Archive for the ‘Featured Footer’ Category

Featured Footer: Patrick Wehner

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

“Put your foot in the water and step off,” Hans Pfister told Patrick Wehner back in 1984.  In those years, barefoot instruction was mostly a do-or-die approach and nothing fancy. Patrick was a tiny little kid when he stepped off a ski behind the boat for the first time at the age of eight.   He went about a quarter of a mile down the Rhine river with stiff legs straight out in front of him before he hit turbulence and let go.  It was the last run of the evening but on the ride to his home in France, Patrick was flying high inside. “My dad thought I had some skills and he pushed me at first,” Patrick recalled. “I didn’t enjoy it in the beginning. I was a shy kid. My dad was completely crazy about it. He loves barefooting.”

A few weeks later Patrick and his dad, Hilmar, drove eight hours to compete in the 1984 Nationals in Germany.  It was Patrick’s first tournament and back then, skiers could kick off a ski.  The moment Patrick kicked off the ski he immediately faceplanted.  He repeated it a second time and crashed again.  Patrick came off the water crying.  He went up to his dad and complained. “The driver didn’t give me the speed I asked for.  I want to go back–and compete and beat them!” he said.

In 1986, Patrick connected with National Champion, Thorsten Robbe, who taught him basic tricks and wakes.   Patrick took his first clinic with German skiers and annual trips to Florida to train with Robert Teurezbacher.  When he first arrived in Florida, Patrick couldn’t do much more than the basics and one foots.  After two weeks with Teurezbacher, Patrick could slalom on one foot and learned to barefoot backwards.

“When I was a kid, my father was the one who pushed me. He motivated me when I needed motivation,” said Patrick.  “When I was 15, my dad decided to stop sponsoring me, telling me I wasn’t training hard enough,” said Patrick. “So I had to think, did I want this?  That’s when I knew I was passionate about barefooting and I started doing it for myself.”   Patrick picked up a job doing roof and tile work to save for another trip to Florida to train with Teurezbacher.  As soon as he arrived he handed over a “Christmas Wish List” of all the tricks and skills he wanted to accomplish. Whenever Patrick struggled on the water or endured crash after crash, Robert would tell him, “Boy, the situation with you is desperate…don’t worry, we can fix you.”

“Robert was a complete coach. He taught me the proper kind of thinking and mental focus.  He influences every skier he works with. He’s very good at fine-tuning and noticing details,” said Patrick.

Patrick skied in several tournaments but didn’t rank high enough to place until the 1988 Junior Europeans when he came in third Overall.  The following year, he placed first in Slalom and Overall in the Junior division and received two three-inch-high trophies made of real silver.   By this time, Patrick was deep into the sport with his father as his coach. As soon as school finished for the day the two of them took off at 4:30 for a one-hour drive to the lake. The lake Patrick skied on was a public lake that was incredibly busy on the weekends. Patrick was not a morning person (still isn’t!) and he dreaded waking up early to get his runs in.  Hilmar had to tear the covers off and occasionally resorted to throwing a wet towel to rouse Patrick out of bed. Patrick skied no matter what the conditions were.   “Bad weather, bad water, or pain–there was no excuse because it was such a long drive to the lake. My father’s coaching was a ‘do or die method’,” Patrick chuckled. One day, he busted his eardrum during a back-to-front turn. His father simply gave him a wad of chewing gum to stick in his ear and sent him back out on the water. “It’s a real awful feeling to burst your eardrum–it happens when you fall sideways on the ear and hear a pop–all of a sudden in the water, everything is upside down you get afraid to drown. You don’t know where you are and  feel out of balance.  It doesn’t hurt so much right away–it just hurts a little–but at night when  back home lying in bed  the pain starts and becomes really ugly,” said Patrick.

The year Patrick turned 18 was a stellar year for him.  He graduated from high school, got his driver’s license, and won the Europeans.  He put off college/university for a year and went to work for his father.  At this point, Patrick began coaching himself.  “My dad would still coach me, but he wasn’t my main coach anymore,” Patrick said. “I was doing my own thing.  My dad was tough on me as a kid and I accepted it, but as an adult, it didn’t work–I didn’t accept it then.”

During the following summer, Patrick worked as a show skier in Germany and won the Europeans once again.  In the fall, he started classes at Colmar which had a special program for athletes. The nearest lake was two and half hours away and every weekend, Patrick would  get in as much water time as he could. During the week, he enjoyed other sports–swimming, football, and inline skating.

In 1996, Patrick began the process of switching from the German to the French team. “I skied my first tournament for France in 1998  for the World Championship in Sydney, Australia,” Patrick recalled.  “By this time, I already had previous contact with the team so my integration with the team was smooth. My skiing was at the peak–I was enjoying the fruits of all my years on the water and training sessions.”

It was at this tournament that Patrick started to realize he could aim for the Overall.  When he arrived at the Worlds, Patrick had no expectations as he had taken a year off from competing due to the team transition.  He spent a week tweaking his runs and getting some practice in. During the preliminary round, Patrick was one of the last skiers in the group.  By the time it was his turn, the crowds had dispersed and the rain was pouring down. The judges gave him the option of waiting for the rain to cease, but Patrick opted to go ahead.  “no one else was there–no spectators, no team, no announcers– and I skied the top score for the preliminary. So the next day, when all the skiers came to see the scores, they saw my name at the top and they were shocked.  ‘The top guy did 6,500 points –who the hell is this???’ they said.  It was a cool moment,” Patrick laughed. “I was a newcomer on the French team–no one was expecting me.  We always had an Australian or an American in the top and it was nice to have a French skier in the top.”  The score turned out to be a personal best and an European record.

At the start of the final round of tricks, Patrick was in the lead.  Ron Scarpa skied a personal best and returned to the dock all pumped up, pouring on the pressure. Patrick fought to calm his nerves and managed to go out and ski another personal best. At first, the unofficial results showed Patrick to be in first place, but the judges took off 100 points for what appeared to be “butting out” on one trick.  Patrick was stunned because he knew he completed the trick without the penalty.  At the awards that night, the trick runs were shown on a big screen and one by one skiers noted the discrepancy in the scoring.  One of the judges came up to apologize to Patrick.  “I knew in my heart I was really close and in my heart I can say I got it,” Patrick said.   “I don’t need the medal for that–I know for myself that I made it. Over the years I’ve discovered the medals don’t matter–they don’t mean anything if you’re  satisfied what you did for yourself–that’s the most important thing.”

