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  • Address: 605 N 3rd St | McCall, ID 83638
  • Mailing Address: PO Box 350 | McCall, ID 83638
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On any given sunny summer day, Payette Lake is dotted with boats. These days, many opt for newer sports like wakeboarding and wake surfing, but the star of McCall has always been waterskiing.

Payette Lake has a long history of being a destination for world-class waterskiing competitions that included more than your average afternoon ski session. Events included slalom racing, jumping, and trick riding. In 1949, the fifth annual Pacific Coast Water Ski Tournament was held at Shore Lodge. Newspaper headlines in the Idaho Statesman read “Ace Water Ski Artists Open Competition at Payette Lakes” and “Aquatic Stars of Northwest Will Compete” and touted the event as on that “promises to be the mecca of entertainment and excitement.”

The tournament drew competitors from across the country, many arriving by seaplane. Don Ibsen, the inventor of water skiing, presided as the chief judge. Idaho contestants included Tom Cottle and Bud Holmes of Boise, Tommy Thompson of Nampa, and Sally Thurston of Council who was also part of the Shore Lodge Ski Club. The Idaho Statesman described Thurston as “unusually steady on her feet and promising to be an exceptionally good skier.” Thurston would ultimately go on to take second overall with first in jumping, third in slalom, and fourth in trick riding. Tommy Thompson of Nampa also finished with top honors in the jumping competition.

While the entire competition was something to behold, the star of the show was the trick riding division. Jeannette Burr of Seattle, who also took home the overall champion trophy, “rode on one water ski, backward, at 35 miles per hour with the rope attached to one foot.” Idaho Statesman sports editor Don Faris noted in his article, “the thing that amazed me was that she found time to take off her swim cap, remove her nose plugs, and smooth her hair out of her eyes before turning to the camera…all while riding backward at 35 miles per hour.” Other competitors completed 180-degree turns, made deep-water backward starts, and changed rope holds from hand to toe. Overall, the competition was a spectacle not to be missed.


Capitalizing on the success and enthusiasm of the Pacific Coast Event, in 1952 Shore Lodge introduced the first annual “Water Ski Meet and Exhibition.” The contest was open to all amateur water skiers in three divisions: slalom, trick riding, and water jumping. An entry fee of $2 was required and covered the “use of boats and incidentals.” That year, a crowd of about 1,000 people watched as a 15-year-old Frank Brown of McCall won the overall prize for men and Sally Thurston, now attending Stanford University, swept all three contests on the women’s side. Governor Len Jorden presented trophies to the winners.


Want to learn more about the history of water sports on Payette Lake? We invite you to visit the Central Idaho Historical Museum to find more photos, exhibits, and stories on the rich history of McCall. Let’s continue to keep our history alive and celebrate what makes this place so special.