How A Set Of Water Skis Changed Television Forever

How A Set Of Water Skis Changed Television Forever

Whether it is the skill of slalom water skiing or the sheer thrill of making huge water jumps, skiing is a particular water sport that provides so much adrenaline, action and excitement in a short space of time.

It is a small wonder then that it is popular with thrill-seekers of all shapes and sizes, but one actor in particular managed to make history thanks to a rather unconventional use of his water skiing skills.

On the third episode of the fifth season of the long-running sitcom Happy Days, actor Henry Winkler had a chance to showcase his talent for water skiing with the help of a somewhat unusual stunt that later became infamous.

Mr Winkler, playing Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, is challenged to jump over a shark, so wearing the somewhat unconventional watersports uniform of a pair of blue swimming trunks and his trademark leather jacket, he proceeds to do so, although the jump itself was performed by a stuntman.

This episode, and specifically the jump itself, was seen as the moment when Happy Days started to decline and a year after it finally ended in 1984, radio personality John Hein would coin the term “jump the shark” to describe the moment Happy Days and other TV shows started to decline.

Interestingly, as Mr Winkler, fellow actor Ron Howard (who drove the speedboat that led to the water ski jump) and writer Fred Fox Jr would point out, the show continued for another six seasons and maintained its popularity, even if it did lose its initial focus as an exploration of life in the 1950s.

However, the 1950s were a time when water skiing was rapidly evolving thanks to the evolution of trick skis in 1940 and the tireless promotion of Dick Pope Sr, who helped water skiing grasp international attention thanks to the many tricks demonstrated at Cypress Gardens in Florida.

This made the Happy Days shark jump more timely than it perhaps initially appeared, and highlighted the first golden age that still inspires so many to pick up a pair of skis and take to the river.

Mr Winkler does not necessarily mind the constant references as it is a reminder of a time when he “had great legs” and later joked after hopping over a shark in the show Arrested Development that he was the only actor to jump the shark twice.

Water skis can help fight fears, increase confidence and create dumps of adrenaline, with a wide range of events and disciplines to suit all ages and skill sets. Such is the sport’s influence, it can even change television as well.