Around this time, the competition in the barefoot community began to heat up, with David Small working his way up the European ranks and Keith St. Onge hot on the tail of Scarpa.  At the 2000 Worlds, the aim was for the top spot.  Patrick went into the tournament with the expectation and the goal of winning the Overall.  His friends and family were sitting in the stands, adding more pressure to the event. A fall during the slalom event took Patrick out of the running so he concentrated on winning tricks instead.  During the semi-finals for tricks, Patrick took a  hard fall and his eardrum burst.  The tournament was over for him. Scarpa walked away with another Overall win.

“I entered that tournament with the goal to win  instead of skiing the best I can–it was the wrong goal,” Patrick explained. “I was disappointed, but I wasn’t bitter. Somtimes you need to experience defeat to become better and do better the next time.  Sometimes you have to step in a pile of shit to know what it feels like–so the next time you won’t do it again.”

Patrick returned home determined to put the mistakes behind him and start over again with a renewed attitude.  At the next Europeans, he took the Gold in Slalom, Tricks and Overall and walked away with his first World Trick Record.  Small came in third and Patrick could feel the heat from his rapid progress up the ranks. “David was like a shooting star–his career just took off like a rocket,” Patrick said. “It took me a while to realize he would be a leader–I probably didn’t want to accept it at first.”

By this point, Patrick was on the water nearly every day, hauling the boat 45 minutes each way.  His dad took up coaching him again, although sometimes it was a tough dance  to put aside the father/son relationship on the water.  During one training session, Patrick approached the jump only to realize too late that the jump was moving.   He launched off the jump at a crooked angle and landed in the water sideways, painfully wrenching his knee.  “I remember floating in the water with my knee hurting like hell, feeling as if it were on fire. I thought the season was over for me.”

A doctor concluded the same thing: Patrick’s season was over.  He had a possible torn ligament which would require surgery.  A second opinion with an orthopedic specialist gave him hope–he could build up the muscles around the knee with cycling and walking for six weeks and let the knee heal.  Just two weeks before the Europeans, Patrick taped up his knee, slapped on a knee brace, and returned to practice.  At the tournament, he tricked a personal best and a pending World Record.  Just ten minutes later, Keith St. Onge set another record in tricks. Patrick walked off with his sixth European Overall title.

During his preparation for the 2002 Worlds, Patrick injured his knee once again during a practice turn.  The doctor prescribed complete rest and no skiing until the Worlds. It was a crazy gamble for Patrick–was it even worth it to compete with a mangled knee?

This was the Worlds where the competition was intense. Patrick skied well and captured a gold in Tricks.  David Small exploded on the water and captured the Overall.  Keith St. Onge took second.  Patrick and Ron Scarpa were battling for third and Patrick edged him out with a jump.    “I think Keith was desperate as I was when David won.  We felt like, ‘Damn, we deserve it!’ David came out of nowhere and got it–that was a bit tough to swallow.  We both skied the worlds a long time–me since 1988 and Keith since 1996–and neither of us won.   That’s the game, and there’s  nothing you can do about it–the best always wins.”

A few weeks later after a jump tournament, Keith and Patrick were drowning their sorrows with a few drinks and reflecting on their losses.  Keith poured out his disappointment in missing his dream of a World Overall title. Patrick reached into his wallet and took out a card.  John Pennay, another skier, gave the card to Patrick during a challenging time. It was a card with a quote by William Arthur Ward:

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

The game began changing for Patrick in 2003. His daughter Olivia was born and Patrick was smitten with his little girl. He still managed to get a lot of skiing time in as the weather in France was unusually warm that year. He captured his seventh Overall at the Europeans.  Life was pretty good with work, skiing, and family, but Patrick was finding it hard to juggle it all with a new house thrown in.  His skiing went downhill the following year.  He didn’t medal at the Europeans. The Worlds proved to be anti-climatic for him. “Somehow,   it’s a  blank tournament for me, maybe because not much happened.  David won again, Keith came in second again, and for my skiing, well… I didn’t ski up to my expectations.  I skied average and that’s not good enough for any ranking.  I felt old during that tournament.  I wasn’t ambitious enough.”

Patrick bounced back at the World Games in Germany, taking first in Slalom and third Overall and a gold in Tricks at the Europeans. Slowly and surely, without him really being aware of it, his passion for the sport began to wane as he shifted his focus to work and family.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to schedule the training time required to keep up with the competitors who were pushing the scores higher and higher in the tournaments.  Even with the stiff competition at the 2006 Europeans, Patrick grabbed a gold in Slalom and Tricks.  “That surprised everyone, me included, because everyone was skiing so strong there. I didn’t think I would take the gold in that tournament,” Patrick said.

The stress of work, family, and skiing took a toll on Patrick until one day, after an intense argument with his dad about trying to fit it all in, Patrick decided to quit. He was not going to ski in the 2006 Worlds. When the team captain heard the news, he urged Patrick not to give up. “You’ve had a good start to the season, do it for the team,” he said.  It took several phone calls to convince Patrick to ski once again.

“I went to the tournament and I decided not to put any pressure on my shoulders–no stress. I decided to do well for the team and not focus on myself.  I skied that tournament  with a really relaxed  attitude.  I enjoyed the whole tournament, being there with the team and  hanging out with the other competitors. I enjoyed the skiing and I was happy with my results (third Overall)– it was really recreational tournament for me, almost like a vacation.”

Keith won the 2006 Worlds, culminating his life-long dream to make it to the top.  He thanked Patrick for the inspirational quote card. (The card has since passed through three more people. You can read the story of this card in Gliding  Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water).

Patrick, A.J. Porreca, and Keith with the quote card

After the Worlds, Patrick found himself burned out and took a complete break from tournaments and skied occasionally for fun. At the end of 2007, he decided to enter a small local  tournament just for fun and ended up scoring close to his personal best in all three events.  “That break fed my passion back,” Patrick said. “I shifted my focus to becoming a Senior skier.  I came to realize it was not about the medals, it was about being with friends and living the fun moments.”

In December of 2008, Patrick drove to the south of France to spend a week at a training camp to get ready for the Nationals and 2009 Worlds in New Zealand. During his second run, he caught a heel and severely injured his knee again.  He missed the Worlds and focused on healing his knee for the World Games.  When he returned to his training, something wasn’t quite right. Patrick found himself dragging on the water and not having his usual strength. Once again, he injured his knee landing a jump. “I knew I was done for the year,” Patrick said. “I was starting a new job which took a lot of energy, so I decided to take a leave from barefooting and ski just for fun.”

As the year passed on, Patrick started to notice his strength was waning despite working harder to keep in shape with mountain biking and judo.  Occasionally he would lose  his grip on a glass or drop things.  His speech began to slur at times and his mom urged him to see a doctor.  Patrick was referred to a neuro specialist and underwent a battery of tests.  The diagnosis was a grim one: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The average life expectancy was two to five years.  (You can read more here: Patrick Wehner, Living with ALS).

