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For the Record

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What happens when one of the leading outboard manufacturers in the world joins forces with a world-class showman and entrepreneur? Theatrics are sure to ensue. That is precisely what happened on May 16, 1977, at the Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Florida, when park founder Dick Pope teamed up with Johnson Outboards to set a world record.

Known as the Water Ski Capital of the World, Cypress Gardens was one of Florida’s biggest tourist attractions during the mid-20th century, and it hosted renowned ski shows during which Pope conducted impressive on-water stunts to promote his business. The shows were sponsored by Johnson Outboards, which used the event to produce a good deal of photography for its advertisements.

Johnson made huge waves in the outboard industry in 1976 with the release of its 200-hp V-6 engine, the most powerful outboard in the world at the time, which shocked its competition and helped pave the way for the massive outboards on the market today. The following year, Johnson launched a 175-hp V-6, and it turned to the Gardens Ski Team for help promoting it.

For the stunt pictured here, the team aimed to set a new world record for the number of water skiers towed by a single outboard. The team succeeded, assembling a total of 26 skiers on the line. Only 23 skiers are pictured, as the last three dropped off after setting the record for safety purposes.

Cypress Gardens became a Legoland in 2011, but Johnson’s V-6 engine remains one of the most significant outboard developments of all time, changing the future of boating forever. 

This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue.

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