What Do Water Skiing and Underground Cable Installation Have in Common?

Water skiing and underground cable installation are not commonly mentioned in the same sentence. Most likely because they aren’t even remotely related activities. While it is true that they both share a complex relationship with physics, there is one specific thing they do have in common. Polywater. And specifically, Polywater engineered lubricants.

Water skis laid in a row on a dock. Each pair of skis has a red and white quart bottle of Polywater J lubricant. A white 5-gallon pail of Polywater J can be seen in the background next to a banner with a cartoon seal that reads "Ski Otters, Water Ski Team".

The connection point between these two disparate things goes all the way back to before Polywater was known as the leading global manufacturer of cable-pulling lubricants. Even before the origins of the company in 1973. Around August 1965.

Nelson “Nels” Jonnes, was a product development chemist and had around 15 patents to his name. He was a constant inventor, always working on various projects. One of these projects was the development of a cold-water diving suit for the U.S. Navy. Through the prototyping process for the suit, Nels became an NAUI-certified scuba diver and instructor. The challenge of having to get in and out of a sticky rubber suit got his creative mind going. He immediately formulated a unique lubricant that would make the process of putting on and taking off the suit much easier.

A man sits on the edge of a boat wearing a black scuba suit

Nels’ love for scuba diving led him to travel to various exotic destinations, encountering other enthusiasts of the sport along the way. One person he met was Charley Ames, a diver, and machinist who shared an interest in product invention. The two became life-long friends and it was through this friendship that a very important collaboration was forged that would play out over the course of Polywater history.

Soon, interest and popularity of the wetsuit lubricant grew. This offered Nels the opportunity to realize his dream of starting his own company. With his entrepreneurial spirit, creative mind, and chemical expertise—along with Slippery Stuff™, his non-irritating water-based lubricant made especially for wetsuits—he was able to establish “The Jonnes Company” in 1973.

Virtually everything Nels needed to scale his lubricant production required specialized equipment that wasn’t commercially available. He tapped into his friend Charley’s industrious and mechanical expertise to help design, build, and maintain the early production equipment for his entrepreneurial endeavor.

With scuba diving proving to be a limited market, Nels needed to find additional applications for his invention. The search led him to the telecommunications industry and underground cable-in-conduit installations. At that time, telecommunication companies used muddy bentonite clay to reduce friction during cable pulling or hauling. While inexpensive, it proved mostly ineffective, and the industry was ripe for a new solution. Nels had discovered a new niche.

With just a little reformulation of his complex polymer, water-based lubricant, Nels created Polywater A; engineered specifically for cable installation. This new lubricant had unique performance characteristics. It was stringy by design, which helped carry the lubricant farther into the conduit, where it is especially needed. This solution proved to be a revolutionary leap forward for underground cable installation and provided Nels a direction to pull his new company in. By late 1974, Nels had changed the name of his company to “American Polywater,” and a new era in cable-pulling lubricants was born.

A man in glasses, a pink button up shirt, and slacks stands in his trade show booth with a sign that reads, "Cable Lubricants. If you have a cable placement program, you need us." The man is pouring a clear string of liquid from a jug into a pail from a height of 2 feet.

Fast-forward to the present day. Meet the Midwest Ski Otters; a water-skiing team based out of Minnesota. They were facing the same challenge that Nels solved over 50 years ago. Like today’s project engineers, contractors, and installers of underground electrical and telecommunications cable systems, the Ski Otters came to Polywater for a unique solution. While Polywater is not focused on creating products for water sports, it has since its inception been a solution provider. To this day, Polywater receives many inquiries from a variety of industries about its chemical and materials knowledge. Fortunately, Polywater can provide the Ski Otters with a wetsuit lubricant—like Nels’ original diving suit lubricant—that helps them easily prepare and perform their gravity-defying shows.

Members of the Midwest Ski Otter Waterskiing team jump of a ramp while holding a bottle of Polywater J-35 lubricant up in the air.

Members of the Ski Otters perform an impressive jump while holding a bottle of Polywater J lubricant.

A quote that says, The Midwest Ski Otters use Polywater lubricant to help us get into our ski bindings and put on a free show for the community. Even though it wasn’t intended for watersports, Polywater’s lubricant protects our expensive bindings from tearing while preserving the rubber. We appreciate Polywater's willingness to help us even though they are not in the water sports market.
Polywater continues to shape and define what it means to be a manufacturer of specialized solutions; building upon the innovative legacy of its founder Nels Jonnes. Since transforming the way cable is installed with unique cable lubricants, Polywater expanded over the years to provide a broad portfolio of solutions for companies working on infrastructure construction and maintenance projects. From specialized cable splicing cleaners to chemical and mechanical duct sealants, and much more.

While it has been over 50 years, the story has indeed come full circle—from scuba diving to water skiing—by creating the right solution for a very unique challenge.

Learn more about Polywater cable pulling lubricants.

Learn more about Polywater sealants.

Learn more about the Midwest Ski Otters, their schedule of free shows, and sponsorship opportunities.

Note on the usage of Polywater® J Lubricant and Skin Contact
Polywater® J is intended for use with industrial applications. Products manufactured for personal care and skin contact implement good manufacturing practices (GMP) as recommended by the FDA. The buyer must determine conditions of safe usage and assumes all risk and liability in handling this product.