At first, life took a horrible turn for Patrick. “Your barefooting days are over,” the doctors told him.

But barefoot water skiers are a different breed.  You have to be mentally and physically tough to rise to the top in this sport.  So Patrick applied the same mental toughness to ALS and started doing some research. At first, the information depressed him and pulled him down. He shifted his focus to health and wellness instead. He quickly learned that the quality of his life depended on his outlook and his daily choices. He decided he was going to choose health and happiness.  He quit his job, got married, and took up sailing.

Even though he could no longer compete, Patrick wasn’t going to give up his passion so easily.   He took off for Texas to watch the 2012 Worlds and support his friends.  At the end of the tournament, the World Barefoot Center surprised him with the Patrick Wehner Sportsmanship Award, a biennial award given to an up and coming Junior skier.  Patrick’s nephew was the first recipient.  At the end of 2012, he took a trip out to the World Barefoot Center and took a run with Keith.

Patrick and Keith

“One of the things I learned from Patrick is that the little things matter,” said Keith. “At the World Championships, Patrick was watching the fireworks and really enjoying them.  After it was over, he turned to me with a big smile and said, ‘I love fireworks!’  Just the way he said it–he was deep into enjoying the little things that most people take for granted.  So that’s what I try to do nowadays. Patrick helped me see how the little things in life can be so awesome, so monumental. I try to enjoy the little things more often and not work so hard all the time.  Focus on what really matters. I’ll walk down the dock stop and look at the flowers or notice the little lizard on the dock.   I’m always fast-paced, in-a-hurry mode.  We don’t stop and give thanks for the little things in life that make up this world and realize the other things that matter.”

Life has slowed down for Patrick, but in a blessed way.  He and Helene’ occasionally travel but they cherish their time at home. “Since my ALS diagnosis, I appreciate that I stayed close to my roots and that my family and friends are near,” Patrick said. “Even when I travel, I like to come back home and enjoy the forests, hills, and trails around me. Before my diagnosis, I never noticed those things.  Now I put on my walking shoes and go for a long walk.  If you open your eyes, you will find it’s a great place–there’s no place better than the place you are. Sometimes the beauty is right next to you but you miss it because you’re looking for something further away.

“It’s all about perspective,” Patrick continued. “When you want something so much you fight for it, then you get it–and then after the first satisfaction, then you become frustrated and think, okay, what’s next?    If you focus on what you have and enjoy it, and take things step by step, minute after minute,  then you’ll notice after a while that you don’t have to be eager to get it– somehow life will throw that at you.  You have to learn to appreciate what you have right now.”

By: Karen Putz

Patrick, Helene, and Olivia

Georgia Groen, Featured Footer

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Georgia Groen was four-years-old when she set her feet on the water for the first time but she doesn’t remember it. “I got into barefooting because my whole family barefoots,” Georgia said.  When she says her whole family is into the sport, she means it. Ten members of the Groen family all walk on water and they’re quite passionate about the sport. So passionate that they built their own barefooting lake  in New Zealand.

Georgia was eight when she entered her first barefoot tournament.  “I was really excited standing on the dock and just being in a tournament situation,” Georgia recalled. “I think I took 130 points in tricks, and I don’t remember about slalom.”  Georgia remembers what came next: learning to barefoot backwards.  “It was very hard to learn–backwards is very different than forwards–it was hard for me for a while.

As hard as it was to learn to ski backwards, it was even more challenging to learn to jump. “Jumping was the hardest for me. I learned to jump when I was twelve,” said Georgia. “I was really nervous and scared, because my mom had a jump accident.”  Back in 2006, Georgia’s mom, Brenda, crashed head-first into the jump ramp. She spent three months in the hospital and has fully recovered.  Georgia has since learned to approach her jumps with complete confidence and a strong mind.  “If you’re scared, that will control you,” she said. “So forget about being scared and just concentrate. That will keep in you in control.”

During the summer, Georgia is out on the water nearly every day with  her three brothers, Ryan, Mitchell and Tyler.  During the winter months, they pull out the dry suits and continue to ski until they take a month or two off when the cold sets in.  The kids’ dad, Fred, is their coach and driver. “Without my family, I couldn’t be where I am today,” said Georgia.

Before heading out to the 2012 U.S. Nationals and the Worlds, Georgia spent some time at the World Barefoot Center learning how to bring her skills to the next level. Georgia’s cousin, Ben Groen, is one of the instructors at the center.  “Swampy taught me to jump better, I learned all my turns and he taught me some mental control stuff –like to stay humble and to keep trying to better myself,” said Georgia.  Her goal at the 2012 Worlds was to become the Overall Junior Champion and bring home at least one medal in the Open Division.  “The most challenging tournament was this year’s world championship,” she said.  “I competed in two divisions Girls and Womens–and  made it to all the Junior finals and two of the three for the Open.  I took all the gold for the Junior Division and that was awesome.  It was challenging for the Womens Division– I had to fight for that gold in tricks.  I couldn’t believe I did  it until it happened!”

Georgia has some big plans for the future. She wants to become a World Champion in the Womens Division and set a new Junior record in slalom.  “Right now I have one and half more to break it,” she said.  “My best is 14. 4, 16.1 is the record. A  few more to go,  but I will practice. For sure, that’s my goal.”

Georgia in the news:

One News, New Zealand

Otaki Barefooters Land Top Spots

New Girls World Trick Record

Sportswoman of the Year

Emerging Sportswoman Award

The Kapiti Observer: Sportswoman Award

Georgia Smashes Skiing Records

By: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Don Simon

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

72-year-old Don Simon

Who is Don Simon?

“He’s no one, just a barefooter who took too many falls and is now brain dead,” quips the 72-year-old retired pubic relations executive.

Back in 1976, Don watched a friend kick off a ski and take off barefooting.  The sport looked like fun, so he decided to try it. “Back then, we were wearing Speedos and a waist belt,” said Don. “You either kicked off a ski or learned off a Hydroslide.”

Don chose the kneeboard and soon found himself gliding along behind the boat. With the introduction of the boom and lessons from Bill Peterson’s ski school, Don’s skills began to advance in the sport.  He went to Ron Scarpa’s school to learn how to barefoot backwards by stepping off a ski on the boom.  The next time he went to Scarpa’s, they had invented what Don calls the “human tower” start. “The rope was attached to the pylon and a guy would kneel on the floor with the rope over his shoulder.  As the skier planed, the guy would pull on the rope. When the skier went to plant, the guy would stand up with the rope on his shoulder pulling the skier up backwards. It wasn’t fun, but it worked.”

