Backwards Barefooting Miracles “Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities-always see them, for they are always there.” -Norman Vincent Peale Can you think of a better way to start a great adventure than with the advice of Norman Vincent Peale? In many ways, their advice is very pertinent! Even after you make that decision to learn to backwards barefoot, you need a game plan to get an unfair advantage in the learning process! YOU must take the first step by doing what you know is right (Confucius). Before reaching this place of ecstasy, we will certainly be interrupted by some form of discouragement or distraction. It is then that I must remind and encourage you that I am 100% confident of YOUR (that means you) success! All you have to do now is agree with me that WE will make it there! So let us take one more baby step in this direction choosing to focus on the possibilities and not the distractions. Now how can we focus the power of these warm fuzzy thoughts in the specifics of learning your first backwards deep-water start? First of all, let me let you in on a little secret that should dissolve a lot of myths about going backwards. If you had never barefooted before in your life, and you came down to ski a week with me personally in paradise, I would spend the entire first day helping you to learn to barefoot forwards. On the very next day, I would begin to mix in teaching you the joys of learning to backwards barefoot! It is much like learning a second language. If you start early, it becomes second nature. When I begin this process, any fears are melted away and replaced with the kind of excitement that many have forgotten! How can you get in on the fun? Realize that learning to go backwards requires baby steps that must be taken carefully and with a lot of patience and understanding! These baby steps are grouped into three stages; Learning to Plane, Learning to Plant, and The Power Band©. What I like to do to keep things in perspective is to put you in the correct position for backwards barefooting while on dry land first! This will give you a mental image of where we want to go while starting to build the muscle memory you will need to be a great backwards barefooter (do not laugh, I know you will be great!). Practice the following right now; Start by standing up straight with your feet shoulder width apart and parallel. Now roll your shoulders back so your shoulder blades are scrunching together. Lift your rib cage as high as possible and arch your low back. This should put your chest further forward than your shoulders and you should feel like you are puffed-up and standing at attention. Next, push your butt out as you bend over. Simultaneously squat by bending your knees just a little less than the kind of bend you would have sitting in a chair. Create a ninety-degree bend at your waist so that you could hold a ski handle between your hip and the top of your quadriceps. Your shoulders and head should be higher than your butt. Rest your hands on the top of your butt with palms and elbows pointed upward. If you can accomplish all this without losing the upper body posture, then you have accomplished The Power Band©. Keep practicing this position over and over again so that you build up your familiarity with it. Now that you know what the final backwards ski position will look like, lets get into the first of the three stages. Learning to Plane Float on your back like you would do for a front deep-water start. Place the handle between your legs and reach behind your knees to grab it with both hands. Hook one of your ankles under the rope, take a deep breath, and roll over while keeping your arms, legs, and upper body straight. The tendency here is to try to arch your back and keep your head out of water, but that will not lead to a good plane! You should practice this with the rope tight, but without acceleration until you feel comfortable. Do not push down on the rope with your legs after you roll over! I prefer that you keep only one ankle on the rope with the other one next to it, but not on it. Equipment Recommendation; This will be much easier to learn on a bare foot boom, but is the same technique used for the long-line. I like to have the bare foot boom at about shoulder to head height of the skier (once the boat is on plane). To use the boom this high, I like to use a 2-foot extension (a 5 foot handle plus a two foot rope extension) which keeps the skier from being pulled out of position. I also recommend a 15-inch barefoot slalom handle. For the guys, I highly recommend a barefoot cup barefoot cup! A good barefoot wetsuit is a must. If you have a barefoot dry-suit, it is even easier to learn this start as long as you wear your wetsuit underneath. Although I use Puppy Paws™, many times for people who have problems, I believe it is best to start learning stages one and two without them. There will definitely be a place and time for switching to the Puppy Paws, but do not start with them. If you are on the long-line, I highly recommend an extended pylon or universal tower, or the ultimate set-up, the Super Fly High which extends the pull of the rope up to 14 feet off of the water! When you are ready to try this, make sure you take a deep breath (you should only have to hold it for 3 seconds), and roll over. The driver should accelerate firmly to 8-10 miles an hour. The best way to get this critical speed right for your size and weight is to have the driver watch to make sure that water is shooting-up like a fountain