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  • Tara Crutchfield

World Water Ski Show Tournament

No sunset or lake silhouette is more fitting than that of “The Water Ski Capital of the World” to honor the 100th anniversary of the sport. The waters of Dick Pope Sr.’s tropical haven and skiing sanctum, Cypress Gardens, were the stage for many shattered records, celebrity guests, and film and television productions throughout the years. The magic lives on as later this month, thousands of spectators and athletes the world over will descend on Winter Haven for the 2022 International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) World Water Ski Show Tournament.

The Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, City of Winter Haven, and Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing are partnering to host the World Show Ski Championships. International teams and individuals will compete on Lake Silver in the largest tournament to date and the first event to combine an Individual and Team competition. Competitive teams include the USA, Belgium, Germany, Canada, and Sweden, with Mexico joining as an exhibition team.

Preceding the tournament on the evening of October 18, Visit Central Florida and the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team will host a “Night with the Stars of Show Skiing’’ at Nora Mayo Hall. The red carpet dinner will honor professional show skiers.

The Opening Ceremony will be held at the original Cypress Gardens Ski Stadium at LEGOLAND Florida on Wednesday, October 19. Festivities will include a parade of athletes, welcome speeches, live music, skiing demonstrations, and fireworks.

The International Food & Drink Street Festival hosted by Main Street Winter Haven will occur the following day, Thursday, October 20, at 5:30 pm on Central Avenue in Winter Haven. Admission to the family- and dog-friendly festival is free. Attendees can expect drink tents, live music, and international food from local restaurants and vendors.

The tournament will officially kick off on Friday, October 21, at Lake Silver, with the Individual Swivel Ski event followed by Adagio Doubles. Countries new to the WWSST will join in on the Centennial Celebration of the sport of waterskiing by performing their exhibition shows on Friday as well. Saturday, October 22, all competitive teams will compete. The tournament will conclude on Sunday, October 23, with teams placed by their Saturday scores, followed in the late afternoon by the Individual Freestyle jump competition, ending with a Medal Ceremony.

For a full schedule of events and more information about the IWWF World Water Ski Show Tournament, visit


Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team president Mark Voisard expects between three and five thousand people at the World Water Ski Show Tournament, and he’s excited to show off the beautiful Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. He and the team have been busy making ready for the event by preparing the site. The ski team will run the Southern Hospitality tent and concession stands at the tournament, and according to Voisard, “We’ll be doing some skiing during breaks in the action at the Worlds.”

Voisard, a former Cypress Gardens show director, was instrumental in forming the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team – and keeping the legacy alive.

Mark Voisard hails from Deerfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His uncle owned a resort several hours north in Eagle River, Wisconsin. When Voisard was six, someone gave his uncle a homemade boat which he outfitted with a 45 horsepower Mercury motor and got out on the water. That’s when he first learned to ski. “I had to put tennis shoes on because they didn’t have any kid’s skis,” Voisard remembered. At 16 years old in 1970, Voisard became a founding member of the Chain Skimmers Water Ski Show Team in Eagle River, Wisconsin. In 1976, the team became the Wisconsin State Champions.

After graduating college, Voisard set his sights on Cypress Gardens. He was hired to ski at the park, and when they called and asked when he could come, Voisard said he’d be there in two weeks. His first day was March 1, 1977. “We had a bunch of our guys from Eagle River come ski with us down here. My brother skied here,” he said.

“When I got here, I was focused on skiing because there was so much to learn,” Voisard said. “They were doing things already that we hadn’t even thought about doing.” Soon after arriving at the Gardens, Voisard started flying the Delta Wing Kite. “We flew two kites every show, and we had four shows a day. So, with eight chances to fly – you get a lot of flying in.” Spectators can still see Voisard fly today during Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team shows. Mark became the Cypress Gardens show director for 15 years and worked at the park for some 30 years.

In 1982, Voisard won the Men 2 National barefoot tricks and starts titles and has officiated over 30 National Show Ski Association tournaments. Voisard has officiated ten national and two world championships.

Another feat Mark and show ski champion, Cheryl Orloff, took on was the first five-tier pyramid. “Nobody had ever done it before. First of all, you have to do a double-top four-tier,” he said. The direction of the pyramid spurred advancements in safety for the skiers, including the Flo-Mo vest and the use of braided handles – both of which have been adopted by the greater water ski community. “There’s a little more safety every time we do something like that,” Voisard said. With one boat pulling another boat and a total of 17 people – they successfully performed the first five-tier pyramid.

Voisard was honored with an award of distinction by the USA Water Ski and Wake Sports Foundation in 2016.


The former show director relayed the inception story of the original ski team at Cypress Gardens. “The story goes that Dick Pope Sr. was in the army somewhere around the world, so Julie Pope, his wife, was basically running the park. Skiing wasn’t anything they normally did. The kids would come, and they’d go skiing,” he said. According to Voisard, military personnel on leave visited the park and saw the kids skiing. “They went back to Orlando and said, ‘Hey, you guys have to go to Cypress Gardens – they’re doing a ski show.’ It wasn’t actually a ski show.”

People began to ask what time the ski show was. An improvising Julie Pope told them 3 o’clock. “The kids got out of school, they got them all picked up, got them out there, and they started skiing, and that’s how it started.”

In 2011, two years after Cypress Gardens closed, USA Water Ski Hall of Fame inductee and former Cypress Gardens skier Don Thompson was honored. Former professional Gardens skiers got together to perform a ski show on Lake Silver for Thompson. The show sparked talks of starting a ski club and teaching kids to ski. Voisard remembered someone suggesting, “We’ll teach them the way they did it at Cypress Gardens so that they really do it well and continue doing it.”

Mark and his wife, Jean Voisard, began working with the City of Winter Haven in 2012 to secure Martin Luther King, Jr. Park as a home for the emerging Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team. “It took almost a year to get the whole deal worked out,” he said. Waiting on permits and a contract with the City in the works, they began forming the team. “We actually started skiing in our backyard in Eagle Lake. We brought the trailer with all the skis and a couple of boats,” Voisard said. The team started on Lake Silver later that year. “We’re very lucky. The City has been really good to us, and the County has been good to us.”

Today, the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team is a non-profit USAWSsanctioned ski team with approximately 155 members ranging in age from two to skiers in their seventies. The team makes a splash on the third Saturday of each month with their free ski shows at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Lake Silver. Slalom, tricks, jumping, knee boarding, hydrofoil, barefoot, “In the show ski world, you kind of put all those things together. We barefoot, we hydrofoil, we jump, we fly the kite some, the girls swivel,” Voisard said. The team also offers adaptive ski clinics for those with special needs and disabilities.

There will not be a Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team show on the third Saturday of October because of the World Tournament. But don’t miss their Halloween show! The nighttime show promises tons of spooky fun, from a skeleton pyramid to ghouls, wolfman, and a “Thriller” performance.

The legacy continues as the team carries the Cypress Gardens torch – and its billowing namesake flags. Just as Dick Pope did with his theme park, the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team invites visitors to imbibe sunshine, fresh lake air, and the glamour and athleticism of a sport entering its centennial.

Photography by Amy Sexson

Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team

FB: Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team (est. 2012)

IG @cypress_gardens_ski_team

Free shows on the third Saturday of each month: Lake Silver at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park 275 S Lake Silver Dr., Winter Haven


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