Despite its relatively small population, Australia is a world leader when it comes to sport; swimming, tennis, rugby league, squash, golf, cricket, shooting, athletics, rugby and water polo are among the sports that have seen Australians crowned world champions.
Nowhere is Australia more dominant than in the punishing (and expensive!) sphere of water ski racing.
Since water ski racing (known as speed skiing in some parts of the world) began in 1979 there have been 46 world titles up for grabs in Men’s, Women’s, Formula I and Formula 2 (introduced in 2003), Junior Boys and Junior Girls. Of those 46 titles, Australians have claimed exactly half, 23!
In the 29-years of world ski race competition, there have been championships totally dominated by Australian competitors; in 1997, in Great Britain, all four crowns went to Aussies, with Wayne Mawer and Leanne Brown claiming the Men’s and Women’s titles and Robbie Penny and Ann Proctor crowned Junior champions.
Ann Proctor would then go on to win three titles in Open Women and is the reigning Women’s titleholder having taken the championship last year in New Zealand.
Leanne Brown, too, can claim three championships having been anointed Women’s world champ in 1993, 1995 and 1997.
The championships are staged every two years, with nations ‘bidding’ for the right to play host.
Next year the championships return to Belgium for the first time since 1995, when Brown won her second title and another Aussie, Alex Ross, took out the Junior Boys.
Australia’s prominent place on the world ski racing stage began with the inaugural world championships in Great Britain in 1979.
It was a lad from Melbourne (Wayne Ritchie) and a girl from Sydney (Bronwyn Wright) who showed the world how it’s done claiming both the Men’s and Women’s titles.
Stephen Robertson, just one of the ski racing Roberston family and 2001 World Ski Race champion. - - -
Since then, water ski racing in Australia has produced some remarkable racers; any history of the sport will see names thrown up such as Hardaker, Dipple, Robertson, Williams, Brown, Pickering and Walmsley (the current world champion).
Australian and United States skiers have been involved in some memorable ‘tussles’, also forming many firm friendships along the way (together with the occasional hint of romance).
Many US skiers contest events in Australia and many of our own exponents of the sport are regulars on the US scene.
New South Wales is the sport’s heartland in Australia and at one time there were more ski races staged in NSW than in the entire rest of the world combined!
Australia is also the only nation where two-up (two skiers behind the boat) racing is ‘the norm.’
World championship events are always one-up as is the case with the majority of ski racing events around the world.
NSW is also home to arguably the world’s most famous ski race, the Bridge to Bridge along the winding Hawkesbury River.
It is here that boat drivers and skiers hone their skills in preparation for events such as the world championships and the roll of honour on Bridge to Bridge results will reveal plenty of world champs.
What makes ski racing so popular?
Many believe it’s because it allows, encourages even, strong family involvement.
It’s not unusual to have a boat crew comprising father (driving), mother (observing) and their offspring skiing.
Water ski legend and five-time World Tournament champion, Brett Wing. - - -
Nowhere is the family involvement seen more strongly than with our very first world champion, Bronwyn Wing who, as Bronwyn Wright scored a slashing UK victory in 1979.
Bronwyn is now married (26-years) to Robert Wing, of Wing Wetsuits fame, himself a former Australian champion in tournament skiing and elder brother of Brett Wing, a former five-time world champion in tournament skiing.
Their children followed dad – two of the three winning World and National championships in tournament skiing.
Joel Wing, - - -
Joel Wing, the eldest at 26, obviously made the right decision in not following mother Bronwyn into ski racing is a seven-time National Slalom champion, current 2008 Men’s Overall champion, while sister Amber, 25, is the reigning World Wakeboard champion and winner of the Australian and US 2008 Pro Tours.
'I think something went haywire with our youngest daughter, Dominique,' Bronwyn laughed, 'She’s a surfer and a pretty good one.
'She can ski and she can wakeboard, but surfing is her number one passion.'
Another case in concerns the late Peter Eagle, tragically killed when practising for the Sydney Harbour Offshore Grand Prix.
Eagle, his brother, Allan, his wife Kerrie and daughter Lauryn all skied with success, Lauryn winning the world Women’s Formula 2 title in England in 2005.
While the skiers are, naturally, the stars of the world championship scene, plenty of credit must go to the boat crews and the boat owners.
Names that evoke fond memories from recent years include John Catania, owner/driver of the big Haines Hunter, ‘Assassin’; the 21’ Connelly Craft of Bevan Lindner, ‘The Judge’ and Pat Burke ‘Plus One’.
In more recent years, Force boats, built appropriately, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River have come into their own, with an astonishing 17 national titles since last year.
Most Aussie boats utilise a mix of Mercury Racing outboards and custom-built big block engines running MerCruiser drives.
As mentioned earlier, the 2009 World Ski Racing championships return to Belgium, but at this stage we’re not sure if Australia’s reigning titleholders, Jason Walmsley, Ann Proctor (Formula I), Chris Stout, Tania Teelow (Formula 2) and Trudi Stout (Junior Girls) will be Belgium-bound to defend their crowns.
When the Australian team for Belgium is announced where will you read about it?
Right here, of course, on Powerboat-World.com