First Family On Skis Coeur D’Alene Clan Made Waves, History
Some folks around Lake Pepin, Minn., may have spent the holiday weekend smugly celebrating the 75th anniversary of the invention of waterskiing.
According to the Waterskiing Hall of Fame, that’s where Ralph Samuelson first skied behind a motorboat on July 2, 1922.
But in Coeur d’Alene, the anniversary passed with hardly a ripple.
After all, many old-timers claim that waterskiing - and wakeboarding, for that matter - started right here on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“No doubt about it,” said Jack Finney, the grandson of John E. “Jack” Finney. “The guy who claimed to invent it had seen it done here before.”
Jack Finney Sr. was an inventive and athletic fellow. Bill Finney, his son, recalls clinging to a bicycle with several brothers and sisters, as his father rode it across the lawn and hopped over a garden hose.
After purchasing the Ford dealership in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Jack Finney Sr. took a tractor motor and fashioned it for his 40-foot boat, the Lurline.
Chugging around the lake in the boat lost its novelty and Jack Finney Sr. decided to nail two 12-inch planks together to make a 6-foot surfboard. Thus began years of Finney acrobatics on the lake.
Times have changed since Jack Finney Sr. hopped on the forerunner of the wakeboard, and his son, John, crouched behind the Lurline, skiing across Lake Coeur d’Alene on a pair of floorboards.
Back then, so few motorboats plied the glassy surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene that the Finneys knew every boat on the lake just by the sound of its motor.
Their boards and skis were made of planks, while now they’re made of fiberglass.
Young John slipped his feet into lace-up boots that were screwed to the floorboards. The tips were soaked in boiling water and curled up at the ends to make a smoother ride.
“The first time my brother John rode the skis, he didn’t realize you could hold onto the rope,” explained Bill Finney. Harriett Green, Bill’s sister and one of the family aquabats, claimed that John made the discovery in 1921 - one year before Samuelson.
“My brother had the opportunity to prove that he was the first one,” Bill Finney said. “But he didn’t seem to care. …
“I couldn’t prove anything. I wasn’t even born then,” added Bill, who was one of the youngest of 12 children.
In 1925, John performed on the long, wooden skis while Jack Finney Sr. rode the surfboard and “aqua planed” around Seattle’s Green Lake, with his daughters raised overhead or balanced on his thigh in a diver’s pose.
The Finneys were invited to several exhibitions, and regularly performed at Coeur d’Alene’s Fourth of July celebrations. Citizens would swarm to the grandstands on the southern side of Tubbs Hill to watch the Finneys do tricks on the wooden planks.
Even Miss Seattle, on her way to a beauty contest in Atlantic City, stopped by Coeur d’Alene and took a ride with Jack Finney Sr. on his surfboard.
The fun subsided when the Finneys lost their two-story log home at Kidd Island Bay during the Depression. Jack Finney Sr. died in 1936, two years after the family moved away from the lake.
But the Finney children stayed close to the water.
John Finney leased the Seeweewana cruise boat, and later purchased it. He added several cruise and charter boats to his fleet, and piloted the lake for 50 years. His nephew, Fred Finney, took over the helm, and continues to manage the cruise line, purchased by Duane Hagadone in 1984.
Bill Finney bought a lake lot near Squaw Bay in 1955 and built a summer home.
Jack Jr., his wife and five children live near Squaw Bay, but have moved their boat to Lake Pend Oreille, where they keep a summer home. They spent this Fourth of July there, while Jack’s father, Bill, went down to the St. Joe River.
His 13-year-old daughter, Brenda, likes riding inner tubes and other modern water toys.
While she considers her great-grandfather’s exploits “cool,” she recently displayed the usual Finney spirit of adventure and resourcefulness when asked about her own plans: “I want to Jetski!”
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