This spring, Jon Broderick will be inducted into the Michigan Water Ski Hall of Fame. Though his water ski stardom cast a national shadow, Jon’s waterski world started at Clark Lake. The innovations he developed here became part of major shows at places like Cypress Gardens. The attention Jon Broderick brought to waterskiing not only spawned interest in shows, but also into the competitive world of slalom, tricks, and jumping.
Jon, who today lives in Georgia, will be inducted in a ceremony at Krupa’s Marine in Jackson on Saturday, May 20th, at 3 pm. Other ceremonies have taken place there and have been reported on this website. Clark Lake’s Kay Vermeulen Nichols, who passed away in 2015, was inducted on May 19, 2019.
Jon Broderick’s waterski fascination started early, and in a way that couldn’t be predicted. Jon, and his twin brother, were born in Toledo. At age four, they lost their father in an industrial accident. The family sought an investment from the insurance settlement, and found one — a summer cottage at Clark Lake. Jon and Tom’s stepfather saw what Clark Lake had to offer and ensured they could take advantage of what it had to offer. The boys picked up the challenge, but got into a little trouble for it. The 6 year-olds took the family outboard for a spin. But how to add to the fun? They repurposed the outhouse door as a surfboard. That got them grounded for a week, but now their imagination of what you could do on the water was going full speed ahead.
It wasn’t long that Jon learned how to ski, and along with it, discovered the magic of performing. This passion was inspired as he sat in a movie theatre and watched Movietone News highlights of Cypress Gardens.
The time came when the Broderick’s upgraded to a bigger boat — a 14-footer with a 30 hp. Their cottage was located near the Pleasant View Hotel. They found the guests were a built-in audience for their antics on the water. To keep their gas tank full, Jon and Tom earned money as ski instructors.
Jon learned much from one Clark Lake visitor in particular, Dave Thompson, who was a American Water Ski Association member and Senior Judge. He put on an exhibition of advanced tricks — like getting up backwards, deep water starts, and other tricks not seen in 1956. Certainly, today’s skiers have advanced the sport in a way not imagined 70 years ago. But the DNA of those early days set the course. Water skiing was an attention grabber. That two pieces of wood could support a person traveling at 20 mph on the water was unique. Add to the show of creating pyramids, skiing over the jump, waving to fans. Jon loved it.
Jon’s neighbor had a bigger and faster boat. The larger wake and speed offered a new challenge. Enter the slalom course. When Dave Thompson returned to the lake, he introduced this new adventure. Clark Lake now had its first Styrofoam ski course. The challenge was to round the buoys, but avoid scratching your shins on the edgy Styrofoam.
This photo of Jon was taken later in his career.
Waterskiing fervor was building quickly, and not in a small way. Summer of 1956 culminated with a huge event at the west end of Clark Lake — what became known as the Cit Pat Tournament, sponsored by the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper. It attracted some of the best skiers from around the world, and became an annual tradition.
The winners from that very first tournament at Clark Lake.
Interest was building, and Clark Lake needed to organize. Jon and his neighbor formed the Pine Riders Water Ski Club, one of the first local clubs in the nation. The Pine Riders joined the American Water Ski Association (AWSA), built a ski jump, maintained the slalom course, and put on ski shows. That first ski show took place on July 4, 1958. (Click here to read about a show that took place several years later). Most performers were under 14. Their excitement and enthusiasm were contagious. The competitive spirit took hold at Clark Lake. That led to others at the lake going on to win regional, national, and international titles. Some names, in alphabetical order, will be familiar — Buzz Belcher, Phil Curtis, Larry Faling, Harry Faling, Gary Krupa, Tony Krupa, Roger Lyons, Joey Reynolds, Sally Searles, Charlie Timberlake, Billy Timberlake, Lynn Vermeulen, Kay Vermeulen-Nichols, and Sally Shawaker. Below – photo taken at a Pine Riders meeting, likely 1961.
Then there is the story of this famous photo, the one that went viral before the invention of social media.
Jon had found a magazine ad that showed a water skier flying with a kite. He thought, “I can do that.” He enlisted the help of neighbors to build a frame and to sew fabric. The test flight was captured by the Cit Pat. Lucky or unlucky, that exhibit was a one and done. Jon claimed his first attempt was “a bag on a string.” The crash destroyed the kite, but the event had been captured and published. Click here to read the Cit Pat story from July 17, 1960. That attention was the onset of a new chapter. Dick Pope, Cypress Gardens, had seen the picture. In September 1958, he contacted Jon and hired him to join the team at Cypress Gardens because he lost his kite flyer to the Tommy Bartlett Waterski Tour Ski shows.
In summer 1961, Jon returned to Michigan from Cypress Gardens. Water skiing was gaining converts, but also opposition. State politicians were aiming to limit skiing to every other day, and only between 10 am and 4 pm. Now connected with others in the sport, Jon collaborated with those in the newly formed Michigan Water Ski Association (MWSA) on how defend the sport from the government. The group thought they needed some attention. So, the MWSA arranged for Jon to fly his kite over the Detroit River as a highlight of the January, 1982, Detroit Boat Show. And yes, Jon wore a wetsuit, but all wondered how Jon survived the cold. It might have given everyone shivers. The event had its impact. And the lobbying tactic that followed, worked. The potential law never came up for a vote.
One of Jon’s inventions deserves recognition. Skiing behind a boat was limited at one lake. The solution? A ski machine that worked without a boat. The collaborators mounted a 1949 Chevy engine on a raft and converted the rear wheel to a rotating pylon that resembled a crashed helicopter. The shows went on, as you can see in this photo.
Jon’s career in water ski performance covered a lot of water. Along the way, he perfected tricks that became normal in show skiing like barefooting, shoe skiing, jumping, and pyramids. He shared his knowledge in high school physical education programs, and in water ski schools. Also a writer, Jon Broderick has authored books on those involved in the sport.
From the day Jon and his brother borrowed the outhouse door and turned it into a surfboard, a consistent theme emerges. He became nationally prominent as founding father of show skiing from Michigan to Florida, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the Bahamas. He inspired others to compete in a sport that continues to exist today. For an entire generation of highly accomplished Clark Lake skiers, he’s recognized as they guy who helped start it all.
Editor’s note: In 2013, Jon Broderick wrote a My Clark Lake Story, at the request of this website. Click here to read it. More great memories for Clark Lake water skiers.
Opening my eyes to the sun dancing across the water, and listening to the chirping birds outside my bedroom were my morning alarm clocks. At the time I didn’t really appreciate the magic of the Lake. I was lucky enough to have known some of the Pine Riders, and to get up early on some mornings to drive Tony while he skied. It was a rare and cherished time. Thanks for the memories.
How fitting that Jon should be inducted into Michigan’s Hall of Fame at Krupa’s. We were lucky to meet him in the early 60s when he was a superstar and came to Clark Lake to do his show, fly his kite and and give us a hero to follow. Kudos to Jon, and thank you for the great memories!
Jon taught me how to ski and gave me my first pair of skis. He is a big part of my life and it all started at Clark Lake. My understanding is that he and my grandfather, George (Bowser) Eagy made that first kite in my grandfather’s garage.
The photo of the water ski jumper is not me, but rather one of my young students, Ron Anderson who lives in Cape Coral Florida. He started skiing with me in 1968 along with his two sisters, Lori and Jennie Anderson. They skied in nearly all my shows, Cape Coral, Townsend Tennessee and in San Antonio, TX where the picture in the article was taken in the summer of 1978. Ron was originally from Davenport Iowa and joined our orinal ski team skiing in nearly all of our shows.