known for as long as he can remember) moved with his family to Miami, Fla., while he was still in grade school. In fact, he met his wife Polly when they were in the ninth grade and, in Jack's words, "we've been dating ever since."
The Walkers learned to water ski in the early Fifties, eventually joining other skiers in the area under the banner of the Greater Miami Water Ski Club. They later encouraged their daughters, Weslie and Edie, to take up the sport, and Weslie in 1967 won the women's national overall title. Jack skied at the national level until a leg injury forced him out of competition and into the driver's seat for good.
Walker's skill as a driver for the demanding split-second, timed runs of competitive water skiers was honed through countless hours of practice sessions for skiers of all ages and all degrees of skill. Known as a tireless driver, Walker frequently drove Masters practice for eight hours and more without a break. The longest single session of tournament driving he can recall was the men's slalom event in the 1970 Nationals at Meyers Lake in Ohio where he drove for seven hours without leaving the boat and without making a mistake.
Serving at one time on the Board of Directors of the American Water Ski Association, Walker assisted in the establishment of the AWSA Boat Drivers Rating System. He was one of the initial Senior Driver approved under the program.
Walker's greatest thrills in the sport have come when he was at the wheel when records were set, and his recollections read like a who's who of jumping and slalom champions--Wayne Grimditch, Mike Hazelwood, Sammy Duvall, John Mondor, Kris and Bob LaPoint, and Andy Mapple.
His boat driving expertise has kept his services in demand for years as a consultant to boat manufacturers anxious to improve the performance of their tournament ski models.
He has found time for other hobbies when he and Polly are not working at their horse farm in North Miami. He enjoyed motorcycling for many years until a dirt bike accident in the Tennessee Mountains slowed him down. He is a pilot, and he flew his own plane to some of the tournaments back in the Sixties.
As he began to throttle back on his tournament commitments, Jack took up a new hobby: woodcarving. His favorite subjects? Water birds. Naturally.