The Keuka Lake Water Carnival

Vintage Chris Craft fiberglass speedboat
Collected by Debbie Koop
Excerpted from Bluff & Vine, Issue One

Every August during the 1950s to the early 1960s, Keuka Lake was the home of what was, in our minds, truly “The Greatest Show on Earth”: the Keuka Lake Water Carnival. Preparations took all year, as people planned their performances and readied their boats. Morris Burke used his Cris Craft, and Bob Carpenter had his beautiful Fay Bowen, named The Spirit of Keuka. There was a Century Coronado for barefoot skiing, performed flawlessly by a man from Cypress Gardens, Florida, and attempted and later accomplished by Johnnie Hsu, Bruce Cutler, and Rob Corcoran. There were pyramids and trick skiing and shoe skiing, and really expert slalom skiing. There was the man who put a chair on a disc and went by reading the paper. There were clowns and a dog on an aquaplane and lots of surprises. Rob Corcoran built a hoop that was set on fire, and he jumped through it on skis. Johnnie Hsu did trick jumping and 360-degree turns off the jump at Keuka College, and did flips on his shoe skis and skied backwards, too. Bruce Cutler, who built the jump, was the very best distance jumper, and also had funny acts, especially with the floating bathtub and someone taking a shower. Morris Burke always did a headstand while riding an aquaplane until his wife Selina told him he was too old. There were so many terrific and accomplished acts. Those of us who were too young or not good enough to be in the show dreamed of when we could, and we all practiced diligently to be accepted. Sadly, all good things come to an end, as did our beloved Keuka Lake Water Carnival. But the memories live on.



From Diane Carpenter Hayes: My memories of water skiing on Keuka Lake date back to 1956. I skied in the Water Carnival in 1957. Susie Lynn, a petite pre-teen, rode on my shoulders. She would hang on my back until I was up, and then she’d climb up on my shoulders. We were towed by my dad, Bob Carpenter, in his 26-foot Fay Bowen wooden boat named The Spirit of Keuka. I skied on my wooden skis, which I bought myself with babysitting money. From Penn Yan Marine, they were originally yellow, but I painted them black to match our Fay Bowen. I used those skis for 60 years.



From Sue Petrie Locke: I remember Johnny Hsu successfully skiing barefoot. I remember thinking that we were all great slalom skiers until we saw the real “pros” like Johnny Hsu. That knocked us down a few pegs! We all wanted to try the ski jump, but our dad didn’t approve of that activity for girls, as he thought the hard landing might interfere with our future reproductive capabilities!



To read this entire story, please purchase Issue One of Bluff & Vine at Longs’ Cards and Books in Penn Yan, or by visiting

Bluff & Vine is accepting submissions of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and cover art until September 15, 2021. Details available at

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