Posts Tagged ‘paul stokes’

The Barefoot Legend of Tom Olden

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
Tom Olden
1936 – 2012
A memoir to my great friend, mentor, and hero, Tom Olden
By Paul Stokes

Tom Olden learned to barefoot at age 40. He was hooked. He was so hooked on the sport that he made a commitment to ski every month and he did for almost 30 years in a row.

Tom lived in Kansas and his ambitious goal was not easy, especially in the winter. At times keeping the streak alive would involve breaking ice at the boat ramp just to get a to the open water. One time when the ice was too thick to launch a boat, Tom strung a bunch of ski ropes together tied to the hitch on the back of a pickup truck. He walked out across the ice and set up so he could ski across an open spot of water on Lake Cheney. He did all this to keep his streak alive. He only stopped his monthly ski rides recently because his body (and his doctors) literally said no more.

I met Tom in 1987 at my first barefoot tournament when I was 15. Tom was the tournament director and he had been running the tournament since 1979. This was the longest running tournament in the country and could still be considered as such today since a tournament continues in Wichita every year organized now by Clay Bourbonnais, a long-time friend of Tom and a contributor to this story.

One year, the tournament had to be moved to a new lake because a tornado tore through and destroyed the other lake. This tournament has brought countless footers from all over together and Tom is the reason that the Wichita barefoot scene has flourished for so long.

Tom knew the importance of having someone all of the competitors could look up to and inspire so he always brought in a top ranked US Team member to his tournament. It worked! I’ll never forget that first tournament of mine– Mike Seipel was there, fresh off a World Championship victory. Another year, Tom brought in Rick Powell who blew us away with his soft touch and fancy footwork. Brian Fuchs also made an appearance. I remember Brian graciously waiving his fee because the tournament had the worst weather imaginable and had lost money. There are many commitments Tom made in his life for the sport– and having his tournament and bringing in a pro was going to happen every year, no matter what.

Another commitment Tom made was to Wichita’s New Years Day ski. Tom not only organized and promoted the event, he was the chief fundraiser and the star of the “show”. Tom would barefoot every year in his speedo to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy. Some years he footed off the boom and some years he would swing out on the five-foot handle.

During one particular year Tom decided to go for it long line! This particular year it was really cold. There was about six inches of snow on the ground and the boats had cleared out about an inch of ice by running in circles for about an hour. Tom did a dock start on a slalom ski. The boat would head down course, buttonhook, and bring him back towards the crowd to step off. Tom had forgotten that he was on Arkansas River in downtown Wichita where there were bulkheads all the way down the shore on both sides. The backwash was ridiculous and the bathtub effect was in full affect. Everyone saw the disaster coming but there was nothing they could do. Tom was going for it! He had barely pulled his foot out of the back binding when he bounced on some huge backwash and wiped out. Everyone on the shore was screaming “Hurry up, go back and get him, and bring him to shore”.

To everyone’s amazement Tom gave the signal to bring the rope around. He was going for it again! It’s important to remember that Tom is wearing nothing more than a Speedo and the ice was just opened hours before by boat wash. The boat came around and took up slack. Now the water was rougher than ever and the bathtub effect was in full force. The boat took him back down, buttonhooked, and then brought him back up to speed. It was clear from the shore that failure was inevitable yet again. Sure enough, Tom fell just trying to get his foot planted. It was brutal to watch him hit the icy water.

The crowd took a deep breath in. Yells were heard across the crowd. “Go get him, go get him, get him in to shore!!!”

Brad Pegg and I met him at the dock, threw blankets around him, and escorted him to the portable heater. I will never forget what Tom said, “What a rush! My heart stopped completely when I hit the water but I didn’t want to let the crowd down so I tried again.”

Now that’s commitment…

Speaking of Brad, Tom and Brad were best friends. Tom drove for Brad, barefooting almost everyday up until Brad’s death. (Brad passed away in May 2010 from a heart attack.) Brad was very special to Tom and his death really broke Tom’s heart. He was never the same after that loss.

