Posts Tagged ‘David Small’

Lizzie Rhea: Jumping Inverted for a Dog

Saturday, December 6th, 2014



One of my most exciting experiences was at the WBC during fall break this year. My Dad really wanted me to start trying to jump inverted, so he made a deal with me that if I jumped inverted on the 5 foot rope, he would get allergy shots, so that I could get a dog. I have always wanted a dog, but my Dad is really allergic to them. My Dad wanted video evidence of the jump. We shook on it and made the deal official.

I was not even close to jumping inverted, and Ben Groen did not think I could do it after that first day. I tried a million times. I thought I could not do it, and I gave up. I was so sad that I could not even eat supper that night. I could not stop thinking about it, and it was driving me nuts!

The next day, I went back to the WBC thinking that I would not even try it anymore. (I kept thinking that it was not very smart to hit a piece of fiberglass on my bare feet going 40 mph anyway!) However, David Small was determined that I could and would do it, and get my dog! I had to trust him because he is the best jumper in the world. I knew if I listened to him, I would have a chance. He is always good at motivating me and making me believe in myself. I decided to put my game face on and try again.

The first 3 jumps on the boom were awesome, so David let me move to the rope, which wasn’t so awesome! He kept telling me to raise early, but my body just wouldn’t do it for some reason! I was getting really frustrated because my set was almost over. I had to keep telling myself that I could do it.

David told me he would let me try the 5 foot rope if I promised to raise early. Of course I didn’t do it the first couple of times, but all of the sudden I did it on my 3rd attempt. Mrs. Karen Putz got a video of it and sent it to my Dad.

My Dad went to an allergy doctor and has just started taking weekly shots. It will take at least 6 more months, but I am going to get a chocolate toy poodle just like Charlie, David Small’s dog. I am going to name him Dave, in honor of David Small, because I am so thankful that he didn’t give up on me. I can’t wait until I get it!

Lizzie Rhea

Sam Meredith: Barefoot Clinic with David Small

Monday, November 17th, 2014

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I booked in for a ski clinic with David Small in September in sunny England. I was looking to improve my backwards position on both feet and one foot. Having spent 3 weeks in June at the World Barefoot Center, I did about 50% of my training skiing backwards and became quite confident on two feet by the end of my stay, but when it came to doing one foots, my technique and body position slipped making me very unstable.

I arrived at the lake in Cambridge and I was cold as soon as I stepped out the car. My first ski pass was a front pass working on my toe holds and tumble turns which were a little shakey and slow at first but managed to get them all in, in the short pass. Dave had me repeat this for another couple of passes then had me trying to complete as many toe holds in my pass he set me a target of 10 which I missed a few times by 1 or 2 then on my last run just about got.

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For my second set of the morning Dave had me skiing backwards. I did a few passes and he made some adjustments to my ski position to stop me skiing too clean on my feet and arching my shoulders more which felt a lot less sketchy. At the end of my set, he had me doing my one foots which I didn’t really struggle with too much. Before I started, he just said, “don’t dive away too much when you pick your foot up” which stuck in my head and made it a lot easier and managed a pass of some good steady one foots. For the end of my set in the morning I tried a couple of passes at a back toe hold which I managed to get my foot up and in the toe strap but as soon as I let go I fell off my standing foot by leaning the wrong way Dave said my leg was far too bent and I needed body position to be far more upright to make it easier.

After an hour long hot shower and lunch, I did my second half of the day just working my backwards one foots on shoe skis again trying to complete as many as I could in one pass my target was 20 which took my a couple of passes but then once I got the hand of transferring my weight onto the standing foot, I managed it. For my second set, I worked on back toe holds on shoe skis both basic and reverse, concentrating on standing more upright in the toe hold position which made me much more stable. By the end of the set, I managed to get two in the pass.

Sam Meredith

Will Rhea: Learning Barefoot Turns

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The first time I went to the World Barefoot Center I was very anxious to learn turns. Swampy quickly put me in my place and told me that there was a strict progression to turns. I had to learn all four toeholds behind the boat, as well as the line step position. By the end of last summer, I was ready to learn, but it was October, so I did not have much time. My goal for this summer is to learn turns.

The first turn I tried back in October was with David Small, and he wanted me to try it on my feet. I fell on my first back to front, but landed my second one. He told me to try a front to back next, and I landed my first one. I did not realize at the time that it would not be as easy as it seemed on those first few turns!

