Water Ski Show Capital of the World

    History of the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation

    We are working to create a comprehensive timeline of the history Wisconsin Water Ski Federation. This timeline will include historical events, milestones and other relevant information of historical significance. This project is a work in progress, and will be updated regularly.

    Additional historical information to include: the birth of water Skiing on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as why water skiing is so popular in Wisconsin and the impact of Tommy Bartlett on its popularity. We also would like to provide comprehensive historical record of state championships locations and hosts; Think Tank locations/venues and chairs; and officers and directors over the years.

    We seek copies of the Federator from the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.  If you're willing to loan your copies to us for scanning, kindly contact us. Thank you!

    Special thanks to Hans Hauschild, Cathy Luiting, Maggie Muleski, and Chris Coupland for their assistance. The articles and news clips were obtained from Newspapers.com by Ancestry. We also want to acknowledge Allen Bubolz for realizing the importance of maintaining historical records and to his family for sharing his collection with us. This "Blast from the Past" is dedicated to Allen in recognition of his love of water skiing and his desire to share the history of the WWSF with others.

    July 16, 1960

    The Framework

    The Framework for the WWSF
    The Min-Aqua Bats hosted the first annual Badger Open Water Ski Tournament.  That same evening Mike Bolger of Minocqua was named temporary chairman of a group of water skiers who formulated the bylaws for what would officially become the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation six weeks later.
    (Rhinelander Daily News, July 18, 1960)

    July 16, 1960

    August 27-28, 1960

    State 3-Event Competition

    First Wisconsin State 3-Event Water Ski Tournament
    The Min-Aqua Bats hosted the first-ever Wisconsin State (3-Event) Water Ski Championships, the same weekend the WWSF is officially begun.
    (Rhinelander Daily News, August 29, 1960)

    August 27, 1960 (evening)

    The Beginning of the WWSF

    WWSF created
    State skiers approved the bylaws and elected officers, marking the formal beginning of the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation.

    The first officers were Allen Bubolz, President; John Nachazel, Vice President; Cassie Dorwin, Secretary; and Kurt Klade, Treasurer.  Directors included Dexter Defnet, Antigo; Mike Bolger, Minocqua; Tom Kuhlow, Janesville; Gayle Carlson, Chetek; and Jim Falkowski, Milwaukee.
    (Rhinelander Daily News, August 29, 1960)

    August 27, 1960 (evening)

    September 27, 1960

    Officially Incorporated

    Articles of Incorporation filed with the state of Wisconsin by WWSF president Allen Bubolz on September 20 and recorded by the Outagamie County Register of Deeds seven days later.

    This was the original logo of the WWSF.

    WWSF logo original


    Logo Updated

    The WWSF logo was modified in early 1964 to take the shape of the state.  This new version adorned the cover of the Federator in the spring.  This version of the logo was used for over two decades.

    WWSF logo 1964



    State Barefoot Competition

    First Wisconsin State Barefoot Water Ski Tournament
    The Skiing Skeeters hosted the first-ever Wisconsin State Barefoot Water Ski Championships at Rest Lake in Manitowish Waters the weekend of August 29-30.
    (Green Bay Press-Gazette, August 26, 1964)


    Mid-Winter Convention

    First WWSF Mid-Winter Convention
    The Aqua Skiers of Wisconsin Rapids hosted the first annual WWSF mid-winter convention at the YMCA Community Center in Port Edwards on February 6-7.  The convention later became Think Tank in 1977.
    (The Daily Tribune, February 3, 1965)

    According the the spring 1965 issue of the Federator, there were 250 members and 10 affiliated clubs.



    State Show Ski Competition

    Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships Historical Marker
    The Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships was originated and hosted by the Aqua Skiers of Wisconsin Rapids.  The Skiing Skeeters from Manitowish Waters bested six other teams to win the first-ever state show ski competition.

    The competition was held on Lake Biron for the first six years and moved to Lake Camelot for the next five years.  The event was moved in 1978 to Red Sands Beach in South Wood County Park at Lake Wazeecha in Wisconsin Rapids, where it remains today.

    The Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships is the largest and longest-running competition of its kind anywhere in the world.

    Wisconsin Show Ski Team Champions


    Membership Update

    According to an article in the April 3 edition of the Wausau Daily Herald, WWSF vice president Joe Ostrander indicated there were "over 1,000 active members and 25 member clubs."

    Rock Aqua Jays host first-ever National Show Ski Championships in Janesville.



    Think Tank Started

    The mid-winter convention became known as Think Tank Water Ski Convention & Expo, coordinated by Nancy Bubolz and Jim Pharo.  The event was held at the Holiday Inn Holidome in Stevens Point.