Tom was also known as being a little crazy, not literally, but like most footers, he was always willing to be the center of attention. A great example of that is being willing to barefoot naked in front of the newspaper cameras. This photo was actually a part of the Wichita newspaper. Like I said, the man was a little crazy.

Another great story: Tom was at the Nationals in Owego, NY, when a boat on a trailer suddenly started rolling down the hill into the lake. Apparently this was a long sloping hill. Tom jumped to action and took hold to the tongue of the trailer. It was described as a “tumble up to a heal digger,” as Tom did everything he could to try to keep this boat and trailer from uncontrollably launching itself into the lake. The trailer luckily hit the one and only tree on the site that was part way down the hill. I don’t know the details, but this is a famous story amongst the old guys that remember the US Nationals 30 years ago.

Tom had many highlights and successes in his life. He served in World War II and came home with a VW Bug. He was interviewed on Good Morning America. He started and built Olden Auto from the ground up, eventually retiring from selling the business and the associated real estate. He was a founding partner in Ski & Barefoot Marine, which eventually became Marine World. To this day, Marine World is the premier pro shop and Master Craft dealership in Wichita, KS. Tom’s motto was “work hard and play harder”. Tom’s success in business allowed him to invest in his own private lake, many commercial properties, and of course Marine World.

Tom also had his fair share of challenges to overcome. He conquered bladder cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. He repeatedly broke his ribs and tore his shoulders into his late 60’s and early 70’s.

Other fun facts about Tom, he had barefoot videos posted on FuelTV. He said it was the most money he ever made skiing. Tom was also the reason that the American Barefoot Club includes Kansas in the South Central region, unlike three-event skiing, which is part of the Midwest.

Tom’s last nationals were in 2011. Clay and I were lucky to spend his last tournament memories with him. We road tripped down to Waco, TX from Wichita, KS. Tom had many health problems and the trip wasn’t easy.

The ABC took the opportunity to pay their respects and Tom received a Lifetime Achievement award for all of his contributions to the sport of barefoot waterskiing. This would be one of his proudest moments. The framed award was one of the few possessions that he took with him to his hospice care room. This was truly his most prized earthly possession.

We miss you Tom!

World Barefoot Center Figure 8 Series

Friday, December 30th, 2011

The 2011 year for figure eight barefooting was more exciting than ever.  From Peter Flecks dominance of Footstock, to 4 different winners in the 4 individual events that make up the World Barefoot Center Figure Eight Series, which ultimately ended with a tie between Keith St Onge and Ron Blouw for the series championship.  What follows is a recap of the WBC figure eight series events from 2011.

The WBC figure eight series started in June at Footapalooza in Rolling Prairie Indiana.  26 footers participated and Marc Donahue started 2011 where he left off in 2010, by winning the event over Keith St Onge.  In the first run of the finals, Marc and Keith completed 3 and ½ 8’s, which ended up being the longest run of the day, when Keith beat Marc to give them each one loss.  Marc turned back around and beat Keith on the run off after 2 and ½ 8’s.  JJ Link took third with Ben Dieser a strong fourth, followed by Ron Blouw in fifth.  The event takes place on a private lake and the view is spectacular from the shore.  This is a great venue for a figure eight event.

JJ Link, Marc Donahue, Keith St.Onge

JJ Link , Marc D, Keith St Onge,

The next stop in the series was the Glen Meuller Figure Eight Challenge that takes place in St Louis, where 39 footers took to the water on a lake that only opens to ski boats on this one day for this tournament.  This event offered prizes for the “best fall”, the “first 8”, and the “longest 8”, as well as the standard  top finishers receiving awards.  This event was won by Ron Blouw who needed to beat the undefeated Tim Knoezer twice as he was coming from the loser’s bracket.  JJ Link again finished third, followed by Keith St Onge and Greg Fatla.  The event takes place at a private country club, and is run by Tim Knoezer and Anthony Gramalino.  If you get there early you can watch the ski show the night before.