Don’s first introduction to barefoot competition came at a tournament in Ohio in the late ’80’s.  A skier slammed into the jump, cutting his forehead and leaving a smear of blood on the jump. “It was a cool tournament though–the local bakery brought in doughnuts in the shape of a foot,” he recalled. “The tournament looked like fun, even though my first impression was blood on the jump!”

Undeterred, Don decided to dive into tournament skiing. He doesn’t remember much about his first tournament, but he does remember his first Nationals in Florida. In the days before computers, skiers had to send in their scores with their registration.  When Don arrived, they didn’t have a record of his previous tournaments. The one competitor in his division happened to be a judge, so he took Don to a nearby lake and observed him so he could qualify to ski in the Nationals.  “That one competitor cared enough to help build the sport,” said Don.

Learning the back deep was the hardest challenge for Don. It took a lot of falls and persistence.   The day he finally made it up off the boom–he had already been in the water for an hour and half at that point. “That’s why they pay 200 points,” he said.  “With barefooting, you never look back, always forward.  If you need a pat on the back and someone saying ‘good job,’ then give it up.  Learn the trick and move on to the next thing.”

“Don is a perfect example of a 72-year-old man going on 40,” said Keith St. Onge.  “He is full of energy and brings others up to his level of fun every day!”

Every now and then, Don has the knack of giving himself two black eyes, the result of smacking into his fists during a faceplant. He just shrugs it off as one of the quirks of the sport.  He has banged himself up so much the doctors at the local hospital featured him in a recent article after knee surgery for a torn ACL. But guess what, Don didn’t tear his ACL while barefooting; he crashed his Harley and ended up with 150 stitches on top of the surgery.

“Hey, bones can heal, chicks dig scars, pain is temporary and glory is forever,” he laughed. “If you follow that, you can become a barefooter.”

Paul Stokes from Madison, Wisconsin recalled a lot of fun moments with Don both on and off the water.  “My favorite memory is from the tournaments in Bush, Louisiana.  We would always take a big group down to Bourbon Street in New Orleans the night before and Don was the life of the party with his quick wit. He kept us entertained all night.  All I can say is the next morning no one wanted to show up for their events.”

A burning passion for the sport and the camaraderie keep Don in the sport year after year.  He is on the water 120 to 140 days a year, sometimes skiing 5 to 7 miles in a day. He is focusing on training the younger generation and expanding the sport.  “The community is like a family, they accept you. I can call up someone anywhere and say ‘I need a pull’ and they show up.  We’re not a family, we’re a cult,” he grinned.

And Don has some advice for the rest of us:

“Live each day to the fullest. We are only passing through, so enjoy it!”

Written by: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Dave Miller

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Back in 1996, Dave Miller was a die-hard slalom skier. His journey into barefooting began when a friend showed up with a barefoot wetsuit. Neither of them had ever seen one before. It took Dave a good three months of beating himself up on the water before he was able to successfully glide on his feet behind a slalom boat.

Shortly after that, Dave took a job with GEICO as a corporate pilot and his route took him on regular trips to Florida. “That’s when I was introduced to Ron Scarpa,” said Dave. “I came to his ski school and advanced so quickly in one day–I knew it was my calling.” Dave spent his formative years skiing with Ron on a regular basis. When he was starting out, Dave knew his limitations and was careful to progress with tricks to avoid injuries. “I knew if I injured myself, I couldn’t do my regular job,” he explained. “I tried to stay with tricks where I wouldn’t injure myself.”

But for Dave, advancing to higher level tricks proved to be easy for him. He found that he had a natural talent for surface turns, on one foot and two. In fact, the most challenging experience for him was learning the back deep behind the boat. When he began competing in tournaments, he did a front to back to enable him to do backward tricks and back wakes. As he advanced with skills, he added jumping to the mix. It was not something he was comfortable with but he had to include it to compete at the higher level. “I was scared I would get hurt,” Dave recalled. “And if I get hurt and can’t fly an airplane, then I can’t do my job. I didn’t want that. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t be a pilot.”

Six years after he first put his feet on the water, Dave competed in the Senior Barefoot Worlds in 2003 where he slalomed 14.2 and tricked 2950. This was by far his favorite tournament, and an exciting time for him to ski in the worlds. The following spring, Dave racked up his first major injury. He was in the middle of completing a reverse front-to-front 360 when his leg twisted and hyper-extended. He felt a pop and a sensation similar to a rubberband snapping. He knew right then and there something was wrong. “I detached my hamstring,” said Dave. “The hamstring basically exploded where it attaches to the bone.”

Dave continued to compete in a tournament in June 2004 at the urging of friends, but he found himself holding back on the water. He wasn’t able to ski at the level he was used to. Suddenly, his interest in competition fell flat. He had hit a wall. “I realized I was done,” said Dave. “I wanted to quit at that time. I realized I was not immortal.” Dave took the injury as a sign and put competition on hold. He continued to barefoot for fun and take lessons at Scarpa’s. Every year, he volunteered at tournaments working as a Senior Driver. When 2006 rolled around, life became busy and Dave turned away from the tournament scene completely.

At the Eastern Regionals in 2010, Dave felt the old, familiar itch to compete. He missed his friends from the barefoot community. He missed competing. But he didn’t share it publicly. Only his wife knew of his plans. Very quietly, he continued to work on his skills at Scarpa’s and dreamed of a comeback before facing his 50th birthday. He had plans to ski in the Eastern Regionals and the Nationals, but on Memorial Day 2011, he hurt his shoulder in the middle of a one-foot turn. Just like that, his dreams for a comeback were put on hold while he recovered from shoulder surgery.

In December, 2011, Dave got back on the water, this time at the World Barefoot Center. “I’ve known Keith and David for many years and I knew the way they taught barefooting,” said Dave. “With Ron Scarpa Water Sports going out of business, the World Barefoot Center was the best place in the world to go to improve my skills, to learn what I wanted to learn and to be pushed the way I wanted to be pushed.” Dave wanted to learn how to compete at the same level as the top skiers do.

Dave had to learn to kick his skiing up another notch on the water. There were some days he faced hurdles, and other days he soared. He recently had two frustrating days in a row as he went back to the fundamentals on his basic back to front. “All of my basic foundations have to be very strong but that’s my weakest right now,” Dave explained. “I’m working to do it the way they want it. I understand their system and I’ve seen it work with the team– they’ve all improved by following the program. I have to get this turn correct so I can move forward with my plan.”  He recently completed his first reverse back-to-front on one foot.

