By Joe Bachman
Since 1967, one name has been synonymous with waterskiing in Wisconsin, and that name is Wisconsin Rapids native Jack Lukes.
Ski shows in the area date back to 1947, where an amateur ski show was held in Biron, in conjunction with the Central Boaters Club. One member of that particular club was 16-year-old Jack Lukes. Lukes soon fell into the sport of waterskiing, and with the help of other passionate members, put on their first water ski show in 1958. From there, the seeds were planted.
In 1959, soon after that first show, Lukes took members from the Central Boaters Club, moved to the south shore of the river and formed the Aqua Skiers, taking the role of first ever president of the organization.
Lukes became active in judging three ski tournaments hosted by the American Water Ski Association, (AWSA) but when asked to join the organization, he declined for one humble reason — the tournaments were only focused around individual competitions.
Lukes’ vision was that of a tournament centered around teamwork, and in 1966 suggested to AWSA Vice President Allen Bubolz that they make a discipline for non-tournament skiers. Lukes only needed one page to pen the rules for what would be the first Water Ski Show Tournament, and passed it along to Bubolz, National Ski Show Association President Tom Ghiloni, and Lenore Crothers.
After getting the go from Crothers, the tournament became a reality, and in 1967, the first Wisconsin State Water Ski Show was held in the Town of Rudolph on the north bank of the Wisconsin River. Seven teams competed in the first tournament, and it was declared a success.
From there, the tournament would maintain its structure based on that one-page rough draft, and has seen many different locations, from Lake Camelot to Lake Wazeecha, where members eventually settled on Red Sands Beach for a permanent spot for the show.
“Jack was every show-skiiers favorite uncle,” said Aqua Skiers Membership Vice President Maggie Muleski.
In January of 2015, Lukes passed away at the age of 84, and left behind him a water ski legacy. In 2010, Lukes was the recipient of the Award of Distinction, presented by the USA Water Ski Association. Lukes’ picture also adorns the USA Water Ski Hall of Fame in Polk City, Fla.
“Jack was very dedicated to the sport of show skiing. He was one of the biggest diehards I knew,” said Aqua Skiers Delegate Jordan Becker. “Back in 2011 when the Aqua Skiers were very small he would ride his motorcycle out to our practices and offer advice to our young team. He cared so much about us and the State Water Ski Show Championships. Up until the year he passed he was at our practices and at the state tournament every year. He has made a huge impact on not only the Wisconsin Rapids Aqua Skiers but the entire sport of show skiing, it wouldn’t be what it is today without him.”
Lukes made waterskiing his life, and his dedication has led to a 51-year tradition that grows stronger by the year. The next time you crack a smile at the amazing feats performed by some of the best waterskiiers in the state, you can thank Jack Lukes.