Barefoot Waterskiing Information

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dotBarefoot waterskiing is more than just waterskiing without skis. For enthusiasts, it also involves taking jumps and performing a series of spectacular tricks!

dotOne of the most popular tricks is the tumble turn, where skiers drop to their backs, do a 360-degree turn, pop back on to their feet and ski away. Then there are barefoot starts and wake crossings.

dotOther tricks involve holding the tow rope with your toe, neck or teeth while turning backwards and forwards on the skis. Then there are flips -- usually done only by those at the top of the sport.

dotBarefoot water skiers say they love the feeling of water on the bottom of their feet. And they love the exhilarating feeling that they are doing the impossible.

"It's walking on water," says two-time world champion Mike Seipels of Florida. "And they say stimulating all those nerves in the feet slows down the aging process. I know a guy who's 80 and he's still doing it. It's great"

dotBarefoot waterskiing is a summer sport in some parts of the U.S. In warmer states like Florida and California, it's a year-round activity.

dotThe first barefoot skier of all time was Dick Pope. He stepped off his water skis and into sports history in 1947.

Since then, barefoot skiers have learned to start in deep water and literally stand up when the boat pulls the line taut. One of the most dramatic starts is the flying dock, in which the skier begins from a dock and jumps into the water as the boat pulls away.

The first barefoot competition was held in 1950 at Cypress Gardens, Florida. Judges at the waterskiing event had to hold a separate competition for barefooting because the rules of trick competition required skis.

dotThe sport continued to grow. Nearly 30 years later in 1978, skiers from 10 countries competed in the first World Barefoot Championships on the Molongo River in Canberra, Australia. By the 1990s, over 20 countries were competing at the event.

dotIt's difficult to get a precise estimate on the number people who do this sport. The American Barefoot Club has estimated that one million North Americans enjoy barefoot waterskiing.

dotThe popularity of barefoot waterskiing took a hit with the invention of wakeboards. The boards are a sort of snowboard on water. They are so popular, they may be attracting the efforts of people who previously might have tried barefooting, says Richard Gray.

"It's a crossover. For young kids who love snowboarding in the winter, they'll throw a wakeboard in the boat in the summer and start pulling moves," says Gray. He says barefoot waterskiing takes a little more work to master than wakeboarding.

dotYou have to be pretty strong to do this sport. Yet experts say physically, almost anyone can do it. Seven-time Canadian barefoot champion Karyn Scarpa says it helps to have a good weight-to-strength ratio. You really do need a fair bit of strength.

dotMost injuries are caused by hard falls into the water. Skiers have to go over 35 miles an hour to stay up. But the experts say you can avoid falls and bad habits with good instruction.

dotMaking a career of barefoot waterskiing is tough, but some people have done it. Gray says teaching barefoot waterskiing for five summers put him through university. He now runs his own barefoot instruction school and equipment shop.

Only the top five to 10 percent of barefoot water skiers can make a career out of the sport, says Scarpa. She says sponsors are hard to come by and the prize money isn't that good. Top competitors can go on to run successful barefoot schools, but there is a lot of competition.

dotSeipels now runs a barefoot ski school in West Palm Beach, Florida. He agrees there's very little money in barefoot skiing. But he says people with talent can find at least part-time work through barefoot skiing. "I always need help at the ski school," he jokes.

Getting Started

Barefoot waterskiing puts you in touch with the water like no other sport! People of all ages can participate.
Courtesy of: Barefoot Media Page

Want to start barefoot waterskiing? You'll need a boat capable of pulling a skier between 30 and 40 miles an hour.

You'll also need a special tow rope which is less elastic than a typical water ski rope. Dress yourself in a padded wetsuit and shorts. The outfit will take the sting out of the falls you will make while learning!

dotIf you want to buy your own equipment, it will cost you between $350 and $550. That doesn't include the cost of a boat and trailer, which these days can run up to $40,000.

dotMost barefoot water ski schools offer a package rate which includes boat rental, equipment and group instruction for about $100 a day.

dotIt's really important to have good equipment for barefoot waterskiing in order to avoid injury. The padded shorts and wetsuit are the only things between you and a wall of water. The wrong tow line can snap from the weight and extra drag of a barefoot skier.

dotBefore you spend several hundred dollars on gear, take a couple lessons. This way, you'll find out whether you like the sport well enough to invest in your own equipment. Equipment rental is usually included in the cost of barefoot ski lessons.

dotIf you're looking to get competitive, look for a name in the industry, says Scarpa. You should note that just because someone was a top competitor, it does not mean he or she is a good teacher.

"Cottage skiers might pick a different school than someone interested in competing. But if you're serious about competition, you'll want to pick your school carefully."

Scarpa says word of mouth is often the best way to choose the school that's right for you.

dotCheck out local water ski shops for school information, says Gray. The shops will know what's happening with barefoot waterskiing in your area.


American Barefoot Club
1251 Holy Cow Rd.
Polk City , FL   33868


USA Water Ski
Learn more about the history of barefoot waterskiing

Banana George Blair
Over 90 years old and a fabulous barefoot water skier!
Check out this huge list of resources