The more I tried, the more I fell. After you take some falls, it starts to get in your head, and it causes you to be more defensive – which means more falls! Before turns, most things in barefooting came easy to me. I have come to the point now, however, that if I want to learn something new, I am going to have to take a lot of hard falls.

I also have to work a lot harder to keep a positive attitude. I have realized that without a positive attitude and mental toughness, you cannot succeed in barefooting. I know that I will have to stay confident and positive and be willing to learn from my mistakes and keep trying. Barefooting is not easy!

Will Rhea

Keith St. Onge’s World Championship History

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

1996 World Championship:

At the age of 18 Keith skied in his first World Championship held in Fergus Falls, MN in 1996.  Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.  He qualified to ski in the second round in all three events (slalom, trick and jump) and took 7th Overall.

Keith St. Onge competing in his 1st World Championships in 1996

1998 World Championship:

In 1998 Keith moved to Florida for the winter and trained for the World Championship in Sydney, Australia.  He won his 1st gold medal in Slalom and took 3rd Overall.  Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2000 World Championship:

In 2000 the World Championships went back to Fergus Falls, MN.  Keith did not place in the top three in the individual events but took Silver Overall.  Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2002 World Championship:

In 2002 the Worlds were held in Wallsee, Austria.  Keith was favored to win the Overall.  He took Gold in Slalom, Silver in Tricks and Silver Overall.  He came up short to the young David Small from England that surprised everyone with his talented skiing.  Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2004 World Championship:

In 2004 the Worlds were in Mulwala, Australia.  Keith won the Bronze in the Slalom and Trick events.  Keith was favored to win the Overall title once again but came up short to David Small.  For the third time in a row Keith won the Silver in the Overall title.  Frustrated and depressed on coming up short for the Gold Overall medal St. Onge changed his life habits and set out on a quest to win an Overall Title before it was too late. Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2006 World Championship:

Keith trained harder than he ever had one year prior to this tournament and suffered a back injury that almost changed the outcome and stopped him from competing.  This event was held in Adna, Washington.  Favored to win once again the pressure was immense.  After the first round of the jump event Ketih’s back injury resurfaced.  The team masseuse (Charlene Portman) kept Keith’s back function-able to carry him through the tournament.  Keith went on to win the Gold in the Slalom event, Gold in the Trick event and his first Overall Title earning him the Gold.  This was by far Keith’s best performance setting World Records in every (3 rounds) round in the tricks event.   Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2008/2009 World Championship:

Coming off his first Overall Title in 2006 Keith teamed up with past coach Gary “Swampy” Bouchard to train for the Word Championship in Otaki, New Zealand.  With an incredible trick routine put together by coach Swampy, Keith was the first skier to trick over 12,000 points in history.  Keith won Gold in Slalom and Bronze in the trick finals.  Keith won his first medal (Silver) in the jump event and won the Overall Title for the second time.

Keith St. Onge winning his 2nd Overall World Title with L-R, Team Coach Lee Stone, KSO with close friends Adin Daneker & Ryan Boyd

2010 World Championship:

Brandenbourg, Germany was the location of the 2010 Worlds.  Keith and David Small merged their barefoot water ski schools to create the World Barefoot Center.  They trained with each other under the wing of Coach Swampy and began skiing as friends but still harsh competitors at the tournaments.  Keith took Gold in Slalom and Tricks while David Small took Gold in Jump and Overall.  It was a clean sweep for the new business partners and a big win for the business.  Keith was a member of the winning USA World Team that earned a Gold in the Team Overall.

2012 World Championship:

Waco, Texas hosted the 2012 World tournament and it was another show down.  Keith won the Gold in Slalom and Tricks while David Small won the Gold in Jump and Overall.   Keith also won the Silver medal in the Overall title.  Keith was a member of the USA World Team that earned a Silver in the Team Overall.  This was the first time in twenty six years team USA did not win the Gold Team Overall.

2014 World Championship:

The worlds were held in Mulwala, Australia for a second time.  David Small put a personal best slalom score of 19.8 on the board in the 1st round.  Keith skied next and also put a personal best score on the board of 21.1.  The next event was jumping while Keith put a 25.4m jump up his first round David Small came back with a 26.5m jump putting them dead even for the Overall going into the tricks event.  David put a near perfect run together matching his world record of 12,150 points.  Keith bobbled on his first trick while the rest of his run quickly disintegrated.  He fell early in his second pass and posted low score up.  It was to low to make the semi-final round, which meant he would no longer be able to fight for an Overall medal.  The only thing he could do was focus on winning the gold in slalom and try to medal in the jump event.  Jump is Keith’s weak event but he had put many training hours into this event over the past few years.

