Beautiful lakes, bountiful opportunities, and gorgeous weather are a big reason why Polk County is the Water Ski Capital of the World. But that isn’t all.
If you’re a resident of Winter Haven or just visiting, you may have noticed the new artwork on the city’s Downtown Water Tower. So what’s the story?
The USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame features historic memorabilia and equipment that runs the gamut from its earliest days to today. How early? How about a pair of the earliest water skis known – made from a barrel.
Visiting the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation Hall of Fame in Davenport
Featuring all 9 disciplines of the sport, the Museum features memorabilia from the 100-year-long history of the sport, including:
- A pair of sport inventor Ralph Wilford Samuelson’s original water skis
- A hydrofoil from long-time fan favorite Banana George
While historic items and plaques serve as the core of the Museum, other items will rotate in the future. The Museum is inside of our Visitor Information Center at 101 Adventure Court, Davenport. If you want more inform information about USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation, then go to usa-wwf.org.
Polk County is the Water Sports Center of the United States
Did you know that water skiing was invented by Ralph Samuelson in 1922 on Lake Pepin in Minnesota? While this is true, Dick Pope, Sr. transformed it into a global sport and entertainment phenomenon when he opened Cypress Gardens in 1936. No other destination on the planet has the history, inventions, world firsts, world records and visibility than Florida’s first theme park, Cypress Gardens, and Polk County.
Cypress Gardens – the Epicenter of Water Skiing
Water skiing gained notoriety during the 1920s in Polk County, and in the early 1930 Winter Haven had become known as the “water sports center of the United States.” Pope’s vision and work resulted in thousands of newsreels, commercials, photo shoots, television shows and movies featuring Cypress Gardens, including the movie “Easy to Love,” a 1953 Esther Williams ode to the sport. Through Pope’s efforts – and Hollywood’s embrace of them – visitors from all over the world flocked to the Sunshine State.
As the sport grew, so did the legend of Cypress Gardens which, in turn, drew more elite athletes as well as state, national and world championships events. Records were broken on Polk County waters thanks to the steady stream of ambitious skiers drawn to the sport’s biggest stage. Willa McGuire Cook co-created the swivel ski and rocketed to fame as the prima ballerina of the sport. Cypress Gardens skiers continued to set world records and world firsts in multiple disciplines, including the first 3-, 4- and 5-tier human pyramids. Hundreds of firsts and records were documented in all USA Water Ski and Wake Sports disciplines.
More recently, in 2015 and again in 2017, the Chain of Records events set numerous records that were documented by USA Water Ski and Wake Sports officials as well as the Guinness Book of World Records.