Ski shows, fast boats, and the Shootout is born

by Al Griffin & Nathan Bechtold

1970s: The Ski Show Era

1970s Lodge of Four Season Brochure

The 1970s was the heyday of ski shows at Lake of the Ozarks; meanwhile behind the scenes, innovators and entrepreneurs were shaping the future of family boating. At Lake of the Ozarks, summer partying on the Bagnell Dam Strip continued to draw crowds from all over the nation, but some locals were not dazzled by the glittering Dance Hall craze. Instead, they were quietly making huge waves in the boating world.

70s Water Show

One of the biggest draws on the far-flung waters of Cypress Gardens in Florida and the Wisconsin Dells found fertile ground on the Lake of the Ozarks, where the local water ski show—known as the Lake Of The Ozarks Water Show—included some of the same athletes from these other shows. According to Todd Shockley, one member of the troupe who still lives at the Lake, several members of the local show traveled back and forth each year in order to earn money and ski in the other famous shows.

Vintage ad for Sea Sprite Boats

Most ski boats of the period were simple affairs by our modern standards, but were innovative at the time. One brand, the Sea Sprite, had an electric-start Evinrude 65 HP and a chrome dashboard with a speedometer and a starter button along with an Evinrude Simplex throttle and tilt control.

1980s: The Speed Boost

Miami Vice Screenshots

Miami Vice Screenshots

It’s 1985, and Don Johnson is Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice. Episodes open with glitzy, superfast boats cutting Vs across the water of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. And all you can think is: “Rad!”

Despite the woeful economy for much of the decade, innovations and popular media caused boaters to feel a sudden… ahem… “need for speed.” Wellcraft, the maker of Sonny Crocket’s 38 Scarab KV, reported a 21 percent sales increase on that boat in a single year.

Vintage Wellcraft Boats Ad

Technology was making leaps and bounds. In 1982 Mercury introduced the first 300HP V6 outboard, but it floundered, as the boats of the day weren’t designed to handle that much power. Suzuki pioneered the automatic oil injection in its two-stroke motors, and Volvo Penta in 1983 introduced twin counter-rotating props to offset the prop torque that had caused boats to turn off a straight line when running. Not to be outdone, Evinrude and Johnson introduced the first V8 outboard motors. Technology advances in the late 1980s included the introduction of electronic fuel injection by Mercury.

Don Johnson, in his quest for speed, created a dilemma for Wellcraft with his design requirements for his racing Scarab: he wanted to use twin Lamborghini V12 power plants. The successful endeavor was known as the 43′ SCARAB Excel Don Johnson Signature Series.

Shooters 21 Logo

As boats got faster, boaters (and the water patrol) felt the need to channel their speed into a controlled environment. Emergency services personnel and a few visionaries organized an official event that became the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout. Originally hosted at (the now long-gone) Shooters 21 restaurant, the first Lake Rescue Shootout was held in 1989. The fastest racer that year? Randy Scism, with a 101 mph run.

Shooters 21, photo by Jeff Helmkamp

Whether for family fun or to quench their need for speed, more and more Americans were becoming boaters: by 1985, the total number of recreational boats in use had reached 13 million.