Keith won the slalom event and jumped a personal best distance of 26.6m/87.3ft to put the pressure on world jump record holder David Small.  David fell short on his last jump giving Keith his first World Championship Jump Title and 13th career World Championship Gold Medal.  David Small won the trick and overall while Keith won Slalom and Jump.  This meant a clean sweep for business partners David Small and Keith St. Onge as well as for the World Barefoot Center Ski School.

Winning this jump title made Keith St.Onge 1 of 4 men to have ever won all three events at a World Championship. Others being, Brett Wing, Mike Seipel & Ron Scarpa.

2014 Jump Finals: 1st Keith St. Onge, 2nd David Small, 3rd Ben Groen. A World Barefoot Center sweep

2016 World Championship:

The Blue Moo in Alma Center, Wisconsin will host the 2016 Worlds.

World Barefoot Center Featured on Talizma

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The World Barefoot Center crew is featured on Talizma, “Talent Worth Sharing”:

If You Love Water Sports Then This Video Will Thrill You to Core

More on WBC in the news:

WBC Featured in the News

Lizzie Rhea: Girls Can Jump!

Friday, April 11th, 2014

I have always tried very hard to do whatever my big brother does, and catching up with him has always been my goal, especially in barefooting. When he learned to jump last year, I wanted to learn too, but I was scared to ask. Then, when we were at the WBC in December, David Small told me that it was time for me to learn to jump.

I was very surprised and also nervous about it, but he was so encouraging. He started me off on the boom, then moved me to a 3 foot rope, and then a 5 foot rope. The next day he moved me to the 10 foot rope. After a few turns he said, “Are you ready to go behind the boat?” I said, “ I don’t know!” Then David said, “That was a rhetorical question! You are going behind the boat!” I was scared at first, but then I realized that if he told me I was ready, then there was nothing to be scared about. I actually landed my first two longline jumps and it felt awesome!

After I was done, my parents came and they were very surprised that I had jumped longline. My Mom asked David, “What made you decide to teach her to jump already?” David said, “She can do anything she wants to do!” I think that was one of the most inspiring things I have ever heard!

I just met a really nice lady in Australia named Deb Williams. She competed in junior girls barefooting in the 1970’s. She told me that when she wanted to jump, they would not let girls do it yet. She was actually told by an official that she could not jump because she was a girl. She got together with her friends, and pressured the officials to let girls jump. I think she told me that she was like the 4th girl ever to jump in a tournament. I thought that was so cool, and my Mom told me that I should be very thankful that they paved the way for girls to jump.

I am so glad that I got to meet Deb Williams, and hear about the history of girls jumping in barefooting (She even took the picture of me jumping during practice time). It makes me very thankful to have such an encouraging instructor like David Small, who says that I can do anything I want to do! It is also awesome to watch girls like Ashleigh Stebbeings and Georgia Groen jump better than most of the boys!

Lizzie Rhea

Featured Footer: Patrick Wehner

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

“Put your foot in the water and step off,” Hans Pfister told Patrick Wehner back in 1984.  In those years, barefoot instruction was mostly a do-or-die approach and nothing fancy. Patrick was a tiny little kid when he stepped off a ski behind the boat for the first time at the age of eight.   He went about a quarter of a mile down the Rhine river with stiff legs straight out in front of him before he hit turbulence and let go.  It was the last run of the evening but on the ride to his home in France, Patrick was flying high inside. “My dad thought I had some skills and he pushed me at first,” Patrick recalled. “I didn’t enjoy it in the beginning. I was a shy kid. My dad was completely crazy about it. He loves barefooting.”

A few weeks later Patrick and his dad, Hilmar, drove eight hours to compete in the 1984 Nationals in Germany.  It was Patrick’s first tournament and back then, skiers could kick off a ski.  The moment Patrick kicked off the ski he immediately faceplanted.  He repeated it a second time and crashed again.  Patrick came off the water crying.  He went up to his dad and complained. “The driver didn’t give me the speed I asked for.  I want to go back–and compete and beat them!” he said.

In 1986, Patrick connected with National Champion, Thorsten Robbe, who taught him basic tricks and wakes.   Patrick took his first clinic with German skiers and annual trips to Florida to train with Robert Teurezbacher.  When he first arrived in Florida, Patrick couldn’t do much more than the basics and one foots.  After two weeks with Teurezbacher, Patrick could slalom on one foot and learned to barefoot backwards.

