Featured Footer: Ben Groen

When Ben Groen was four years old, his father, Robbie, strapped him to a kneeboard and towed him around the lake. The tot soon progressed to skis and when he was eight, his father decided it was time for his son to ditch the skis and learn to barefoot. “My father, my uncle and my grandfather are all barefooters, so naturally, I had to try the sport,” said Ben. “I sat on the swing, off the boom and I was terrified. I didn’t know what would happen. My dad was firing off instructions, ‘stand there– bend your knees!’ Once I put my feet on the water, I was hooked! Just standing there– skiing with your feet on the water– is an awesome feeling.”

Ben skied in his first tournament in 1999 at the same age. “As a rookie, you’re allowed to ski off the boom or the short line,” Ben explained. “All of my cousins competed in the Juniors and I wanted to be like them.”

Learning new tricks proved to be challenging for Ben, but he was surrounded by an entire family who could instruct him. “The first time that I did a toe hold, it was cool. My grandfather was in the boat. I held it for a few seconds–then went to grab the handle—and I fell!”

Getting up backwards took a lot of practice. Ben remembers falling over and over before he finally stood up for a few seconds. “No one in the boat snapped any good pictures, so they made me get out there and do it again,” he laughed. “My aunt made a t-shirt with that picture, so I wore it to school and showed off.”

Ben became serious about the sport as a teen and began to train intensely, with his father guiding him. “Not many people can barefoot– it’s a minority sport and it’s a difficult sport. Not many are willing to push to get to that high level of competition. You have to be very driven inside to accomplish it.”

In September of 2009, Ben arrived at the World Barefoot Center for one week of training with Swampy. At that time, he couldn’t do the basic surface turns and he wanted to learn them. “I was nervous at the time,” Ben explained. “I would fall down, take some aspirin, then go out there and try again. I watched A.J. (Porreca) doing his turns. If he could do it, I wanted to be able to do it.”

It wasn’t long, and Ben was spinning on the water without falling. A week turned into two, and before he knew it, he was spending six weeks at the World Barefoot Center. Ben returned in June of 2010 and planned to stay seven weeks. Swampy called him into the pro shop to sit down and talk. “Your skiing has progressed a lot,” he said. “We’d like you to stay for a year and work at the ski school.” Ben talked it over with his family and moved to Florida in November of that year. He and A.J. quickly became friends and spent a lot of time on the water together, with Swampy coaching the two of them. “It’s impossible to be bored with Swampy,” Ben laughed. “Every day, A.J. and I go out and there’s always something to learn, or something to fix. We are always pushing each other on the water. We’ve become brothers– we talk every day. We ski together, train together, and share the emotional highs and lows.”

Speaking of the lows, Ben went through a period of four days where he regressed with his skills. “I skied a lot that week– pushing myself–then I regressed every time. I skied lousy– I was depressed, and one afternoon, I jumped bad.”

Ben was still in his wetsuit when he climbed out of the boat and sulked off the dock. Swampy empathized with him. “You’re not feeling good–let’s get back in the boat,” he said. Ben went back on the water and at first, his skiing was sloppy again. “With Swampy, that’s what he does best; he cleaned up my mind and then he cleaned me up on the water,” said Ben. “He knows how to read people and he gets in your mind. He takes care of people when they’re down emotionally.” Ben continued to push himself on the water and several runs later, he was skiing with improved skill.

One of the most challenging tournaments that Ben faced was at the 2010 Worlds in Germany. He didn’t score well in the first round. As he was walking down the dock to get ready for his second round, he stepped on a screw that was sticking out and cut his foot. “My first trick was a back-to-back 360. I did a back to front and the water hit that cut and it was painful! All I could think of in the middle of that trick was– my dad paid for this, he’s watching me!” Ben pressed on and finished his round, scoring 6150 for his trick run. “I super glued the cut after that!”

It is hard for Ben to be away from his family, but he Skypes with them often. “My dad is my best friend– he pushed me and motivated me. When I came to America, I realized how much my dad did for me and how much I missed hanging out with him. I miss skiing with him. Back home, we would ski together at the end of the day and then have a beer in the hot tub.”

The biggest lesson that barefoot water skiing has taught Ben is to never give up, a saying that is so cliché, but very true. “Never give up on yourself,” said Ben. “Believe in yourself—it’s mind over matter. If you think about it, and push yourself, you can go out and do it. That’s the same for anything in life.”

WBC SKIER PROFILE – BEN GROEN from WorldBarefootCenter on Vimeo.

Ben Groen in Australian Water Ski Magazine

Written by: Karen Putz

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4 Responses to “Featured Footer: Ben Groen”

  1. Ryan Groen says:

    “All of my cousins competed in the Juniors and I wanted to be like them.”

    Love this quote

  2. Bart' says:

    Nice BLOG WBC, Great write up!
    You failed to mention that he is great guy too!
    Thank heavens he didn’t end up with the conceited nature that his Uncle Freddy got LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-) Jokes….Freddy jokes!!

  3. […] had days like that,” said Ben Groen, a skier from New Zealand.  ”One day I can do my turns– and then I’ll go out there and I can’t do […]

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