Dave is aiming big and wants to qualify to ski in the Worlds yet again.  He’d like to surpass his personal best, 3850 in tricks and 15.6 in slalom.  But there will be no more jumping in his future– he says he’s done with that.  “I love barefooting and being out on the boat. I love the feel my feet gliding on the water,” said Dave.  “I love being able to do something so unique and special that not everybody can do.   And the friendships, the people I’ve met, are the nicest in the world.”

Written by: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Chris McWatters

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

When Chris McWatters is not at his job as a nurse in a local Florida hospital, you can find him on the water over at the World Barefoot Center, learning something new.  And when the day is done, he heads back home, to the home of a legend.   The McWatters are staying at Banana George’s house, renting it for a few months.  Chris is the quintessential snowbird– the other half of the year he works as a nurse in a hospital near Detroit, Michigan.

Chris’ first dip into the life of water sports began with a slalom ski and a slalom course.  Then he was introduced to barefooting from a friend of a friend.  “I got up on my first try, off the boom,” said Chris. “It was like a poison in my body, I was hooked!”  Chris spent the summer learning to barefoot off a kneeboard and at the end of the season, he completed a deep water start.

In the summer of 2004, a bad fall left him with a twisted ankle, but he continued to learn new tricks on his own, especially tumble turns. “I watched videos of Keith St. Onge and Mike Seipel barefooting and taught myself from the videos,” said Chris.  “I wanted to barefoot like Keith!”  A friend introduced him to backward barefooting and Chris beat himself up on the water trying the start over and over.  He studied continued to study Keith’s videos and tried to put that into practice on the water.    “I never had shoes– thought it was for sissies,” Chris laughed.  “I kept trying.  I could do  a backward start on the boom in 2005 or 2006 can’t remember. But backward long line, I couldn’t do it.”  Chris got in touch with Seipel, who advised him to get a tower and shoes, but Chris stubbornly wanted to learn the start on his feet.  So he grabbed a driver one day and for two and half hours, he worked on it until he finally stood up backwards behind the boat.  He ended up bruised, but triumphant at his accomplishment.

The front and back flyers were also on Chris’ “self-taught” list.  He ended up taking a trip to the hospital after doing a front flyer from a houseboat.  His left ankle tangled in a loop on the landing and the next day, he could barely walk.  Fortunately, there was only some muscle damage and it healed.  To this day, Chris still has the rope indention around his ankle as a reminder of that trick.  But that didn’t deter Chris from continuing to teach himself on his own.  After watching Keith spin around on the water, Chris hurled himself around as well.  “Front to back, back to front– I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread,” said Chris. “I taught myself on my feet, 42 mph, and I would fall and fall.”

Chris’ introduction to barefoot competition came from a chance encounter on the water.  He was out with some friends on a boat rigged with a boom on each side of the boat and five of them footin away.  During a pause, another boat drove by and guy joined them.  They continued to barefoot together, enjoying the day.  “Why don’t you compete,” the guy asked Chris.  “I’m just a backyard barefooter,” he said.

The “guy” turned out to be Marc Donahue, legendary for Figure 8 tournaments.  Chris agreed to give competition a try so he headed up to Wisconsin for the 2009 Frostbite Figure 8.  It was 35 degrees out, the water was 41 degrees and there was a 25 mph wind kicking up. To top it off, Chris had never stepped off a ski before.  He put his foot on the water twice, faceplanted twice, and just like that, his first tournament was over.

But did he give up? Nope.

At the Mad City tournament, Chris ended up with the same result: double faceplants and out.  But he walked away with St. Onge’s blue hat as a raffle prize.  At the St. Louis tournament, Chris advanced a round only because the other guy fell faster than him at the step off.  “I spent so much money going to tournaments only to faceplant and double out each time,” Chris laughed.

But he still didn’t give up.

Chris went up to Crandon, Wisconsin, home of the famed Footstock tournament.  While waiting in line to get a drink at Duck’s bar, his idol turned around to greet him. “Hi, I’m Keith St. Onge.”

Chris couldn’t hear him in the din and despite the countless KSO videos he had reviewed, he didn’t recognize the guy.  “I’m Keith St. Onge,” he said again. He pointed to Chris’ head.”And you’re wearing my hat!”   Chris was thunderstruck, but he soon discovered that the two-time champ was laid back and down to earth.  “He’s just one of us,” said Chris.

Dave Mueller, the Footstock announcer, quickly made mincemeat out of Chris the moment he doubled-out of the tournament.  Chris soon earned a nickname: “Two Step.”  “They made fun of me, ‘two steps’ and I’m out of the tournament–  but one guy from St. Louis gave me some encouragement afterwards and introduced me to barefoot races,” said Chris.

Chris continued to teach himself tricks on the water but still hadn’t had a formal barefoot lesson at that point.  He persisted with Figure 8 tournaments and ended up contributing his time to organizing tournaments. “I set up rules to involve more people,” said Chris.  The idea was a “no barefooter on the beach” motto.   If you can’t step off, you can deep start.  If you need a wheelchair, we’ll start with that.

“You can ski against KSO and Smallz in these tournaments–  that’s the coolest thing,” he continued.  “You can duct tape your feet.  We are friendly, and we include the backyard barefooter.”

Things began to turn for Chris.  He actually learned how to become a Figure 8 barefooter and stay up on the water.  At the WBC Figure 8 final, Chris was helping to wrap things up when Keith asked him if he was interested in learning more and becoming a sponsored skier.  Chris jumped at the chance to ski and learn from his idol. “What I liked about Chris was not just his passion for barefoot waterskiing which is obvious, but I liked his enthusiasm to help build the sport and put tournaments together,” said Keith. “He put in a lot of time that not many people see. I commend him for all the work he has put into the sport and respect him for that.”

In November, 2011, Chris received his first formal lesson on the water with A.J. Porreca and Ben Groen. “Honestly, I was nervous and scared,” said Chris. “I’m a shag barefooter– everything I had learned was from watching videos.” The WBC staff ended up getting a little surprise:  toe holds, tumbles, tumble to ones, backward one foots– the bumbling Figure 8 guy actually had some good skills on the water despite never having a lesson.

He had some jump experience before arriving at the WBC, but only off the boom.  Before long, Small’z had him jumping inverted.

Despite his lack of three-event tournament experience, Chris’ goals are big and bold: to qualify for the Nationals and the Worlds.     “I need to score 2,400 points, but I tricked only 400 or 700 when they timed me.  I did bad and I looked awful,” said Chris.  He was really discouraged when he climbed in the boat.  Ben shared a story about his own early experience at the Worlds; he scored just 200 points and came in dead last out of 38 skiers.  Encouraged, Chris continued to hammer away at the tricks.

