Featured Footer: Don Simon

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


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One Response to “Featured Footer: Don Simon”

  1. don simon says:

    Thanks to all for comments. People who have helped me enjoy the sport from open pros to recreational skiiers or just good friends are too many to mention, but thanks to all who have put their feet on the water with me. In hopes we all enjoy many more plus toast many more good times after skiing as well!!

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