“When I was a kid, my father was the one who pushed me. He motivated me when I needed motivation,” said Patrick.  “When I was 15, my dad decided to stop sponsoring me, telling me I wasn’t training hard enough,” said Patrick. “So I had to think, did I want this?  That’s when I knew I was passionate about barefooting and I started doing it for myself.”   Patrick picked up a job doing roof and tile work to save for another trip to Florida to train with Teurezbacher.  As soon as he arrived he handed over a “Christmas Wish List” of all the tricks and skills he wanted to accomplish. Whenever Patrick struggled on the water or endured crash after crash, Robert would tell him, “Boy, the situation with you is desperate…don’t worry, we can fix you.”

“Robert was a complete coach. He taught me the proper kind of thinking and mental focus.  He influences every skier he works with. He’s very good at fine-tuning and noticing details,” said Patrick.

Patrick skied in several tournaments but didn’t rank high enough to place until the 1988 Junior Europeans when he came in third Overall.  The following year, he placed first in Slalom and Overall in the Junior division and received two three-inch-high trophies made of real silver.   By this time, Patrick was deep into the sport with his father as his coach. As soon as school finished for the day the two of them took off at 4:30 for a one-hour drive to the lake. The lake Patrick skied on was a public lake that was incredibly busy on the weekends. Patrick was not a morning person (still isn’t!) and he dreaded waking up early to get his runs in.  Hilmar had to tear the covers off and occasionally resorted to throwing a wet towel to rouse Patrick out of bed. Patrick skied no matter what the conditions were.   “Bad weather, bad water, or pain–there was no excuse because it was such a long drive to the lake. My father’s coaching was a ‘do or die method’,” Patrick chuckled. One day, he busted his eardrum during a back-to-front turn. His father simply gave him a wad of chewing gum to stick in his ear and sent him back out on the water. “It’s a real awful feeling to burst your eardrum–it happens when you fall sideways on the ear and hear a pop–all of a sudden in the water, everything is upside down you get afraid to drown. You don’t know where you are and  feel out of balance.  It doesn’t hurt so much right away–it just hurts a little–but at night when  back home lying in bed  the pain starts and becomes really ugly,” said Patrick.

The year Patrick turned 18 was a stellar year for him.  He graduated from high school, got his driver’s license, and won the Europeans.  He put off college/university for a year and went to work for his father.  At this point, Patrick began coaching himself.  “My dad would still coach me, but he wasn’t my main coach anymore,” Patrick said. “I was doing my own thing.  My dad was tough on me as a kid and I accepted it, but as an adult, it didn’t work–I didn’t accept it then.”

During the following summer, Patrick worked as a show skier in Germany and won the Europeans once again.  In the fall, he started classes at Colmar which had a special program for athletes. The nearest lake was two and half hours away and every weekend, Patrick would  get in as much water time as he could. During the week, he enjoyed other sports–swimming, football, and inline skating.

In 1996, Patrick began the process of switching from the German to the French team. “I skied my first tournament for France in 1998  for the World Championship in Sydney, Australia,” Patrick recalled.  “By this time, I already had previous contact with the team so my integration with the team was smooth. My skiing was at the peak–I was enjoying the fruits of all my years on the water and training sessions.”

It was at this tournament that Patrick started to realize he could aim for the Overall.  When he arrived at the Worlds, Patrick had no expectations as he had taken a year off from competing due to the team transition.  He spent a week tweaking his runs and getting some practice in. During the preliminary round, Patrick was one of the last skiers in the group.  By the time it was his turn, the crowds had dispersed and the rain was pouring down. The judges gave him the option of waiting for the rain to cease, but Patrick opted to go ahead.  “no one else was there–no spectators, no team, no announcers– and I skied the top score for the preliminary. So the next day, when all the skiers came to see the scores, they saw my name at the top and they were shocked.  ‘The top guy did 6,500 points –who the hell is this???’ they said.  It was a cool moment,” Patrick laughed. “I was a newcomer on the French team–no one was expecting me.  We always had an Australian or an American in the top and it was nice to have a French skier in the top.”  The score turned out to be a personal best and an European record.