“My proudest moment on the water was when I got my first back one foot toe hold in front of David and Swampy,”  said Chris.  “And by the way, I love Swampy to death– he’s like a grandfather. I  make sure Swampy is happy!”  To build up consistency, Smallz ran him up and down the lake, to the tune of 31 back toe holds.

Even with both feet raw and bruised after the tough runs, Chris loves every minute of it. “What I like most about barefooting is that you feel free–there’s nothing on your feet,” said Chris.  “It’s awesome to stand on your feet at 40+ mph–  it’s a moment that is pure as you can get–  standing there, looking around thinking,  ‘Wow, you’re standing on water on two feet!!!'”

Written by: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Ted Baber

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Ted Baber at World Barefoot Center

In the winter of 2010, 16-year-old Ted Baber flew in from Bristol, England to take barefoot lessons from David Small at the World Barefoot Center during a family trip to Florida. The teen had competed in slalom events for water skiing back home, but he had never barefooted. It was a cold day in February, but Ted quickly warmed up with excitement the moment he placed his feet on the water.

“Dave is British and the top skier in the United Kingdom,” said Ted. “I met him before at a few tournaments, so I was excited to learn to barefoot with him.”

Ted spent five and half days at the WBC and picked up a variety of skills. “I learned to barefoot backwards on shoe skis,” said Ted.  “I was so excited! I didn’t get it right away at first, it took me three days.”  Ted enjoyed the whole experience of learning this new sport and all the terminology that came with it. He asked his parents for another opportunity to head to the World Barefoot Center to learn more.

backwards, ted baber, world barefoot center

In April, 2010 Ted returned to the WBC for ten days of instruction.  The ten days stretched into twenty, as travel back home was restricted by the ash cloud that drifted from Iceland.  The extra days on the water paid off.  “I learned the back toe hold,  line step position,  tumbles to one,  two foot slalom and  long line backwards on feet,” said Ted.  “I even went over the jump on shoes and landed my first jump!”  Before he left, he signed on as a sponsored skier.  “I like the challenge of barefooting– I’m passionate about it.”

As soon as he arrived home, Ted continued to practice what he learned.  Ted competed in the British Nationals as his first tournament. “I was nervous, but I tricked like 617 and I slalomed a 3.4.”  He went on to compete in the Europeans and improved his scores.  He was selected for the UK Junior team and spent hours on the water with his father driving the boat, practicing his slalom runs over a huge wake. Ted flew to Germany and competed in the 2010 Worlds.  This was an amazing accomplishment for a kid who learned to barefoot in less than a year.

“Tricks are my favorite event,” said Ted.  “My favorite trick is the front-to-back.  It was hard to learn and I took a lot of hard falls.  But I don’t get frustrated–  I keep trying. I was relived and happy when I finally did it.”

Ted Baber, world barefoot center

Ted threw his shoulder out in the spring of 2011, tearing a ligament and pinching a nerve, but he didn’t let it stop him on the water.  He’s working on honing his surface turns and one foot turns.

“Ted is a great kid with huge talent and the right attitude to succeed in the sport of barefooting,” said David Small. “He has come a very long way in the last few years, on and off the water, and it’s a pleasure to watch him grow. I look forward to seeing how far the WBC team can take him!”

No matter  how bad it gets it’s fun to be out on the water,” said Ted. “A bad day on the water is better than a good day in school.”   Lucky for Ted, the teen has graduated and is done with school. More time for him to play on the water!

Here’s a video with a few clips of Ted on the water:

CHRISTMAS FOOTING from WorldBarefootCenter on Vimeo.

Featured Footers: Ariana and Kailey Koehler

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The first time that Ariana and Kailey saw their parents barefoot water ski on Lake Como in Wisconsin, they wanted to try it. The girls were five years old and had started water skiing when they were toddlers. Sharing a yellow wetsuit, they each took a turn sitting in the swing and putting their feet in the water. “We had fun, we didn’t want to stop,” said Kailey. ”Mom and Dad had to drag us out of the water.”

Their parents, Bob and Kami, are no strangers to water sports. The two of them had family summer homes just four houses away from each other. Bob came over one day to ask Kami to ski in a pyramid. They began skiing together in ski shows and double-dated. Bob taught Kami to barefoot. “Bobby taught me off the boom,” said Kami. “I didn’t have a wetsuit– just a ski vest and shorts. But I was always up for a new challenge, and besides, he was cute!” The two of them broke up with their dates, and 23 years ago, they got married.

At a Wisconsin Think Tank meeting, they learned about barefoot competition for the first time. Ariana dipped her toes into competition at the Wisconsin State tournament in 2006. “I scored a total of 70 points,” said Ariana. “I stood up, did two waves and then freaked out. I was really nervous and didn’t know how it all worked. No one else had driven for me besides my dad.”

The girls didn’t know anyone at first, but the friendliness and encouragement of the other footers spurred them on. The following year, Kailey entered her first tournament. The girls began to split their time between show skiing and barefooting. As youngsters, they were both a bit shy, but show skiing taught them to become more outgoing. They learned to climb pyramids up to four high and dance in front of crowds.

“Barefooting is different, it’s not like the average sport, it’s unique and it’s a challenge,” said Ariana. “Not may people know about barefooting. I wish more people knew about the sport–I would like to see it grow. When I say I’m a barefoot water skier not many people know what it is.”

“I love barefooting,” Kailey said. “It’s always fun meeting people from all over the place. I love the challenge. Not everyone can barefoot water ski–it’s an exciting sport. Also, we are together as a family and I love that. It’s not like one member does soccer and another plays hockey… we are all together.”

For any teenager, getting up early in the morning is always a challenge, but for the girls, they didn’t have much choice. The only way to capture the glass calm water on their busy lake was to be the first ones out on the water. Their skills progressed quickly and they became sponsored skiers with the World Barefoot Center. “The girls always have a positive attitude,” said Keith St. Onge. “They have a strong work ethic and a real love for water sports. I enjoy working with them on the water.” For Kailey, skiing down in Florida was another challenge– she had to deal with a fear of alligators. “Alligators scare me, and even today, I’m still scared,” she said. “I have to let go of my fear and keep going. I’ve seen a few and they’re not big, but enough to scare me. I try to ignore it.”

The girls’ parents are amazed at how far the two have come in the sport of barefooting. Both are working on surface turns and jumps. “Jumping is my favorite event,” said Ariana. ” There’s only a few girls in the world who jump inverted. The first time I jumped, I was definitely nervous, but I was more curious… wondering how it worked to slide on something hard. The first time I jumped inverted… it was definitely different. You have to work with the jump– you have to trust that you can lay out, then come down forward with your feet underneath you.”

