Legends Collide, Keith St. Onge and Glen Plake

The following article appeared in The Waterskier, March/April 2011 written by Karen Putz, photos by Lynn Novakofski:

On the slopes, it’s not hard to spot Glen Plake barreling down a mountainside. You cannot help but notice his hotdogging skills on skis, which earned him a place in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame last year. What’s more, you can’t miss the 15-inch high, colorful Mohawk that manages to stay intact through flips and turns.

Plake is known for his career on the slopes, but for fun, he enjoys barefoot water skiing. In October 2011, Plake and his wife, Kimberly spent a few days at the World Barefoot Center barefoot water skiing with Keith St. Onge. St. Onge met Plake 10 years ago at the Surf & Water Ski Expo in Orlando, Florida. “Glen was my idol when I was growing up,” says St. Onge, a native of New Hampshire. “When the barefoot season was over, I spent my winters skiing on the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I love snowbaroding and skiing, so I followed Glen’s career through the years with great interest.”

St. Onge saw Glen and Kimberly walking around at the Expo and decided to approach them. “I didn’t want to intrude, so I kept it short: ‘Hi, my name is Keith; you were a childhood idol of mine and I really wanted to meet you. Have a great day’ and then I walked off.”

As St. Onge walked away, Plake called him back over. “Wait, what’s your last name?”

“St. Onge.”

“Hey, I know you!” Plake said. “You’re a barefoot water skier–I’ve seen your name in the water ski magazines!”

“I was really blown away at the idea that one of my idols actually knew who I was,” St. Onge recalls.

Plake was first introduced to barefooting at the age of seven when he watched a guy barefooting on the lake that he grew up on. “I taught myself to barefoot when I was twelve by stepping off a ski behind the boat,” Plake says. “At first, I wasn’t very successful, but I kept trying. Then one day–perhaps it was a fluke–I stepped off and went a short distance. Another day, I hung on and I went for a long distance. I said to myself, ‘Ok, that worked!’ And I kept on barefooting.”

Plake geared up in his first wetsuit at the age of 18 and began experimenting with deep water starts and tumble turns. When he was 20, he purchased a boat with a boom. “The boom made things easier and I began experimenting with more advanced tricks,” Plake says. “But once my snow ski career took off, I didn’t barefoot as much. When I married Kimberly, I taught her to barefoot and I started learning more new tricks.”

Plake is no stranger to competitive water skiing–he has competed in three-event slalom and water ski racing events. He has some solid barefooting skills with tumble turns, backward and toe holds. He’s currently working on adding surface turns to his list of tricks. “The thing about barefooting with Keith, when you work toward a trick or a goal, he breaks it down into steps and drills,” Plake says. “When it is time to do it, to execute a trick, if you prepare and take the steps along the way, then you should be able to execute on the first try. That’s the difference between having a great teacher who is knowledgeable and teaching yourself.”

“Glen barefoot water skis just like he snow skis– in a totally relaxed mode,” St. Onge says. “He skis with a huge smile on his face and you can see he just loves every minute of what he does. That’s how it should be–fun first!”

While studying Plake on the water, St. Onge could see that his lack of formal instruction revealed some maneuvers that Glen struggled with. It was time to re-introduce the basics and start over again from scratch. “I had to take Glen out of his comfort zone and he, like most people who have skied for years, do not like going back to the basics,” St. Onge says. “Even though it was against the Glen Plake grain, he knew that’s what it would take to better his skills. I actually felt like I was tearing him down, which killed me, but his skills on the water improved.”

“It was fun learning new skills from Keith,” Plake says. “All these years, I was self taught. I never had any formal barefoot instruction, so I didn’t do it right. My snow skiing is based on a strong foundation and that foundation lets me do things on the water, but my technique had some flaws. It was nice to have Keith teach me a better position and clean up my flaws. Barefooting is a very rewarding sport. A lot of other sports take a long time to see success or results, but with barefooting it is easy to have success because there’s so many different things you can do on the water.”

It’s safe to say that if Keith St. Onge needs to clean up his form on the slopes, Glen Plake will be the guy for the job.

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