At the start of the final round of tricks, Patrick was in the lead.  Ron Scarpa skied a personal best and returned to the dock all pumped up, pouring on the pressure. Patrick fought to calm his nerves and managed to go out and ski another personal best. At first, the unofficial results showed Patrick to be in first place, but the judges took off 100 points for what appeared to be “butting out” on one trick.  Patrick was stunned because he knew he completed the trick without the penalty.  At the awards that night, the trick runs were shown on a big screen and one by one skiers noted the discrepancy in the scoring.  One of the judges came up to apologize to Patrick.  “I knew in my heart I was really close and in my heart I can say I got it,” Patrick said.   “I don’t need the medal for that–I know for myself that I made it. Over the years I’ve discovered the medals don’t matter–they don’t mean anything if you’re  satisfied what you did for yourself–that’s the most important thing.”

Around this time, the competition in the barefoot community began to heat up, with David Small working his way up the European ranks and Keith St. Onge hot on the tail of Scarpa.  At the 2000 Worlds, the aim was for the top spot.  Patrick went into the tournament with the expectation and the goal of winning the Overall.  His friends and family were sitting in the stands, adding more pressure to the event. A fall during the slalom event took Patrick out of the running so he concentrated on winning tricks instead.  During the semi-finals for tricks, Patrick took a  hard fall and his eardrum burst.  The tournament was over for him. Scarpa walked away with another Overall win.

“I entered that tournament with the goal to win  instead of skiing the best I can–it was the wrong goal,” Patrick explained. “I was disappointed, but I wasn’t bitter. Somtimes you need to experience defeat to become better and do better the next time.  Sometimes you have to step in a pile of shit to know what it feels like–so the next time you won’t do it again.”

Patrick returned home determined to put the mistakes behind him and start over again with a renewed attitude.  At the next Europeans, he took the Gold in Slalom, Tricks and Overall and walked away with his first World Trick Record.  Small came in third and Patrick could feel the heat from his rapid progress up the ranks. “David was like a shooting star–his career just took off like a rocket,” Patrick said. “It took me a while to realize he would be a leader–I probably didn’t want to accept it at first.”

By this point, Patrick was on the water nearly every day, hauling the boat 45 minutes each way.  His dad took up coaching him again, although sometimes it was a tough dance  to put aside the father/son relationship on the water.  During one training session, Patrick approached the jump only to realize too late that the jump was moving.   He launched off the jump at a crooked angle and landed in the water sideways, painfully wrenching his knee.  “I remember floating in the water with my knee hurting like hell, feeling as if it were on fire. I thought the season was over for me.”

A doctor concluded the same thing: Patrick’s season was over.  He had a possible torn ligament which would require surgery.  A second opinion with an orthopedic specialist gave him hope–he could build up the muscles around the knee with cycling and walking for six weeks and let the knee heal.  Just two weeks before the Europeans, Patrick taped up his knee, slapped on a knee brace, and returned to practice.  At the tournament, he tricked a personal best and a pending World Record.  Just ten minutes later, Keith St. Onge set another record in tricks. Patrick walked off with his sixth European Overall title.

During his preparation for the 2002 Worlds, Patrick injured his knee once again during a practice turn.  The doctor prescribed complete rest and no skiing until the Worlds. It was a crazy gamble for Patrick–was it even worth it to compete with a mangled knee?

This was the Worlds where the competition was intense. Patrick skied well and captured a gold in Tricks.  David Small exploded on the water and captured the Overall.  Keith St. Onge took second.  Patrick and Ron Scarpa were battling for third and Patrick edged him out with a jump.    “I think Keith was desperate as I was when David won.  We felt like, ‘Damn, we deserve it!’ David came out of nowhere and got it–that was a bit tough to swallow.  We both skied the worlds a long time–me since 1988 and Keith since 1996–and neither of us won.   That’s the game, and there’s  nothing you can do about it–the best always wins.”

A few weeks later after a jump tournament, Keith and Patrick were drowning their sorrows with a few drinks and reflecting on their losses.  Keith poured out his disappointment in missing his dream of a World Overall title. Patrick reached into his wallet and took out a card.  John Pennay, another skier, gave the card to Patrick during a challenging time. It was a card with a quote by William Arthur Ward:

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

The game began changing for Patrick in 2003. His daughter Olivia was born and Patrick was smitten with his little girl. He still managed to get a lot of skiing time in as the weather in France was unusually warm that year. He captured his seventh Overall at the Europeans.  Life was pretty good with work, skiing, and family, but Patrick was finding it hard to juggle it all with a new house thrown in.  His skiing went downhill the following year.  He didn’t medal at the Europeans. The Worlds proved to be anti-climatic for him. “Somehow,   it’s a  blank tournament for me, maybe because not much happened.  David won again, Keith came in second again, and for my skiing, well… I didn’t ski up to my expectations.  I skied average and that’s not good enough for any ranking.  I felt old during that tournament.  I wasn’t ambitious enough.”

