Having a long career in the waterski industry is no easy task. Enduring the longevity of any watersport on the body is difficult, but when that sport is waterski jumping it takes things to another level completely. Scot Ellis has had one of the longest, most celebrated careers of anyone in waterskiing, and has been jumping over 200’ feet for three decades of it. While his list of accolades speaks for itself, it’s the relationships he’s formed, the memories he’s made and his long-term passion for waterskiing that will continue to allow him to make his mark on watersports. Scot has an incredible story, and we’re proud that Nautique could play a role in all of it. As he turns the page on the competitive side of his waterskiing career, we wanted to share Scot’s story and thank him for the impact he’s had on the sport we all love.
Tell us a little of your personal history.
I started skiing at age 4 with my parents. My parents had no intention or even knew what competitive waterskiing was at the time, we just skied on the weekends for fun. A few years later as fate intervened, my Dad pulled me across Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, Florida and through a bunch or buoys, a slalom course, while a slalom skier was waiting. This skier was Richard Johnston, a tournament skier and part owner of Ski Paradise in Mulberry, Florida. He explained to my dad what a slalom course was and encouraged us to come watch the water ski show, The Lakeland Waterski Club, that weekend. We did and joined the Lakeland Ski Club that day and was introduced to the waterski world. That was 1978. I skied my first tournament in 1979 and have been a member of USA Waterski ever since.
At what point did you gravitate towards jumping?
1989. I had skied my last year of boys in 1988, back then there was no 5.5’ ramp or 32mph for boys. I was 17 and was jumping a 5’ ramp at 30mph. A lot of my fellow jumpers went straight to 6’ ramp and 35 mph, Open Men, but I went to Mens 1 which was 5.5’ ramp and 35mph. My dad wanted me to wait a year before trying Open Men jump. I was a good jumper but not Open Men material just yet. It was that decision that helped my jump career take off. I started breaking records and winning tournaments right away.
When did you begin skiing professionally in the Open Jump division?
1990. I entered Open men at 19 years old and won 4 pro events, a tour title that same year and was on ESPN every Tuesday night. I was hooked on jumping, but still continued to slalom and trick. I am not sure many people remember but I have competed in overall at the US Masters as well. My focus was on jumping but I still did all 3 events for another 5 years until I was exclusively jumping.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
I have skied so long that is a very long list, but I do have some favorites:
- First Pro Win - 1990
- Met Pope John Paul during the Italian Masters - 1991
- First 200’ jump – 1992 at Sunset Lakes
- First Moomba win – 1993
- First Tour record – 1993
- First US Open win – 1994
- First Masters win – 1998
- First 70m (230’) jump – 1999
- My favorite - Ski Fly
- I have jumped 200’+ for over 30 years. Longer than most of my competitors have been alive!
What have been some of the challenges through the years?
That's a big list too but I would say the hardest challenges are the injuries. Injuries always bring doubt and when doubt enters to equation things can go sideways fast. I learned early in my career how to start from the beginning and climb back to the top. Its humbling and embarrassing at the start but when you push through it you come out stronger for it. There are other smaller challenges like evolving with the sport. The water sports industry changes constantly. New boats, new running surfaces for boats, engine changes, prop changes, rope material changes, ski equipment changes, rule changes… this list never stops, I promise you. If you cannot overcome these challenges, you better just stop competing.
Tell us how you’ve had to adapt throughout your long career skiing professionally?
Adapting to your sport is the most important thing for a long career. The industry is always changing, rules are changing, new ski sites develop for tournaments, and younger talented athletes are always coming and going. I have always been willing to adapt and change even if it's mid-season. If you want to win you do whatever it takes to grab that win. You may never get that chance again.
What has the Nautique brand meant to you during this journey?
In a word: Support. Nautique has supported me through injuries, bad seasons, creating new boats for Ski Fly, sponsoring events I have personally put on. Just about any venture they have been behind it. Sponsored athletes just don’t put stickers on their equipment because there is an empty space for it. It shows the world we have the backing from this company, and this gives us the mental strength to do the impossible. Break records!
What has been one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?
From my Dad: Make sure you still having fun. When it's not fun anymore it's okay to stop. Through all the injuries, tears and frustration it is still fun. That's why I am not completely back out of skiing. It is still fun for me.
What athletes have made an impact on the skier you’ve become?
That’s a hard one to pin down. Right from the beginning of my Open Men career I have always jumped with the top jumpers. It's like I would feed off them during practice to keep my level high. It started with Bruce Neville, Curtis Sheers and John Livingston, all the way to Freddy Krueger, Ryan Dodd, Taylor Garcia and Igor Morozov. We all push each other and none of us like to be beat. We constantly push the limits of jumping and that’s what feeds my addiction to jump.
What’s next for you?
I will still continue to coach and travel. Coaching is something that I have done for a while and really enjoy doing. I will ski at local events, Nationals and Sr. Worlds. But the things keeping me the busiest are my three kids and all their activities. Dance, gymnastics, T-ball, Little league, football, and skiing my days are full.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Everyone! (laughs) I have been helped by the entire waterski industry during my 42 years of skiing. Ski companies, boat companies, ropes, wetsuits, the AWSA, USA Waterski, IWSF, and all ski federations. Because of them I was able to travel the world and do something I love. My longest sponsor has been Nautique boats. 22 years of help and new boats which is what I will miss the most. I love getting new boats. Connelly skis continues to help out the Ellis family. Stokes gear has provided great wet suits and ski bags. Hard to pack up all your ski gear without the proper bag!
I really just want to say Thank You to everyone and I will see you at the lake!