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Ski Racing Aussie Style

Perhaps the most important factor in the success of Australian Water Ski Racers is the style of skiing with the handles held behind the back. Aussie style, or the wrap as it is called in Europe, enabled Australian skiers to go faster, longer than any other skiers in the World. How did it start? How long ago? Who by?

Ski Racing Aussie Style was introduced by Terry Bennett in 1963. The first actual race it was used in for any length of time was a race down the Murray River on the border of Victoria and N.S.W.


N.S.W. contestants, Cha Cha and Turbo Fire, travelled to Echuca on the Victorian Border to compete against Victoria’s top boats. Bennett was having his first ski since severely injuring his back in a Botany Bay Race, which at that time was held on a Saturday afternoon in very rough conditions. Bennett found that his back would not take the strain on the winding river and was able to pull back on the handles and relieve the pressure on his back. At this time Cha Cha skiing Bob Tilling and Terry Bennett were playing second fiddle to the Ripalong and Turbo Fire Crews, of Chicka Courtney and Fred Crofts, Phil Reeson and Mike McEnnally. The two top crews were sceptical of the style used by Bennett and now by Bob Tilling, Bennett´s partner, had switched and the pair were travelling faster and skiing harder with each race.

The first Lion Island Race on the Hawkesbury River in 1966 was the turning point in the acceptance of the new skiing style. The first Lion Island race was a gruelling race running right to the Island at the mouth of the Hawkesbury and held in rough conditions. The Cha Cha crew cleared out for what was to be the first of many long distance victories and soon many skiers were switching to the now familiar easier looking racing style. In 1970 Bennett used the style in Europe during the Adriatic Crossing, and 80 mile marathon event from Yugoslavia to Italy. Bennett and European Bruno Cassa got together and Cassa, who was a legend in European ski racing started to emulate the style. At this time several skiers in Europe, not realizing the correct interpretation and reasons for the style hooked the twin handles together behind their back and experienced some nasty and dangerous falls. Resulting from this, the style was banned in Europe and when Wayne Jones visited Britain and won the European Grand Prix in 1972 by over 5 minutes he was subsequently disqualified and Australian Ski Racing turned its back on Europe until their victorious return in 1979 when Wayne Ritchie won the first ever World Ski Racing Title. Terry Bennett


Ski Racers in the U.S.A. had a different attitude to the Europeans and were quite happy to accept the Australians and the Aussie style of racing.

After the 1972 Catalina where the Australian skiers, who were a long way behind the U.S. stars in ability and techniques, made their way to Lake Millerton in Freeno, California, for their first attempt at Circuit Racing. Paul Wooton, father of U.S. ace Jeff Wooten made the comment “a great style for marathon, but you will never get around the corners in circuit races”. This appeared to be true as if Australians found that by the time they got the handles behind their backs from the mass start, the Yanks had long gone. Due to inferior foot gear, lighter skis and short ropes Australians could not ski at the speeds of U.S. skiers and were failing way behind.

This pattern continued during the weekends racing until it was time for Bennett’s race. Watching the younger skiers Bennett concluded that his team mates who were the cream of Australia’s skiers could not be that bad and decided to borrow the bulky Murdoch racing ski and use the long American ski line. Strapping himself into bindings that appeared would break legs if you fell, Bennett took his place in the field. Following the normal slow start due to pulling the handles behind his back Bennett found himself at the back of the field, but was skiing so easily on the big ski the took off after the field. With the Australians on the beach going wild, Bennett overtook skier after skier and with the American driver pushing his foot through the floor of the boat, skied through to be the first ever Australian to win on the U.S. Circuit.

That was the start of Aussie style in the U.S. and also the introduction of the true racing ski in Australia.

In 1973 Paul McManus really demonstrated the Aussie style with demonstrations of speed skiing that had American ski racing acknowledging McManus as the best in their country. The American skiers reluctantly took to the Aussie style. Reluctantly because to try and adopt the style at the speeds the Americans were used to skiing at was to says the least nerve racking, and many a fall was had by America’s leading skiers. The U.S. skiers realized that to be competitive they had to switch and more and more skiers made the change to Aussie Style . They had to, for when Paul McManus had finished picking up trophies, Robbie Woods took over and at sixteen years of age rewrote the record book and became the first non American to win the U.S. nationals.

The first World ski racing title was another episode in the story of the Aussie style ski racing. The actual holding of the event was in jeopardy due to the Europeans ban on the style and the World Title would have taken place with skiers having to ski with their arms in front, except for the persistence of Terry Bennett.

The World’s first rule book was rewritten in Bennett’s front yard with John Hoiles, the World Racing Chairman conceding to the acceptance of the style, together with other minor technical rule changes that were necessary. The method of forcing the acceptance of the Aussie style was unique. With the world body comprising of 3 groups, Bennett was authorised to represent the American Group by the U.S. Body. With American support for Group 3, which included Australia, the European group were outvoted and the world title rules were formulated to allow the Aussie Style. At this time the English skiers had arrived in Australia to compete in the Bridge to Bridge and the skiers quickly realized that as fit as they were they needed to ski Aussie style to be competitive. So the style went to Europe for the summer of 79. The World Titles held in London in September 1979 demonstrated to the world of water ski racing how the technique had made Australian skiers, Wayne Ritchie and Bronwyn Wright, such great skiers winning both the men’s and women’s world titles and the Australian team taking home the team prize.

The Aussie Style or technique as it really should be described is now used all over the world and once taken up by the U.S. and European and English skiers Australians are being hard pressed to maintain their superiority. This was witnessed at the 1981 World Titles in Italy when the dedication and fitness of the U.S. and European skiers combined with the Aussie Technique dealt the Australians a resounding defeat. Belgium skier Danny Bertels proved to be the world’s greatest ski racer and used the Aussie style very effectively as did winner of the women’s championship Elizabeth Hobbs of Great Britain.

This article was reproduced from “Water Skiing in Australia”.
Courtesy of Bob Wing.
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