Patrick bounced back at the World Games in Germany, taking first in Slalom and third Overall and a gold in Tricks at the Europeans. Slowly and surely, without him really being aware of it, his passion for the sport began to wane as he shifted his focus to work and family.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to schedule the training time required to keep up with the competitors who were pushing the scores higher and higher in the tournaments.  Even with the stiff competition at the 2006 Europeans, Patrick grabbed a gold in Slalom and Tricks.  “That surprised everyone, me included, because everyone was skiing so strong there. I didn’t think I would take the gold in that tournament,” Patrick said.

The stress of work, family, and skiing took a toll on Patrick until one day, after an intense argument with his dad about trying to fit it all in, Patrick decided to quit. He was not going to ski in the 2006 Worlds. When the team captain heard the news, he urged Patrick not to give up. “You’ve had a good start to the season, do it for the team,” he said.  It took several phone calls to convince Patrick to ski once again.

“I went to the tournament and I decided not to put any pressure on my shoulders–no stress. I decided to do well for the team and not focus on myself.  I skied that tournament  with a really relaxed  attitude.  I enjoyed the whole tournament, being there with the team and  hanging out with the other competitors. I enjoyed the skiing and I was happy with my results (third Overall)– it was really recreational tournament for me, almost like a vacation.”

Keith won the 2006 Worlds, culminating his life-long dream to make it to the top.  He thanked Patrick for the inspirational quote card. (The card has since passed through three more people. You can read the story of this card in Gliding  Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water).

Patrick, A.J. Porreca, and Keith with the quote card

After the Worlds, Patrick found himself burned out and took a complete break from tournaments and skied occasionally for fun. At the end of 2007, he decided to enter a small local  tournament just for fun and ended up scoring close to his personal best in all three events.  “That break fed my passion back,” Patrick said. “I shifted my focus to becoming a Senior skier.  I came to realize it was not about the medals, it was about being with friends and living the fun moments.”

In December of 2008, Patrick drove to the south of France to spend a week at a training camp to get ready for the Nationals and 2009 Worlds in New Zealand. During his second run, he caught a heel and severely injured his knee again.  He missed the Worlds and focused on healing his knee for the World Games.  When he returned to his training, something wasn’t quite right. Patrick found himself dragging on the water and not having his usual strength. Once again, he injured his knee landing a jump. “I knew I was done for the year,” Patrick said. “I was starting a new job which took a lot of energy, so I decided to take a leave from barefooting and ski just for fun.”

As the year passed on, Patrick started to notice his strength was waning despite working harder to keep in shape with mountain biking and judo.  Occasionally he would lose  his grip on a glass or drop things.  His speech began to slur at times and his mom urged him to see a doctor.  Patrick was referred to a neuro specialist and underwent a battery of tests.  The diagnosis was a grim one: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The average life expectancy was two to five years.  (You can read more here: Patrick Wehner, Living with ALS).

At first, life took a horrible turn for Patrick. “Your barefooting days are over,” the doctors told him.

But barefoot water skiers are a different breed.  You have to be mentally and physically tough to rise to the top in this sport.  So Patrick applied the same mental toughness to ALS and started doing some research. At first, the information depressed him and pulled him down. He shifted his focus to health and wellness instead. He quickly learned that the quality of his life depended on his outlook and his daily choices. He decided he was going to choose health and happiness.  He quit his job, got married, and took up sailing.

Even though he could no longer compete, Patrick wasn’t going to give up his passion so easily.   He took off for Texas to watch the 2012 Worlds and support his friends.  At the end of the tournament, the World Barefoot Center surprised him with the Patrick Wehner Sportsmanship Award, a biennial award given to an up and coming Junior skier.  Patrick’s nephew was the first recipient.  At the end of 2012, he took a trip out to the World Barefoot Center and took a run with Keith.

