September 12, 1983 12:00 PM

In the beginning waterskiing was a primitive pursuit. The first skiers used hand-hewn square boards, ski ropes that tended to unravel at the slightest eccentric tug and boats that lacked sufficient power. The sport’s byword: glub. But as these pictures make clearly evident, tripping across the water has come a long way since then.

Most of the credit goes to Dick Pope Sr., now 83, who founded Cypress Gardens in 1936 as a botanical wonderland. In 1943 Pope added the water-ski show that is still performed four times a day on Florida’s Lake Eloise. To promote Cypress Gardens, Pope ground out endless wacky publicity photos, sometimes as many as 1,000 a week. In the 1957 shot above, Pope does his impersonation of Liberace.

The stunt was not as easy as it looked. In 1963, when the Saturday Evening Post tried to duplicate it, the gutted but real piano immediately nose-dived into the drink.

Inspired by similar shots, photographer Randy Taylor recently decided to try his own hand at the water-gimmick shots. Trainer Mike Hill’s first task: to get Sancho the macaw up on skis. That took several months. The big problem was overcoming Sancho’s quite understandable fear of water—macaws, like most birds, can’t swim. The rest, by comparison, was easy. Hill plied Sancho with peanuts and, of course, the usual guest appearance (this fall) on That’s Incredible. The squirrel and the toad are holding out for syndicated talk shows of their own.

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