Five Days at the World Barefoot Center

It’s fall in East Tennessee, the leaves are turning, football and hunting are the biggest things happening–and that’s when the talk starts.

The drysuits come out of the closets, the mornings are foggy and the water is getting colder. FLORIDA. Somebody always brings it up. Who is in for a spring trip to Winter Haven and the World Barefoot Center? We settle on dates and make plane, car, room and school reservations.

As our season winds down, the leaves are off the trees, snow begins to fall and it seems as if that trip is the only thing that gets you through the winter. The anticipation of the sun and warm water, with nothing else to do for a week but ski–those thoughts will keep you up on a long winter night. Planning what you will work on, the tricks and new skills you will come away with. You fly into Orlando, but the rental car full of your best friends in the world never even slows down when you pass the Big Mouse House on Interstate Four. We are going to train at the World Center for barefoot skiing in Winter Haven Florida–we got no time for Mickey Mouse or Donald and Goofy.

This is serious training and we are completely focused. The first day, everyone usually skis well, we are fresh and eager to learn. Keith St. Onge is always glad to see us. The first half of the day, he catches up on all that has happened to us in the year since we were here last. We work on technique and new skills. After lunch we try our newly learned skills as if to impress KSO with our ability and to prove we were listening to the World Champion the first part of the day. We are sure he is impressed with our abilities, if not, at least our determination.

The second day, it’s a little harder to get out of bed. Muscles are a little sore, old injuries start to resurface, but after a warm up run, it’s back to learning new stuff. After lunch the second day, there is a little less enthusiasm getting back in the boat, there are some mild confrontations over who’s next and no more volunteers. End of the second day, dinner comes and we eat like we have never eaten before.

The morning of the third day is what separates barefooters from the rest of the world of water sports. Neck is so sore you have to roll out of bed, the water in the shower is not hot enough to ease the pain and soreness out of your muscles but it stings your sunburned skin. But still, there is no place in the world you would rather be. The third day is a day of breakthroughs or break downs. Feet are sore, and your body just doesn’t respond like you think it should and it’s still the best kind of sore you have ever been.

Day four you showcase a little more of your newly found skills the pride in you begins to build and it seems as if you have been doing this your whole life. You ignore the pain, because as David Small always says, it is only weakness leaving your body. The arguments over who has to ski next get a little longer and a little more heated, yet still these are the best days of your life.

By the fifth day you and your body are in a complete revolution against each other. Your spirit and mind are saying this is your last day of skiing go out there and go big or go home, lay it all on the line. Your body, on the other hand, says even Superman has his limits– I quit. This is probably the funnest day for Keith St. Onge– he always seems to enjoy watching us take a whole pass just to tumble up because our abs no longer work, we have given it our all.

Hugs and handshakes at the end of the last day, the Ibuprofen bottle rattles throughout the night. The plane ride home ends with the touchdown of landing gear in Knoxville, waking you up from sleeping with your mouth open for the last hour. Just for fun in baggage claim, I say “Tomorrow is Saturday, boat dock at 7:30?”. With a huge grin on my face, they are too sore to find the humor in it, but it makes me laugh.

Wade Masters

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