    Logo Refreshed

    The WWSF introduced an updated logo that first appeared in the May edition of the Federator.  This version of the logo would be used into the early 2000s.

    WWSF logo 1986



    Indoor Doubles Competition

    The WWSF introduced an indoor doubles competition at Think Tank.  Mastercraft sponsored the competition from its inception and for many years.

    WWSF hired paid executive director to help board members, handle advertising sales for the Federator, help with Think Tank, and be a clearinghouse for WWSF information.  The position was eliminated five years later.


    Magazine Name Changed

    After roughly 27 years, the Federator name is retired.  The new official publication of the WWSF became the Wisconsin Water Skier, having debuted with the spring edition published in May.

    Think Tank outgrew its prior location in Madison and was moved to the Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc.



    25 Years of State Show Ski

    WWSF celebrated 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships.


    Events Competition

    The WWSF debuted an individual events competition during the Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships.  The events consisted of swivel, strap doubles, and freestyle jump.

    Think Tank moved to Holiday Inn Holidome in Stevens Point.

    Ski Camp created as an extension of Think Tank to move skills instruction from the "classroom" to the water.  Cathy (Geiger) Luiting coordinated the first annual event that was hosted by the Rock Aqua Jays in Janesville.



    Hall of Fame Established

    Wisconsin Water Ski Hall of Fame created.  Charter members inducted in this inaugural year include Tommy Bartlett, Allen Bubolz, the Dorwin Family, Ole Evinrude, Skip Gilkerson, Carl Kiekhaefer, Jack Lukes, Lynn Novakofski, Margo Klippel-Oppenheim, and Dick Matthisen.

    Hall of Fame Inductees:
    Pioneers | Officials | Competitors

    wisconsin water ski hall of fame logo small


    An Icon Gone

    Tommy Bartlett - An Icon Gone
    Tommy Bartlett, the man whose name became synonymous with Wisconsin Dells and helped shape it into a major tourist attraction, and whose Ski, Sky & Stage show entertained tens of millions worldwide for nearly 50 years, passed away Labor Day weekend at the age of 84.

    Think Tank returned to Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc earlier in the year.



    Award of Distinction Created

    Award of Distinction created and awarded posthumously to Caleb Feiereisen, a free-spirited barefooter from Manitowish Waters.


    25 Years of Think Tank

    WWSF celebrated 25th (silver) anniversary of Think Tank.

    "Tommy" Ambassador Award created, with Tom Diehl chosen as the first (and most appropriate) recipient for having "picked up right where Tommy left off."



    Ski Show Capital

    Governor Scott McCallum proclaimed Wisconsin to be the Water Ski Show Capital of the World as the Tommy Bartlett Show celebrated its 50th anniversary and has delighted more than 50 million people worldwide, the 35 show ski teams in Wisconsin entertain over one million spectators each summer, and water skiing has become part of the heritage of the State.


    New Logo

    WWSF approved new logo design.

    WWSF logo old



    Water Ski Week

    Governor Jim Doyle proclaimed the week leading up to the annual Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships to be Water Ski Week in Wisconsin.

    WWSF expanded Hall of Fame display at Tommy Bartlett Stadium.


    Exempt Status Granted

    WWSF granted exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.



    Think Tank Moved to Dells

    Think Tank moved to Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.


    New "W" Logo

    WWSF adopted a new logo design that is easily recognizable and usable across multiple platforms.  Even though this is the current version of the logo, the original looked like the one used in the 50th anniversary logo design in 2010.

    WWSF logo



    50 Years of the WWSF

    WWSF celebrated 50th anniversary at Think Tank and throughout the entire season.

    WWSF implemented first-ever self-serve membership management system with all dues collected via online payment.

    WWSF 50th Anniversary logo


    Think Tank to Titletown

    Think Tank moved to the Hyatt on Main and KI Convention Center in Green Bay.



    Think Tank Moved South

    Think Tank moved south to Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva.


    50 Years of State Show Ski

    WWSF celebrated 50th anniversary of the Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships.

    Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships 50th Anniversary



    Think Tank Back in Dells

    Think Tank moved back to Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.


    Hall of Fame Refreshed

    WWSF refreshed Hall of Fame display at Tommy Bartlett Stadium in Wisconsin Dells.  The Allen Bubolz Award was created.

    Total membership reached 2,481 members, consisting of 584 individuals and 502 families.  There were 29 teams/clubs affiliated with the WWSF.



    Shut Down by Pandemic

    Just a few weeks after Think Tank was held at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells, the world essentially came to a screeching halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the cancellation of nearly all water ski competitions and events including the Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships.

    The Tommy Bartlett Ski, Sky & Stage Show was also shuttered for the entire summer, and later announced as a permanent closure.