Patrick and Keith

“One of the things I learned from Patrick is that the little things matter,” said Keith. “At the World Championships, Patrick was watching the fireworks and really enjoying them.  After it was over, he turned to me with a big smile and said, ‘I love fireworks!’  Just the way he said it–he was deep into enjoying the little things that most people take for granted.  So that’s what I try to do nowadays. Patrick helped me see how the little things in life can be so awesome, so monumental. I try to enjoy the little things more often and not work so hard all the time.  Focus on what really matters. I’ll walk down the dock stop and look at the flowers or notice the little lizard on the dock.   I’m always fast-paced, in-a-hurry mode.  We don’t stop and give thanks for the little things in life that make up this world and realize the other things that matter.”

Life has slowed down for Patrick, but in a blessed way.  He and Helene’ occasionally travel but they cherish their time at home. “Since my ALS diagnosis, I appreciate that I stayed close to my roots and that my family and friends are near,” Patrick said. “Even when I travel, I like to come back home and enjoy the forests, hills, and trails around me. Before my diagnosis, I never noticed those things.  Now I put on my walking shoes and go for a long walk.  If you open your eyes, you will find it’s a great place–there’s no place better than the place you are. Sometimes the beauty is right next to you but you miss it because you’re looking for something further away.

“It’s all about perspective,” Patrick continued. “When you want something so much you fight for it, then you get it–and then after the first satisfaction, then you become frustrated and think, okay, what’s next?    If you focus on what you have and enjoy it, and take things step by step, minute after minute,  then you’ll notice after a while that you don’t have to be eager to get it– somehow life will throw that at you.  You have to learn to appreciate what you have right now.”

By: Karen Putz

Patrick, Helene, and Olivia

Duane Godfrey: One Foot Turns, A Work in Progress

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

So, I had hoped to finish off the toe-up practice stuff with an accompanying video…but haven’t filmed a video…hence a different topic: Setting up one foot turns

I remember a number of years back at Gliding Soles, that Keith told me about a better way of executing one foot turns. He explained that Eugene Sam had come up with the idea of turning like a stork with the raised foot pinned to the calf of the pivot leg. Keith said it was sound advice and that he was changing his technique.

We had all previously learned the one foot turn as holding one foot BSP, foot straight out front, and then executing the turn by turning the free foot from toes up (front) to toes down (back). This way worked for me (basic only) and my own particular thought was to reach the back px thinking of pointing my heel at the boat – to aid in not flailing the leg. However, I tend to overturn and I am sold on the advice of WBC of pinning the free leg because it will solve important aspects of the turn. When you pin foot to your calf, it forces you to turn with the correct forces and it is harder to throw the turn. Therefore, it is not comfortable when you have previously used other body parts/actions to throw the turn. As recently explained by David Small, the position feels awkward but one eventually adjusts, and the turns become much better controlled. It is better controlled because it
A. forces the proper use of the hips and
B. eliminates a flailing free leg throwing off the C of G hence losing balance….a flailing free leg is a lot of weight/force/distraction to contend with. Watch Ashleigh Stebbeings turn – very little movement, totally compact.

When I see falls from just basic one foots, it is a rarity that the fall occurs while standing on one: it is when the free leg contacts the water; therefore it is imperative that the foot goes back down with as much caution/rhythm as when it is lifted…same thing for turns. Putting the foot down early aborts the turn and will likely cause a fall or if lucky, just downgrade the turn. I am finding by trial and error that the penalty/faceplant for putting down early is not worth the unnecessary caution. Hiking the free leg, especially in the b-f, provides less opportunity to drop down and increases commitment.

I think a lot about skiing at home and what I want to try when I get back to FL. My f-b’s are overthrown and causes the free leg to flail hence adding to an imbalance and a battle to get balance at the back, therefore it is wasted time and setting up for failure. So, I need to setup and keep the free foot glued…relax..don’t overturn…stick the “landing” at the back px by coming down/cushioning. (Another tip from Mr. Small) For b-f (the harder turn and should be higher point value), I need different thoughts for my particular weaknesses -ie being pulled out of position, dropping the free leg, slow to regrab the handle, dropping the “free” shoulder, and being a wimp. Therefore setup with knee hiked, hold the shin flex all the way, and visualize success and the perfect front px. When I let go, keep looking back, hold up free shoulder while hiking the raised knee even higher, maintain strong shoulder, KEEP EYES OPEN, when coming to the front keep that handle in, ensure good knee bend and get that handle……C’mon you can do this as long as you keep that free leg raised HIGH!!!!

The above are what I think of for training and visualization. Then I will have to come up with one or two execution thoughts based on how it’s going and what I need. Finally, when the time comes, I am fortunate to have on-the-scene advice from WBC. You will have your own issues and lists.