between your legs. If it is drooling over your back, then you are not going to be able to breath! If there is no water in between your legs then the driver is going too fast or the boom is too high! The water should be breaking right at your barefoot cup (for the guys). Also, keep your chest against the water. If you lift it up, you will bounce out of control. This is lots of fun for the observers’ entertainment factor, but is not fun for you. After you are able to breathe (yes, I said breathe), and feel comfortable in this position, you are ready to move into stage two. Planting your Feet Very very slowly take your feet off the rope and convert them from being pointed to being flexed and turned outward at a forty-five degree angle. The flexing part is one of the best challenges to this whole start. It is critical that you distinguish between lifting your toes up and flexing your ankles by lifting the entire foot towards your shin! This is so critical to barefooting that I have written an entire article just on this called, The Ultra Mega Glide. Holding this flexed ankle position, slowly spread your legs without reaching to the water with your toes. Simultaneously, flex your hips upward and chest downward until the water meets your feet. It is quintessential that you do not try to “sniff-out” the water with your toes, as this will deteriorate the Ultra Mega Glide™. If your feet are in the right position, the water will do the “flexing of your ankles” for you. Do not push back against the water with the ball of your foot or grip with your toes. The driver’s responsibility here is to accelerate to no more than a top speed of 12-15mph while you learn to let you feet glide on the water in total relaxation. The rest of your body should be relatively relaxed, and your butt should be pushed up into the handle by picking your cup off the water. Do not pull in with your arms at all during this start! Success in this start requires unity between your hips knees and ankles, but it does not need any arm power (a little bit of grip strength, of course, but not over excursion in the arm department). When you feel you are able to ride at least fifteen seconds in this totally gliding position, the driver should be able to see a nice steady arch of spray off your feet. If the water is sporadic and uneven, then you are pushing on your toes or “gas pedaling.” Master this stage to perfection and then you are ready for the final stage, The Power Band©. The Power Band© To get into the The Power Band© from this position requires a combination of rotating your feet, squeezing your legs, and pushing your butt out. Notice how I purposefully left out “lifting your head.” That is because it is the cause of many a problem. When you are ready for this final frontier, first push out your butt while rotating your feet and knees inward. You will only have to bring your feet in about twelve inches each before starting to feel some lift in your upper body. A less informed individual might be tempted to lift his or her upper body and head at this point, but not you! You know the key at this stage is to wait as long as you can, and then wait some more. Your concentration should be on morphing into that The Power Band© position so you could hold a handle in-between your lower abs and your quadriceps. Keep pushing your hips upwards as you rotate your feet inward until you feel the water on your chin. Although this will not go down as your most favorable sensations, get pumped (calmly, of course) because victory awaits you! As soon as you feel the water on your chin, start the squatting process by bending your knees. The driver’s responsibility here is to accelerate gently while the butt is moving up in the air. For almost every size person I have taught, do not accelerate over 22 mph. For kids under 140lbs., keep the speed below 18-19 mph. For people over 200lbs, do not go over 25mph. If your butt stops rising, have the driver stop accelerating even if you are not at the above speeds. If you feel or look stuck and cannot raise your butt or squeeze your feet together, the driver should decelerate until the butt and feet start doing their jobs. The huge help here is to understand the power of waiting for speed while completing The Power Band© position without stopping or stalling. Let your driver pull you from your hips onto your feet. As you feel your head levitate off the water, go through your head-to-toe checklist for the perfect position I described at the beginning! If you find yourself catching a heel, keep your chest and chin closer to the spray coming off your feet by leaning away gently until you find the perfect resistance. Notice I did not say look down and lean back into the water. It is critical that you maintain your vision without losing your position or the proper resistance! Think of the proper resistance in the following way. If you had a rope that went up and over a pulley and was connected to a bucket full of weight, you would want to maintain that bucket at a constant height so that the bucket did not go up or down. If you let your butt get pulled too far towards your heels, then you would get pulled over as the bucket dropped. If your butt got too far forward over the ball of your foot, then the bucket would rise as you leaned too far forwards. You can read more about my “Bucket Theory of Resistance” in my next article. Congratulations! You have just had your eyes opened to a whole new world of backwards barefooting. I hope you let me know of your success!