Life at the World Barefoot Center

What is it like to hang at the World Barefoot Center and receive instruction from the two World Champions?   Here’s a glimpse of life on water with Keith St. Onge and David Small.   (Written by Karen Putz.)

Joann O’Connor and I arrive at the World Barefoot Center early in the morning and meet up with Judy Myers.  Bill Nelson and Gene Burrish arrive.   In the kitchen, the number-one-ranked female, Ashleigh Stebbeings is digging into a bowl of cereal.  World Barefoot Center coach, Swampy, is at the desk in the living room doing some paperwork.  Ben Groen, from New Zealand, is gassing up the boats and getting them ready for the day.

The five of us head out to the dock with Keith St. Onge and we do some stretching exercises to limber up for the day.   We figure out the order of who goes first– I volunteer to go last.  I’m not quite awake yet in the morning.   We toss the gear in the boat and climb in.  Judy Myers puts her head on my shoulder– she’s not quite awake yet either.  Joann looks like she’s full of energy and raring to go.  Gene and Bill look the same way.

It’s not hard to wake up when you see the first skier break out of the water and glide up.  There’s something about barefoot water skiing that fires up that energy inside.  Everyone has a personal trick to work on, and Keith patiently goes through every step.   He’s been teaching since he turned pro at the age of eighteen, but he doesn’t skimp on instruction– he genuinely wants everyone to do their best.  Occasionally, he pulls one of us back in the boat to demonstrate step-by-step what he wants us to improve on.   Every time someone reaches a personal goal or accomplishes a skill they’re working on, the boat explodes in applause.  Keith will toot the horn to cement the victory.  In my case (I am deaf) the participants have learned to wave their hands in the air and sign “awesome.”

Judy and Joann work on their  back toe holds.  Bill works on his back-to-front.  Gene does some front toe-holds.   I battle the elusive backward deep water start.  All througout the morning sets, Keith tweaks our stance on the water and advises us how to improve each trick.  Shoes go on.  Shoes come off.  The long line goes out.  The short line gets rolled up even shorter.  The Headzone helmet goes on, Keith dons the microphone and gives out step-by-step instructions. Slalom, tumble turns, back deeps, toe holds and turns get churned out in two sets each.   We finally head back to the World Barefoot Center for lunch.  We’ve earned it.

In an afternoon with David Small, there are four of us–Joann, Judy, myself and Jean Marie from France.  David’s dogs, Baloo and Charlie join us in the boat.  Jean Marie goes first–he uncovers the tarp from the jump and runs water over it.  Jean Marie has been a solid jumper for years, but today, he’s determined to conquer the inverted style.   David goes over some tips while Jean Marie cinches the helmet.  His first jumps are tentative, but he slowly builds up confidence and begins to invert– and land them.   Applause goes out each time he lands a jump.  I marvel at Small’z’s driving skills as he navigates the boat alongside the ramp, keeping his eye on Jean Marie at the same time.

Charlie and Baloo hop into my lap and proceed to nap.   I watch as Judy and Joann tear up the water with their footin’ skills.  It’s easy to forget that they’re 62 and 68 years old– they look like 21-year-olds on the water.   Joann skis with a fused ankle, but she doesn’t let it stop her from learning new stuff.   Indeed, these two gals push me along, convincing me each time that I can do what they do.  They remind me to be patient each time frustration builds up and they cheer every time I accomplish something new.   David tells me to count to five after I plant.  The elusive back deep water start finally becomes history as I stand up on the water and ride it out.   The throttle goes back at the end of my run and I sink in the water.  The gang in the boat is signing “awesome” as they idle toward me.  It has taken just seven days of instruction with Keith and David to make it happen.  Not bad for a 45-year-old, I say. 

Jean Marie flies through the air on his second set and we rotate on the water yet again before finally calling it a day.  David powers the boat back to the pier as we peel off the wetsuits.  We’ve been on the water through four sets, and we’re tired, but content.   Keith, however, isn’t ready to call it a day.  He is going to head out and do a few jump sets himself.   I stay in the boat while Ben, Ashleigh and Swampy join in.   Ben heads out to the jump.   This is the first time that Keith has jumped in five months, and the first time that I’ve seen him jump– so I’m fascinated as I watch him close up.   The two-time World Champion still gets his jumps tweaked by Swampy between each jump.   There’s always something to change, something to improve on. 

We finally call it a day and it’s time for dinner.  By the time my head crashes on the pillow a few hours later, I’m sore in a few places, but feeling great.  There’s nothing like skimming on the water on bare feet.  At the World Barefoot Center, they make magic happen on water.  I can’t wait to experience it again.

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One Response to “Life at the World Barefoot Center”

  1. Joann says:

    Great article karen. I think you captured the essence of our wonderful week of footen. I plan to go back soon!

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