Latest News

The Golden Era of Water Skiing: A Revival

The Golden Era of Water Skiing: A Revival

Forster in New South Wales was buzzing in July 2017 with the roar of power boats and plenty of spectacular water skiing. The 2017 Fred Williams Boaties and Skiers Reunion event was by far the biggest yet, with over 125 boats and 15,000 attendees. And there were plenty of Gold Coast local legends, including barefoot skiing champs Grant Torrens and Tom Wyld, who both took the trip down to meet up with fellow heroes of Aussie water skiing and boat racing.

Freddy Williams started the annual event 10 years ago, with a small gathering of just five boats, based around his desire to catch up with his old racing buddies. Freddy, now 86, is the first Aussie to make water skis, and has been a major fixture of the Aussie racing scene ever since. In recent years, fellow boating enthusiast Rhonda Wojcikewycz took over the event’s organisation for Freddy. Rhonda used her extensive connections with both boaties and the local council, to create the Mid North Coast Speedboat Club, which is focused entirely around supercharging Freddy’s event and its attendees. And by all accounts, the 2017 gathering was a roaring success.

At the gala night, five ski racers were recognised for their significant contribution to the sport. Rhonda said, “We set up a hall of fame for ski racing athletes and officials because they’re not getting the recognition they deserve. We chose five people for this first one, but we’ll be opening it up to nominations next year.” The hall of fame athletes and officials were Ken Warby, Fred Williams, Bert Everingham (whose business Everingham Boats built many of top ski boats on the Hawkesbury), Pete Smith (a hugely successful boat racer who took over Everingham Boats), and Graham Barclay.


Gold Coasters share their experience

One of the event’s happy attendees was Tom Wyld, whom most Gold Coast boaties will know well from his business, Wyld About Boats. What you may not know is that Tom is also one of the founding fathers of Aussie water skiing. In the 1960s, he was the first Victorian to ski the bridge-to-bridge race on the Hawkesbury River. He then played a large role in shaping the sport through his work as the president of the Victorian Barefoot Water Skiing Club, as well as the Victorian Ski Racing Association, which he created. Tom also founded the Southern 80 ski race on The Murray that went on to become one of the biggest annual races around the world.

Tom fondly remembers when he first heard about the Fred Williams event. “I saw the list and there was so much history there. Some of the guys had been around since before me. It was unbelievable! I thought, ‘Geez, I’ve got to go to this!’”

Ken Warby’s Spirit of Australia II was certainly one of the event’s biggest crowd pleasers, and it is easy to see why. Bolted on his boat is a jet engine from a plane that blows huge flames out the back. Getting to see ‘the fastest man alive on water’ was a particular highlight for Tom. “Ken firing up his jet boat was brilliant. The noise and power of that thing was unbelievable.” After holding the world speed record for 40 years at an incredible 511kph, Ken and his son David will be attempting to break the record again later this year.

Gold Coast local and barefoot skiing world champ Grant Torrens was one of the many who enjoyed the gala night. “I was stoked to see Graham Barclay get into the hall of fame. He was my coach back in the day. He taught me how to walk on water.” Graham was clearly a great coach because Grant had an incredible career on the water, scooping up pretty much every barefoot skiing record around the world. At age 12, he was setting barefoot records in the junior endurance and speed divisions, being the first junior to get over 80mph. Before long, he was travelling to the USA and winning a string of world barefoot records in both LA and San Francisco, with speeds up to 150mph.

Grant also likes to get behind the wheel and has been very successful, scoring records in Aussie drag boat racing as well. Grant has been taking his drag boat Torrens Title down to the Forster event for the last seven years. The boat’s hefty 540in2 “blown-injected alcohol Chev makes it a regular crowd pleaser when Grant demos it. Grant’s other boating love is his classic Hammond, the Rolls Royce of ski boats, which he takes out regularly from his waterfront mansion on Sovereign Island.

Another Gold Coast local Vicki Smith is a regular attendee of the reunions is. Vicki and her husband, Pete Smith, ran Everingham Boats for 20 years, with many of their boats winning numerous races. “Pete was one of the first people to put a blown alcohol engine in a displacement hull. I remember it needed so much testing to figure out the best way to handle that much horsepower,” Vicki explained.

Getting to catch up with so many of her old friends was a highlight for Vicki. “Our whole life was racing back then. And after so many years, it was just brilliant to get all the oldies together who competed back in the day. I think this event helps bring a lot of generations together, too. I saw plenty of boat drivers who were just kids back in the day, and there were also lots of youngsters today who are getting a chance to see the old legends they’ve watched in the videos.”


Looking forward

After this year’s resounding success, Rhonda is already hard at work planning the 2018 reunion event. “Force boats will be a bigger part of it. I’ve already got five more confirmed for next year. And the council have given us approval to let the popular ski boat Burnin do ski race demos next time. And hopefully Ken Warby will be back, and he’ll have broken his speed record.”

Visit the Mid North Coast Speedboat Club Facebook page to keep an eye on next year’s event.


By Narayan Pattison


Hall of Fame water ski July 2017


Water Skiing Hall of Fame inductees: Fred Williams, Ken Warby, Pete Smith, Graham Barclay and Bert Everingham


Spirit of Australia ken warby

Speed record holder Ken Warby’s new boat Spirit of Australia II was the biggest crowd favourite


Burnin ski boat

Popular ski boat Burnin will be doing ski demos at the 2018 event