How Keith St. Onge Started Barefooting

I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire on December 31, 1977.  ” “You were a tax write off for your parents!”  most people would comment and I would jokingly agree. At the age of eight, my family moved three hours north to Berlin because my father took a job transfer.  Little did I know, it would change my life forever.  My grandfather on my mother’s side (Don Bouchard) owned a small cabin with his two brothers.  My sister Kendra and I looked forward to going to the cabin every weekend during our short summer.

Everyone in our large, extended family water skied and we were often on the water.  My second cousin, Gary “Swampy” Bouchard organized a small water ski show club with several family members and friends.  They put on one show per year.

Aunt Shirley and Uncle Clem brought me out in their small fishing boat and taught me how to water ski.  It took several tries before the 35-horsepower boat pulled me out of the water. Luckily, my Aunt Shirley caught the memory as I stood up on skis for the first time.

Keith St.Onge Water Skiing for the 1st time

At the time, barefoot water skiing was the next best thing in water sports.  Swampy fell in love with the sport and ordered  a book, “Barefooting,” written by John Gillette.  Swampy read through the pages, put on a thin wetsuit with a life jacket and began attempting this crazy sport.  He was the first on our lake to complete a deep water start in the water while riding on his buttocks.  After many sore muscles and bruises, Swampy decided to hire barefooting legend, Mike Seipel for one week.  Mike came to Lake Umbagog to teach everyone to barefoot ski and learn new tricks.    I stood in line waiting for his autograph, gazing at Mike in awe, as he was the World Barefoot Champion!

In line waiting for Mike Seipel's Autograph. L-R, Ryan Bouchard, Keith St.Onge & Tim Bouchard. Claude St.Onge in the background

When the fourth day rolled around, everyone was too sore and tired to complete day five.  “Are there other young kids that would like to attempt barefoot skiing?” Mike asked.  My cousins, Ryan, Tim and I were lead to the boat and away we went.  I was so nervous, I did not want to go first.  Ryan, being slightly older went first and barefoot skied for a short distance.  Timmy was two years younger than me, but had more experience as a skier so he went second.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Tim got up on his feet a few times as well. Then it was my turn. I listened closely to Mike’s instructions.  I got up on one ski, stuck my foot into the water and stepped off the ski. I barefooted away with ease.  “Wow, this is cool” I thought to myself.  I repeated it a second time and then a third.

From that day, I was hooked on the sport.

Mike, unfortunately, was not able to cure Swampy of his knock-kneed barefooting.

Rare photo of Swampy barefooting

By: Keith St. Onge

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4 Responses to “How Keith St. Onge Started Barefooting”

  1. jen taylor says:

    Great article! Found it on facebook.
    Love pic of Swampy. I that hair or hat on Swamp?! Just messin with the big teddy bear! Proud of you guys!
    Jen

  2. World Barefoot Center says:

    Glad you liked it Jenny! Jimmy always liked the history and story behind it. I had to hold back on posting all the good pictures because I wrote a book with Karen Putz and they’ll be going in it.

    Keith

  3. David Gentry says:

    Great story. A world champion barefooter Mike Seipel unknowingly teaches his eventual replacement how to barefoot. Who could have predicted this? My question…have you ever thought you may one day teach the kid who will one day surpass you? I love barefooting but rarely do it now since I live in waterless Southern California, although my memories of Tennessee TVA lakes are still vivid. Keith, enjoy your youth. The first generation barefooters are slowly retiring although Banana George should be an inspiration to us all never to quit or give up. I got sad seeing Ron Scarpa’s farewell page but eventually age and time takes even the best skiers down. When you are a former world champion, I wonder if the love of skiing alone can bring you the satisfaction of a simple two foot barefoot run…or will your brain always ask your body, no matter how old, to once again try that front to back or line over! For Banana George, I think he did take one barefoot fall too many in his old age…but it’s hard to know when to take that last run, when to the bottom of your soul, you’re a barefooter forever.

    David Gentry, MD
    Loma Linda, CA

    P.S. Dedicated to fond memories of skiing in 1983 with my cousin Bob Gentry on Lake Conway, Orlando and former US Team member Russ Connelly.

  4. World Barefoot Center says:

    David,

    We at the World Barefoot Center are teaching many young footers and I hope one day one of them will rise to the top and take over the barefoot world. It’s only a matter of time as we know an athlete has a shelf life for only so long. Ron Scarpa still barefoots for fun and exercise but Mike Seipel has hung it up for many years. I’m the last of the dinosaurs these days meaning the one last man standing that has competed against all the greats at one time. I just turned 35 and hope to compete at the top level in the next two world championships. It will be a difficult decision when my last run in competition will take place. Thanks for your comment and hope to see you on the water some day soon!

    Keith St.Onge

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