Keith St. Onge or David Small, Who Is The Better Barefooter?

The one question I get a lot behind the scenes, one-on-one from interested barefooting fans at the World Barefoot Center or at tournaments is this:

Who is actually the better footer, David Small or Keith St. Onge?

I am the guy who coaches and trains both of these great warriors. I get to see them both ski on a consistant basis during training and at tournaments, so I figured that I would tackle this question head on and give you my honest opinion and breakdown of these two great footers.

The first thing that we will look at is accomplishments:

World Championships Gold medals:

Small’z – 11
KSO – 11

World Championships Overall:

Small’z – 4
KSO – 2

World Games:

Small’z – 1
KSO – 2

As you will see in the comparison below, in the last three out of four world championships, the wins could have gone either way:

In Texas 2012, KSO fell on a back to back 360 and all he needed was that and two 180’s to win that one.

In the 2010 Germany tournament KSO won it from the original score sheets coming out of the boat and it took a chief judge intervention and some video to take his toe turn away and to give Small’z the victory.

Only in New Zealand in 2009 when Small’z fell in tricks and did not make the cut in tricks– was it not close.

In Washington 2006, where KSO won that one, he got a needed re-ride on one of his jumps and had some help when the last jumper zeroed out to allow him to sneek one by Small’z.

All of these tournaments were “that close”–and they all could have gone either way.

World Records

Small’z has held the jumping record for years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, KSO has held the slalom record for years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The trick record is currently held by Small’z and is the one that has been going back and forth between these two skiers and they have both set many pending records in the last couple of years that were not approved. I see this record being broken again by one or both of these guys in the next couple of years.

Worlds standing’s list:

Once again these two have been rotating number 1 and 2 for the last several years. Last year Small’z was slightly ahead for number 1 and KSO has overtaken Smallz for number 1 on this years list by just a few overall points. I expect them to continue to rotate around for that number 1 position.

Breakdown by event:

Jumping:

Small’z is the King of jumping, the best that the sport has ever seen. In recent years, KSO has made some big improvements and has closed the gap up in jumping enough to be one of the top jumpers in the world, but not enough to challenge the King. Smallz is so strong and consistent at this event and has such an understanding of what he’s doing that it’s just not fair for the rest of the competitors–they often don’t stand a chance against him.

Slalom:

KSO is King of slalom, the best in the sport. This is Small’z weak event and even though he has made some improvements, he is not in the position to challenge the King. KSO is so strong and consistent for both back and front wake slalom that any score below 20 is a major disappointment for him.

Tricks:

Tricks is the most difficult event and requires the most time and work, and this is where tournaments are normally won or loss between these two great competitors. They both do all the same tricks and have the same trick runs. KSO’s best score is 13,300 and Small’z best is 13,150. They are the only two that have ever tricked over 12,000 points in the history of the sport and they can both do it today with no problem at all. AJ Porreca has tricked 12,000 points on the money twice, but not over.

Let’s break down the tricks:

Multiple turns:
Smallz has better habits and his turns are cleaner with better technique than KSO, He does a great job of trailing his head and shoulders and staying square. KSO is a little more efficient then Smallz and can usually get a little more in time even though he has a few bad habits that sometimes gets him into trouble.KSO is working hard to clean up some of his bad habits and Smallz is working on trying to become a little more efficient.

Toe Turns:
Here it is KSO who is more compact and solid, while Small’z depends more on his natural talent. Small’z does a lot of upweighting and is loose during his toe turns; and because of that, he also loses precious time. KSO has to learn how to square up in the back position and Small’z is working hard on trying to turn a little more compact– with less body movement.

Line Turns:
Here, they are both rock solid and the best in the business.

So who is the better skier? I am not one to shy away from these questions and I will give you an honest answer. After watching these two great warriors train and compete with each other for the last few years, I will break it down like this: betting on one of these guys over the other is like walking into the casino and laying your chips on either red or black. If you had 100 head to head tournaments between these two, they would both be right around 50 wins each.

Keith St. Onge and David Small are two of the best ever barefoot water skiers– and I will continue to appreciate their greatness. And for my health, I will call it a draw!!

By Swampy Bouchard

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One Response to “Keith St. Onge or David Small, Who Is The Better Barefooter?”

  1. Cameron Smith says:

    hey Swampy its Cam from spring. I read the article and think that your right these guys are even. I also wanted to thank you and the guys at the WBC. You guys really supported me and helped me. I hope to see you all again real soon. Thank you

    P.S. Thanks for pushing me. I really needed it. See ya soon
    Cam

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