Now, when tourists think of Florida, they tend to think of the Mouse. But there was a time when they thought of oranges, Southern belles and pretty girls on water skis at Cypress Gardens.
The Winter Haven attraction, now closed as it becomes Legoland Florida, was the brainchild of Dick Pope, a real-estate guy, daredevil water sportsman and marketing genius.
"I think he did sell that image of Florida as a sunny, kind of beautiful place," says Lu Vickers, author of "Cypress Gardens, America's Tropical Wonderland: How Dick Pope Invented Florida."
"He used to complain to the weathercaster guys . . . instead of saying it's partly cloudy, why can't you say it's partly sunny? . . . He was so optimistic, I think, about things. He wanted to be optimistic. He was really an interesting person."
Vickers' book (University Press of Florida, $34.95), the follow-up to her "Weeki Wachee: City of Mermaids," tells the colorful history of the park carved from the swamp, partly with charming, cheeky photos she found after going through its voluminous archives.
"Dick Pope was an obsessive clipper," she says. He also was a smart shooter who, as legend has it, laid out Cypress Gardens in a particular way.
"He wanted every angle out there to make a good photograph," Vickers says.
Back in the 1950's Carole Lowe, founder of the AWSEF and Water Ski Hall of Fame, started her skiing career with John and Emily Roach. They became very good friends and ski partners. After John passed away, Emily knew what to do with the memorial fund that was set up for John. She wanted to pay tribute by providing a new jump ramp for the newly formed Water Ski Hall of Fame lake.
The John Roach Memorial Tournament will take place on April 16 and 17, 2011 in Polk City, Florida at the Jim Grew Lake adjacent to the Water Ski Hall of Fame building. It will be a three event of slalom, trick and jump. You can get more details on the AWSEF Hall of Fame website. http://waterskihalloffame.com
The story of John Roach can best be summarized by this article in from the "Water Skier" (May 2004) written by Gordon and Sandy Gay of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Larry Korb was caught by the AWSA official photographer during the running of the 1957 National Water Ski Championships just as he was about to take a fall. Cover: Larry Korb SepOct57
Typical of the youngsters taking part in water skiing is 12 year old Janelle Kirtley of Birmingham, AL. Quiet, considerate and cooperative. Janelle has found skiing a fine way to develop into a top-flight athlete, and a source of clean sport and healthful exercise.
They're off and running at the tournaments around the country. Just as the young lady on the cover is rounding a slalom buoy, so the ski season is rounding into another tournament season. Are you ready?
I am very excited to have received a huge historical data base from Tom Davis. There are many images and historical gems like this 1951 cover of First Issue of The Water Skier Magazine. Also there are tons of scores and historical rankings in the vault. Stay tuned to BallOfSpray as we figure out the best way to share them with the skiing world.
It only took about 15 minutes of a phone conversation to find out Sandy Swaney-Lecklider still has that same competitive fire of 50 years ago. During a winter stay in Vero Beach, Fla., last year, she was having a difficult time convincing some of her lady friends that not only was she a former world water ski champion, but that she could still ski. "Oh, they were giving me a hard time," says Swaney-Lecklider, 67, who recently took time out of her busy retirement to discuss the October 1951 issue - the first issue - of The Water Skier in which she appeared on the cover. "And one of them had a boat and said we needed to go out on the water. So I told myself that I had to get out and show them I can ski. I didn't have any skis with me, so I went over to a Play-It-Again Sports and found a vintage Dick Pope ski for $10. I couldn't believe it. Next thing you know I'm skiing down the Indian River behind a boat loaded with people. It was a lot of fun."
She says she had no idea what laid ahead of her that summer day in 1951. Fresh off winning the Junior Girls North American Championship in Toronto, Canada, Sandy Swaney - the 16-year-old water skiing protege of Chuck Sligh - was simply planning on a normal work shift at Sligh's Grand Rapids Chair Company. • But shortly after she arrived, Isabel Howe, Sligh's secretary and the co-editor of the American Water Ski Association's "News Bulletin," informed Sandy that she would be appearing with Sligh, the newly-elected president of AWSA, on the cover of the first issue of The Water Skier. "I went to all of the tournaments with the Slighs and was just working down at the Chair Company. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time," says Swaney-Lecklider, a Lifetime Member of the association. "I didn't really think of it as any big deal at the time. But over the years I've showed the issue to my grandchildren and lots of other people. It's been an absolute thrill and brings hack a lot of great memories."