Tim Knoezer, Ron Blouw, JJ Link

Tom Knoezer, Ron Blouw, JJ Link

The third event in the series is the Clean Lakes Festival Barefoot Challenge.  This is just one of the many events in the Clean Lakes Festival, located in Madison Wisconsin.  This event was won by Jon Debelak, who had to come from loser’s bracket to beat a previous Clean Lakes figure 8 champion Paul Stokes twice.  Ron Blouw finished third, just ahead of his cousin Eric DeVries who was a strong fourth and Aaron Schoezel was fifth.  One of the really cool things about this event is it’s proximity to downtown Madison.  As is expected for any event in the figure eight series, this event was well run by Bob Manke and Paul Stokes.

Paul Stokes against Mike Netzer in Madison, WI

The last event in the series takes place at the World Barefoot Center.  This event had 32 barefooters competing.  David Small held off his business partner Keith St Onge to win his second consecutive title in this event.  David and Keith did 8 after 8 in the two final runs, with Keith winning the first run to give David his first loss.  David was just two solid to beat twice in a row and David won the run off over Keith.  Ben Dieser  finished third ahead of Marc Donahue and Ron Blouw. Like last year, there was an awards presentation located at the WBC ski school with food and drinks.  The world Barefoot Center was a great host for the event.

Swampy, David_Small, Keith_St_Onge, Ben Dieser, Marc Donahue, Ron Blouw at the WBC Figure 8 Finals

Swampy, David Small, Keith St Onge, Ben Dieser, Marc Donahue, Ron Blouw

In the overall standings, Ron Blouw and Keith St Onge ended in a tie for the points lead, with Marc Donahue in third.  Just how close was it?  The two footers each finished with 125 points.  Neither footer finished lower than 5th in any event, Ron had a 1st, a 3rd and a 5th, while Keith had two 2nds, and a 5th.  Each footer had 2 wins in the finals, with Ron coming from the loser’s bracket to win twice in the final round in St Louis, and Keith came from the loser’s bracket in Indiana and in the WBC tournament to win on the first run each time, only to lose the next run in both instances.  Each footer finished in the top three 2 times.  They faced each other twice and each won once.  It was indeed too close to call.

The entire series was very competitive with multiple winners in the individual events.  Of the top three finishers in the individual events, there were 9 different footers to finish in the top 3, with Keith, Ron, and JJ the only three to place in the top three twice.  The event was very competitive.  The events attracted multiple footstock winners and other figure eight winners.

Keith St.Onge, Ron Blouw & Marc Donahue

Keith St Onge, Ron Blouw, Marc Donahue

This is a great series and the events went off very smoothly with great leadership.  The WBC figure eight series motto is “no one left on the beach” and the tournament allowed duct tape to prevent blisters and either deep water starts or starts from a step off ski.  It allowed for beginners as well as advanced footers to compete against each other.  All ages were included with men and women competing head to head, there were even two sets of husbands and wives competing in the Florida event.  This is a great way to get to know other barefooters who have a similar passion for the sport.  It is also a way to go head to head with some of the best barefooters in the world, and who knows….anything might happen.  If you have never tried a figure 8, join us at one of the events for next year, I bet you will get hooked.  The event was sponsored by Reef Safe Sun Care, US Gear, and the World Barefoot Center.

By: Ron Blouw & Keith St.Onge

Karen Putz– My First Barefoot Tournament

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

As I drove up the highway toward Blue Moo lake in Alma Center, Wisconsin last Thursday, I was having second thoughts about the whole barefoot tournament thing.  Earlier in the week, I took a few runs with Dan Tanis over at Cedar Lake, but I couldn’t accomplish a single thing on the water.  Out of five pulls, I got up twice and fell each time I attempted to slalom across the wake.   I hadn’t yet practiced a trick run.  And here I was, driving four hours to compete in my first tournament.  