As a mom, Kami has had to squelch her own nerves while watching the girls tackle the more advanced skills. Before each event, Kami plants a kiss on each girl’s forehead. “God bless you, be safe and have fun,” she tells each of them. In just five years, their skills on the water brought them to the Barefoot Worlds in New Zealand and Germany. “I never imagined that teaching them to water ski at two would lead to this today–they’ve brought us around the world and we have friends in different countries,” said Kami.

“When I made the world team and went to Germany, I just wanted to win one gold medal,” said Kailey. “Getting the team gold medal, that was a huge accomplishment. When I was little, I used to say, ‘I want a gold medal.’ When I won, it was cool– then I realized… medals aren’t everything.”

The Koehlers Perform in Aquanuts Ski Show

The Northwest Herald

Worlds 2010 Article

Lake Geneva News

By: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Adin Daneker

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Adin Daneker loves to sleep.  The guy is known for sleeping everywhere– in the boat, on the dock, or at the dinner table.  In fact, at the World Barefoot Center, the joke is… Adin only stays awake long enough to barefoot.

“Hey, I’m a fireman!” Adin grins.  “I don’t have a consistent sleep schedule, so I sleep when I can.”

All ribbing aside, the guy really does eat, breathe and sleep barefooting.  He fully admits to the addiction.  He started water skiing at the age of  four and got  his first taste of barefooting as a teen.  He wasn’t quite bitten with the barefooting bug, instead, he dove into water ski competitions during high school.  After he graduated, he took off for college and then started working as a fireman.

The barefoot bug finally bit him when he watched some guys rocket off a ramp at the Worlds on Lake Silverado in 1996.  Adin began barefooting with Doug Jordan, Chris Sternagel and Sherry Blackmore.  “The early years were painful,” Adin recalls.  “I remember being dragged through the water all day while learning to barefoot backwards. But as I progressed, I fell in love with barefooting– and I picked up the skills quickly.”

When Adin says he picked it up quickly, he isn’t kidding.  The following year, he entered  his first tournament and accomplished his first backward deep water start behind the boat.  He met Keith St. Onge for the first time and was blown away by his skills on the water. “I had just started, and Keith treated me the same as everyone else,” said Adin.  “I was really impressed with his skiing.”

During the spring, Adin went to Florida for two weeks and trained with Lane Bowers.  He focused on improving his jumping skills.  That summer, he entered his first Regionals.  “I tore my MCL during a traditional jump,” said Adin.  “My foot went through the water when I landed.  I was pulled sideways.”   The injury didn’t sidetrack him, as soon as healed up, he was back into the sport.  Adin went down to Florida again, this time he trained with Keith one week and Lane the other week, working on inverted jumping.  The training paid off– just two years after he started, Adin broke into the Open in tricks– and skied in his first Nationals.  His high-paying tricks were three flips on the water and two surface turns.

“I was standing on the dock with the big boys– Keith, Jon Kretchman, Ryan Boyd, Ron Scarpa and Lane Bowers,” Adin recalled. “Jon looked over at me– I was so excited as he was one of my idols.   He asked Lane, ‘Who is this guy?'”  Adin gave them a tournament to remember– one of his worse.  He fell on both trick runs and missed all of his jumps.  He managed to salvage his slalom run with a decent score.

Adin didn’t give up.  He continued to rack up tournament experience and skied in his first Worlds in 2006 as an independent skier.  He had just closed on a new house a month before the Worlds and invited Keith, Ryan, Eugene Sam and Heinrich Sam to train with him for three weeks.  “We had a blast– we were hanging out,  skiing all day, and then out to dinner.  Those guys helped me shop for furniture–  I had nothing in the house– just my bed  I think Ryan slept on the floor the whole time!”  The training paid off for Adin, he landed in the semi-finals and placed eighth.  At the 2010 Worlds in Germany, Adin took the silver Overall in the Senior division.  He was also selected as the Male Athlete of the Year for 2010.

Today, Adin is a sponsored athlete at the World Barefoot Center.  “I go to the WBC for a month and whatever Swampy tells me to do, I do it.  I work on… not crying,” Adin chuckles.  “Swampy is my psychologist on the water.  He knows when to push you and when to encourage you.  What I learned from Swampy is that skiing is 90 percent mental.”

Indeed, two of the toughest challenges for Adin are to maintain consistency on the water and to manage the mind games that go on in his head.  “During training, I can manage the head games, but in a tournament, it is hard. I have confidence issues–I get frustrated and then I start to doubt myself.  One thing that Swampy has taught me is– to go out and have fun.  One bad set doesn’t mean that you’re a bad skier.”  The most difficult trick for Adin has been the one foot turns.  “It’s a scary trick– I try not to think of the end result if it’s bad–it’s a trick that is easy to catch a toe and go down.”

Keith has been skiing with Adin for many years and the two have become good friends.  “Adin has a tremendous amount of commitment for someone who has a full time job– and that has always impressed me,” says Keith.  “He puts in more effort than most, and it reflects his passion for the sport.”

Adin’s daily mantra is a simple one: live each day to the fullest.  He plans to keep on skiing, training and improving.  “Once you get to a certain level, it’s all too easy to back off and fall off that level,” says Adin.  “This reminds me of a saying that I saw on a t-shirt in the movie, American Flyers:  ‘Once you’ve got  it up, keep it up.’

“And I’m talking about the skiing,” he grins.

Featured Footer: Carol Jackson

Friday, August 26th, 2011

In the summer of 2001, Carol Jackson watched as her husband learned to barefoot with Billy Nichols, the skier who holds the Guinness record for the longest barefoot run (two hours and 42 minutes).  After Billy left, Carol went out on the boom and put her feet in the water.  She’s been barefooting ever since.  At the 2011 Barefoot Nationals at the Barefoot Ski Ranch, Carol set a pending World Record for tricks and slalom in the Women’s 5 division.

The 55-year-old Ocklawaha, Florida resident received her first formal training from Lane Bowers.  “My husband and I wanted to learn more.  I wanted to learn how to do it right, and not the ‘crash and burn’ style,” said Carol.   “Lane taught me how to get up on the short line properly, and then he taught me how to get up backwards.  It was easy for me to learn because I often watched others on the water.”  Carol began to learn surface turns on shoes– a trick that she found relatively easy to do because of her previous experience with trick skiing.

When David Small set up his ski school in Claremont, Carol began to train with him since it was just a half hour from where she worked.  “I heard good things about David and he taught me a lot of new things,” said Carol. “Plus, he has a good sense of humor!”  Carol began to advance with her skills, working on one-foot wake crossings, tumbles to one and refining her surface turns.

