Featured Footers: Ariana and Kailey Koehler

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

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