Richard Pope Jr.
Climbing the Rope
When Dick Pope Jr.'s mother got him out of school early one day back in 1942 to help put on a ski show for some servicemen, little did either of them realize that he would be embarking on a career that would keep him in a leadership role in the sport of water skiing for over 40 years.
That wartime experience when Pope was 12 years old took place at Cypress Garden, a struggling Florida attraction which he was destined to direct as president 20 years later.
Pope made his mark early in water ski competition, winning national overall titles four straight years, beginning in 1947, and capturing the 1950 world overall championship in the second world tournament ever held. 1st in slalom, 5th tricks and 2nd in jumping. Pope had competed in the first one, at Juan les Pins, France, the year before. He had a good chance to win slalom and jumping but, in his youthful determination to go all out, he lost the titles to more conservative Europeans.
All the while skiing in the Cypress Gardens shows which were gaining national recognition, Pope introduced a starling routine in 1947 when he succeeded in skiing on his bare feet, an accomplishment that was quickly picked up by the newsreels and print media.
Pope was one of the earlier slalom skiers to "graduate" from two skis to one, realizing the advantages of the single ski in high-speed runs. He also was one of the "daring" American jumpers who used the maneuver of "climbing the rope" for added distance until the practice was outlawed as too dangerous.
Although he liked slalom and jumping better than tricks, he perfected several ramp tricks and introduced the 540 turn on the rap in 1952 in his last tournament before joining the Marine Corps.
Returning from the service, he accomplished the U.S. Water Ski Team to Beirut, Lebanon, in 1955 as its manager. When the World championship returned to Cypress Gardens in 1957, he was president of the World Water Ski Union but he spent much of his time coordinating the tournament action for the CBS television cameras. The network televised the Sunday finals live after weather problem knocked out the scheduled airing of the tournament on Saturday.
Pope continued his show skiing and he was frequently pictured giving skiing tips to such dignitaries as the Shah of Iran and other newsworthy figures including the annual Miss Americas.
In 1956, Pope became involved in manufacturing the tools of the sport, investing in Tourney Skis, a company located in nearby Lakeland. He later bought out his partner, moved the company to Eloise, just south of Cypress Gardens, changed the name of the Skis, and began producing a diversified line of tournament and family skiing equipment that set the pace for the industry for many years.
Pope succeeded his father as president of Cypress Gardens in 1962, took the company public 10 years later, and was elected chairman of the board in 1982 before the attraction was sold to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.