Carol didn’t enter her first tournament until 2008. “I was a weekend skier for a long time,” Carol explained. “I looked up the tournament scores on the internet and figured that I could score the same scores in my age division. I contacted Rachel George and Kay Wiser and a few others and they encouraged me to try it.”   Carol received a warm welcome at her first tournament and quickly found herself enjoying the people she met.  Her first tournament experience was filled with some unexpected surprises.

“It was much more difficult than I expected,” said Carol.  “I wish someone would have told me the reality about the boats–the boats are loaded with five people, so the wake is huge.  I didn’t know how to call a start, and  it didn’t feel like barefooting behind my boat.  It was much harder than I ever thought it would be.”  Carol doesn’t remember much about her trick runs– just that she couldn’t complete a tumble turn and her score was low.  “I didn’t give up– because I really liked the people there.  Despite my bad experience, I had fun. I decided to try it a few more times.”  After a few more tournaments that summer, Carol skied in her first Nationals and scored a personal best.  She was firmly hooked on competition at that point.

Of all of the tricks she’s learned, Carol found the back toe hold to be the most challenging one of all.  After crashing over and over, she gave up on the trick for a while.  Earlier this summer, she took it up again and accomplished it while working with David.  During a session with Swampy, Carol explained her difficulty with the trick and how she kept falling on one side, over and over.  Swampy explained the proper position, gave her a few positioning tips and Carol soon found herself doing the trick.  “Swampy is very good at explaining position on the water and where you need to be– it was like a light bulb– I just got it.”

The next trick that Carol wants to master is the line-step in her backward run.  “I don’t try any new tricks unless I receive instruction,” said Carol.  “I don’t want to crash or learn the wrong way.  It’s easier to learn the right way than to fix the wrong way.  Plus, my job is very physical and I can’t afford to get hurt.”

As a “mature” skier, Carol encourages others to take up the sport, but to get in the best physical shape possible before getting out on the water.  “I used to break in horses for a living, and that’s harder than barefooting,” Carol chuckled.  None of her friends have adopted the same love for barefooting, but they still think Carol’s talent on the water is a cool thing.  Only one of Carol’s friends was brave enough to try sitting in the swing off the boom, and she was sore for days afterwards.

“Barefooting taught me to work hard in a sport, but to have fun as well,” said Carol.  ” Ten years ago, I used to watch Billy Nichols on the water doing all those tricks and I thought, ‘I’d never be able to do that!’  But here I am today–I’ve learned that I’m more capable than I thought.”

Written by: Karen Putz

Featured Footer: Chandler Cargile

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Fourteen-year-old Chandler Cargile entered his first barefoot tournament in May, 2011 at Port St. Lucie in Florida as one of the World Barefoot Center’s sponsored skiers.  Chandler scored 900 points in tricks and a 4.8 in slalom, which is completely amazing for a first tournament.  What’s even more amazing to know is that Chandler first learned to barefoot in July, 2010.

“Barefooting was my dad’s idea,” said Chandler.  “He took me and my brother to the lake near our home and we both tried it.  It took me two tries on the boom and I was on my feet.  My brother did a deep water start, but couldn’t stand up.  We went back a few more times and then we both did the deep water start.  I was really excited!  We went back the next day and did it again.”

Not long after learning to barefoot, Chandler wanted to learn some tricks so his father suggested going to a ski school.  Chandler’s choice was easy;  he wanted to go to the World Barefoot Center and meet the two world champions.  He signed up for a half-day lesson and found himself in the boat with Keith St. Onge.   “I had seen a lot of videos of Keith and read about him in magazines, so I was so excited to meet him,” said Chandler.  “I started to learn the back deep with shoes, tumble turns and one foots with the KSO shoes.  It was a fun trip with Keith!”

On his second trip to the WBC, Chandler went back to ski in Figure 8 tournament and signed up for another lesson.  This time, he met his other idol, David Small.  By the end of the lesson, both David and Keith recognized that Chandler had a deep thirst to learn– both on and off the water. “Chandler is one of the most intense, driven, young kid that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Keith. “He jumped into the sport hard –doing everything– in practice, in skiing, and in working out.  That kid has the drive and the heart– he just loves skiing.”

Chandler went on to become a sponsored skier at the World Barefoot Center.  He never did ski in the Figure 8 tournament that weekend.  “I chickened out,” Chandler laughed.  “I had never competed before and I was a bit scared to try.”

Ben Groen instructs Chandler for his first jump

Swampy took over as a coach and Chandler worked with Ben Groen and A.J. Porreca.  They quickly groomed him as a three-event skier and introduced him to jumping.  His first jump was off the boom.  “On my first jump, I butted the ramp as I went over,” Chandler recalled.  “I moved to the handle, the two-foot, the five-foot, the ten-foot and then behind the boat– all in one morning!”

Chandler found himself battling some nerves when he faced his first jump on the long line behind the boat.  “I thought to myself, it’s not that different from the ten-foot, so I just did the same thing,” said Chandler.  “I landed my first jump–not great–  not clean– but I landed it!”

At his first barefoot tournament, the same nerves crept up as he readied himself in the water, but as soon as the boat pulled forward, Chandler relaxed.   “I felt like I was skiing with Swampy at the school, I wasn’t nervous anymore.  It didn’t feel like a tournament–it felt like I was at the World  Barefoot Center.”  Four tournaments later, Chandler has racked up 1780 in tricks, 8.1 in slalom and 8.6  in jumping.

At the Southern Regionals, Chandler’s goal was to land his jumps so that he could compete in jumping at the Nationals.  After missing his first jump, the pressure was on to land the next two– and he did.  “I was so excited about that– ready to go to the Nationals!” said Chandler.  But little did he know, there was trouble brewing.  The day before, during a practice run, Chandler worked with A.J. to practice his toe up start.  He felt some pain in his hip while planting his foot.  It wasn’t a sharp pain, but it was enough to make him reach for the Advil.  He powered through the pain during the jumping on Saturday and then faced it again during his slalom runs on Sunday.  “I did a back deep on the slalom and when I got up, I felt a lot of pain in one leg, but I kept going,” said Chandler.  “When I went for my second run, it felt worse.  As I told the driver my speed and got ready, I was thinking to myself, ‘this is my last run.’  As I started to plant, I could feel my leg wobble a bit and then I felt a pop.”  Chandler had to be helped into the boat and on land– he couldn’t put any weight on his leg.  A trip to the hospital revealed a fractured hip.  “I was pretty upset– I was ready to go to the Nationals and really looking forward to it.”

Knowing Chandler, he’ll be back on the water in no time.  And when the next Figure 8 tournament comes up, you can bet he won’t be sitting on the sidelines.

Written by:  Karen Putz