Meanwhile I am sold on the pinned free leg concept and will work hard at trying to make my mind and body adjust.

I love this sport!

By: Duane Godfrey

Visualizing one foot turns

Getting to Know Ben Groen

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

The name, Ben Groen, is starting to get pretty big around the World Barefoot Center. You see his name on all of our video’s, You see him in the boat, coaching and instructing skiers of all ages and abilities. You see him on the phone taking care of customers and all over the school taking care of business.

Ben is 22 years old and he is from New Zealand. The Groen name is famous in the barefooting circles, as his Dad Rob and uncle Fred have been involved in the sport for over 30 years and are still deeply involved to this day.  Ben first came to the school when he was 18 for what was suppose to be a one week stay, which ended up being being a six week stay. In those first six weeks with us at the World Barefoot Center his trick scores went from the mid 2000’s to around 5000 points.  We were so impressed with him as a young man that we decided to sponsor him. He came back to the school a few months later but this time he stayed for three months. To make a long story short, we all continued to be so impressed with this young man that we started working on making him a full time fixture at the school.  We started working on getting him a three-year sports visa, with the support of his parents Rob and Wendy Groen. And as you now see, the rest is history.

On a personal level, I love this kid and am very proud to be like a second father to him with the support of his wonderful parents.

On the water, he has a great attitude and works as hard anyone else who I have ever coached. He loves the sport, and when he is not on the water, you will see him watching his videos and doing his dry land practice. He is a true student of the sport and it has all paid off as he is one of only a handful of skiers who has ever tricked over 10500 points in the history of the sport.  In the last two years, he has been bouncing between being ranked the 3rd and 4th best overall skier in the world–with only the two greatest skiers ever, David Small and Keith St. Onge, being ahead of him.

In the boat, he has also become one of the most respected coaches and instructors in the sport. The feedback from all of our students at the ski school from first timers to top competitors is just amazing–everyone just loves skiing with Ben and they all learn so much from him. He has truly become one of the worlds best instructors.

Ben is a very unique and gifted person, big hearted, and very friendly.  He has some of the best people skills that I have ever seen. He is very unselfish and always goes out of his way to take care of people and our furry family members around the school. (Yes, he is a big animal lover.)

He is so mature for his age that I always tell people that he is 22 going on 40. Off the water he is involved in every aspect of the business and I would trust this kid with anything. A hard worker and a quick learner and with people skills second to none and then throw in loyalty and a true love for what he does you then have someone who is worth a ton to the business, a person that can not be replaced with ease. So we at the world barefoot center realizing this have made Ben a partner in the business and Ben has now applied for a green card to be a long term part of this great business that we are building.
So there you have it.

Ben Groen is from a great family with great parents
Is one of the top skiers and instructors in the world
Is one of the friendliest and caring persons that you’ll ever meet
And at 22 is also a part owner of the largest barefoot water sking schools in the world
We are so lucky to have him and I am so proud to be coaching and to be involved in the life of one of the finest young men that you’ll ever meet.
Swampy Bouchard

Reflections of Women’s Barefoot Week 2013

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

The 4th Annual Women’s Barefoot Week has come and gone but the memories will remain forever.   This year we had near-perfect, hot, sunny weather almost every day and of course, the World Barefoot Center crew always finds calm water.   David Small, Ben Groen, Ashleigh Stebbeings, Keith St. Onge, and Swampy Bouchard provided some awesome coaching and instruction. Every single gal experienced success on the water that week!

The guys gamely donned pink Tommie Copper shirts in honor of the gals and the Breast Cancer Campaign at Tommie Copper.  Yes, it takes real men to pull off pink so well!

A special thank you goes out to our sponsors who donated some awesome products for our gals:  Badger Balm, Tommie Copper, Vibram Five Fingers, Barefoot Wine, Hpnotiq, and Crispers.

And anytime you can get a guy to cook, it’s always a good thing.  In the case of Chris Mcwatters, it’s a GREAT thing. Chris put together a wonderful Mexican dinner for all of us.  One thing to note: what Chris labels “mild” is actually HOT.

Judy Myers did a great job once again of organizing and executing Women’s Barefoot Week.  If you’d like to be on the email list for next year’s event, email Judy at  Sorry, guys, it’s for gals only.  Donning a pink shirt will not get you admission to that week.

USA Water Ski Newsletter featuring Women’s Week

By: Karen Putz