Twenty five years after tripping over a wake, I got back on the water again at the World Barefoot Center in March of last year.  I think a certain 68-year-old woman came up with the idea of entering tournaments.    “It’ll be fun!” she said.  “Everyone is friendly and they’ll help you and tell you what to do.”

Well, Judy was right about that.  I arrived at the dock on Friday morning and met with Kenny Kaestner, the instructor from Footn Foundations and host of the clinic.   Right away, Kenny made me feel at home on the water and he provided some fantastic instruction.   I was struggling to cheek out, and he taught me to line myself up at the opposite angle of where I wanted to cheek out to.   I spent the  morning slaloming and going through my trick runs.  Kenny bumped my speed up to 39/40 and I discovered that I liked it much better on firmer water.  By the time the morning sets were over, I felt confident that I knew what to do.  We spent the afternoon working on backwards.  I worked on riding backwards on one foot on shoes and then tried a back deep on my feet with no success.  I explained that I could get up easily on shoes, but I was really struggling to get up on my feet.  Kenny ran me through a hip exercise several times in the water, identifying the muscles used to get the hips up.   After that, I  was able to get up three times in a row backwards on my feet.

I somehow totally missed the fact that the tournament started at four that afternoon and I was pretty wiped out at that point.  I put myself last in the line up– hoping that I could recover some energy before it was my turn.  Let’s just say this… nothing will wake you up faster than getting back into a cold wetsuit– and jumping in the cold Wisconsin water late in the evening.  Holy moly…

I told myself that if I could just stand up and manage at least one cross, I would be happy.  I forgot the very trick that Kenny taught me– and found myself stuck inside the wake during my first run.  I didn’t have a choice but to stand up inside, and I nearly lost my balance.  I managed to make it outside the wake and then cut right across the wake.  To my complete surprise, I found myself still standing on the other side– and cut back across.  I managed two more crossings and I was really whooping inside when the boat came around.   I ended up with six on the second pass and with a score of 2.8.  That was later bumped up to 3.3. 

Kenny is a guy who does it all.  Not only did he run the tournament, but earlier in the year, he took his bow and arrow, shot Bambi– and served venison for dinner.  “I don’t care much for venison,” said Janell Heller, the owner of Blue Moo Lake.  “But when Kenny marinates and cooks it– it is wonderful.”  I took her advice, tried the venison and agreed with her, it was really delicious.

Blue Moo Lake is set at the edge of a corn field in the middle of a very rural part of Wisconsin.  When I first met Blake Heller, he reminded me so much of my dad– the same round face, the farmer’s heart and the beer in one hand.   I asked Blake how the lake came about and he explained that it took just three guys to dig out the lake.  They started in November and finished in spring the following year.  This was my first time skiing on a lake made specifically for barefooting and wow, one could easily become spoiled by the amazing water that happens on each run.

I put myself last in the line up again the next day for tricks.  I was a little nervous about doing a flyer, as I had done one only once before down at the WBC.  Paul Stokes had just returned from his run and he gave me some reminders as the rope began to tighten up.  The flyer went perfectly and I managed to get the wave, wave, sit down stand up in.  As soon as I shifted to one foot, bam– I faceplanted.  I had planned two tumble turns on the second pass.  Halfway through the first tumble, I felt as if the handle was going to get away from me so I pulled out of it– stood up for the second tumble– got halfway around and lost the handle.  So much for that run!  But I was happy with the 140– it was a lot better than a zero.

The best part was getting to watch the other gals barefoot.  It was amazing to watch Ariana and Kailey Koehler do their trick runs and absolutely jaw-dropping to watch Elaine Heller and Liz O’Flaherty sail over the jump.  The whole tournament experience was a positive one.  The barefooting community is definitely a warm, welcoming one.  Whatever apprehensions that I had when I arrived– were totally gone by the first hour.   I’m really looking forward to the next tournament!

barefoot scores blue moo

By Karen Putz