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Mr. Show Skiing
You can call Skip Gilkerson a lot of things -- Show skier, slalom champion, judge, driver and pioneer, but one name stands above them all: "Mr. Show Skiing."
Skip was born to entertain crowds, and was a natural at it even from his auspicious beginnings on Indian Lake Freeman. After returning from a family vacation in Florida where he watched the world famous Cypress Gardens Ski Show, Skip pleaded with his father, Babe, to give him a chance to ski. Armed with his mother Ann's clothesline for a rope and her broomstick for a handle, 6-year old Skip got up quickly behind Babe's 10hp aluminum fishing boat. During that first ride, Skip hit some wakes, lost a ski and kept going, slaloming around Freeman his first time on skis. The seed was firmly planted.
Skip's love for skiing consumed him. He learned to barefoot soon thereafter, in the same fashion. Without instruction and having seen barefooting only once, Skip made a step-off on one of his very first attempts. The 11-year-old soon realized he not only wanted to spend summers skiing on Lake Freeman, but to spend the rest of his life on top of the water.
Through high school and college, Skip skied as often as he could in the chilly waters of the Midwest. Like all of the three-event greats before him -- Alfredo Mendoza, Joe Cash, Barbara Cooper and others -- Skip yearned to ski professionally, so he headed back to Cypress Gardens to fulfill his dream. His interview, during a college break, included a flawless barefoot run around a choppy Gardens show circle, and he was hired on the spot. Skip skied in a special show for Jordan's King Hussein the very same day.
In the summer 1960, Skip defeated then "unbeatable" Warren Witherell in slalom at the Great Lakes Open, and later came within a buoy of the world slalom record. But it wasn't his slalom prowess that got him noticed. Word of Skip's show skiing mastery and the flair in which he performed acts quickly spread. Dick Rowe of Tommy Bartlett's Thrill Shows offered Skip a position at the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Park. After one summer, Skip was given the show director's position, which he held for 23 years.
During his tenure, Bartlett's show blossomed into the finest in the country. Skip incorporated many new acts and equipment into his shows, including show ski helicopter jumps, strap doubles, costume design. Skip is also credited for developing World's Fair and satellite ski shows for Bartlett, along with the Sea World of Ohio show.
Naturally, his work at the pro level trickled down to the amateur clubs. Skip was constantly called on to host instructional clinics for all skiing disciplines. In one year alone, Skip hosted 3 clinics in 11 states. Skip has spread the gospel of skiing through his thousands of ski shows, hundreds of ski clinics and 21 consecutive years as a judge at the Show Ski Nationals.
Skip ended his Bartlett tenure at the calling of MasterCraft Boats owner Rob Shirley, one of Skip's former show skiers. Shirley enlisted Skip's help in the formation of the World's first cash prize skiing series, the Coors Light International Water Ski Tour. As director of promotional activities for MasterCraft, Skip was instrumental in developing the tour's format, flow and legion of superstars.
Recently, after 12 years of service at MasterCraft, Skip was awarded a title he really had all along: Director of Skiing. That distinction, along with an award named after him for the most outstanding male skier at the Show Ski Nationals, proves Skip Gilkerson is truly worthy of the title "Mr. Show Skiing."
He is the 35th inductee to the Water Ski Hall of Fame -- And the first Show Skier.