Evolution of Boating and Water Sports
Your friends at Lake Mead in Las Vegas are no strangers to all kinds of guests with a range of different experiences and preferences when it comes to water sports. While we are proud to offer state-of-the-art jetski and speed boat rentals to our cherished guests, we thought it would be fun to dive into the history of recreational boating and explore how this sport has evolved to the super-fast, gravity-defying jetski and motor boat endeavors we know and love today. You might be surprised by some of the things you learn here; even if you aren’t interested in speed-powered watercrafts personally, it is a fascinating testament to human creativity.
Unfortunately, there are very few – in fact, virtually none – “official” historical documents chronicling the development of the activities we now call “water sports,” but it is believed that swimming and snorkeling are some of the oldest athletic water activities, with ancient Romans using hollow reeds as air tunnels. This is all that is known to have happened for a while, up until about the 1800s. At this time, surfing became a popular tradition in Hawaii, and water polo and diving were becoming more popular in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until the 1900s that technological developments were brought into the water in the form of engines for speed boats and jetskis.
Before motors came to the water, however, recreational boating had been established as a leisure activity for a number of years. By the mid 1900s, with a flourishing industry boom, fishing was no longer required, at least in America, as a survival mechanism. Around the same time, alternative methods for traveling had been created, with infrastructure such as public trains and subways becoming more popular than horses and buggies. Additionally, air travel was developed around this time, traveling at remarkable speeds. Effectively, using boats as agents of travels became phased out, and as a result, boating became an activity for those with money and time to spare. How many people do you know how own boats and don’t travel long distances with them, just going out on the water for a day or maybe a few days to go fishing? In the Western world, boats have definitely become a status symbol with a whole style of “nautical” clothing and accessories to accompany them.
In any case, the first proto-modern motorboat was invented in the late 1800s. By this time, screw propellers had already been affixed to steam engines, but the engine we are familiar with today – an internal combustion engine powered by petrol or gasoline – was a completely new invention. This first engine had the strength of 1 horsepower; to put in perspective, small motorboats hover at about 20 horsepower, personal speedboats generally range from 75-100 horsepower, and today’s jetskis, with their versatility and portability, have reached up to 250 horsepower!
A famous motorboat in American history is known as Kitty Hawk, the brainchild of renowned naval expert John Hackler. This was the first motorboat to exceed speeds of 80 kilometers an hour (or 50 miles per hour). At this time, Kitty Hawk was the fastest boat in the world. This boat could fit two people if one of them was operating the motion of the vehicle. This was a huge step towards the modern personal speed boats and jetskiis that we are much more familiar with. Kitty Hawk remains an icon in the sense that she was one of the first groundbreaking successes on the quest for a recreational speed boat that was build purely for enjoyment rather than transport of mass amounts of people or goods.
As water sports were becoming more popular and the design of fast boats was rapidly improving, it seems kind of strange that people might want to use boats to get closer to the water rather than just swimming. In any case, it happened, and the modern jetski was invented in the mid-to-late 20th century. The concept of operating a speedboat while standing up was something of a novel idea, but it quickly caught on, and people with the money to spend snapped them up, driving the registration of patents and an intense competitive market amongst watercraft manufacturers.
Somewhere along the line, people started attaching water skis, tubes, even parasails to the back of these vehicles, taking the sport from the water to the air. Many people view these variations of boating as dangerous and unnecessary, but for others, it is an integral part of their lifestyle. Even if you don’t practice these activities yourself, we hope you can appreciate the human curiosity and determination that drives their development and evolution. There is no telling where these water sports might be in a few decades, especially since technology seems to be developing at even faster rate, with boats and other motor vehicles become faster, safer, and more complicated than ever.