“The Untold Real History of Barefoot Water Skiing”
Welcome to a captivating journey through the real and untold history of barefoot water skiing! This groundbreaking article will unveil the hidden truths and reveal the authentic narrative behind the sport that USA Ski, Wikipedia, and Barefoot.org won’t tell you. Prepare to be amazed as we dive deep into the remarkable milestones, groundbreaking innovations, and unforgettable moments that have shaped barefoot water skiing over the past century. Join us on this extraordinary exploration as we trace the origins of barefoot water skiing, unravel its true progression, and pay tribute to the exceptional individuals who have propelled this sport to unimaginable heights. Get ready to discover the genuine story behind barefoot water skiing like never before.
Why is this the “Real Untold History of Barefoot Water Skiing”? It is not because they were trying to deceive or be untruthful, but the truth is that most who have written on the barefoot skiing history were not there behind the scenes where the real changes came from. This is my attempt to give a complete view of what I believe to be the most significant changes that have affected our great sport!
## The Pioneering Era: 1940s-1950s
The shortened version of what really led us to ski on bare feet was the changing shape and sizes of water skis that kept getting smaller and smaller until it became obvious that no-skis was an option that needed to be tried!
### Shoe Skis and the Path to Bare Feet
Around 1945, Ralph Hept and Chuck Sligh introduced shoe skis, taking barefoot water skiing one step closer to reality. In 1947, a pivotal moment arrived when riders, including Dick Pope Jr. and a young girl, were captured on film stepping off the binding-less ski while wearing shoe skis. This remarkable leap paved the way for the emergence of gliding on bare feet, a transformative concept that would revolutionize the sport.
In 1947, A.G. Hancock became the first person ever to barefoot water ski in Winter Haven, Florida on Lake Howard’s East side. At the time, he did not think much of it and said that he was surprised when he saw the popularity grow. He was recognized with a plaque and an exhibition by Ron Scarpa and Lane Bowers who represented how far the sport had come in 1992. Unfortunately, the plaque was later stolen by thieves.
### The Power to Pull: Go Boat and the Need for Speed
In 1947, as boats evolved, attaining higher speeds became possible, enabling barefooters to experience the exhilaration and challenges of gliding effortlessly on the water’s surface.
### The Photographic Revolution: Dick Pope Jr.’s Trailblazing Feat
In March 1947, Dick Pope Jr. etched his name in history as the first barefooter to be photographed. His awe-inspiring accomplishment became an international sensation, thanks to the media promotions led by his father, Dick Pope Sr., at the iconic Cypress Gardens in Central Florida. The captivating images and newsreels propelled barefoot water skiing into the limelight, captivating audiences worldwide.
It should also be noted that in this film around the 0:37s mark, a boom is being used for the first time, making photography and videography much easier.
## The Golden Age: 1960s-1970s
### Expansion and Global Popularization
During the 1960s, performers at Cypress Gardens in Florida and Tommy Bartlett’s in Wisconsin Dells enthralled audiences with countless ski shows featuring barefoot water skiing. The relentless media machine at Cypress Gardens, led by Dick Pope Sr., played a pivotal role in popularizing the sport worldwide. In 1964, Cypress Gardens even tied with the Grand Canyon as the number one tourist destination in the United States.
### Trailblazing Innovations: Tumble Turns and Barefoot Slalom
In 1960, Terry Vance unintentionally invented the “tumble turn” during a double barefoot routine, providing a remarkable spectacle where his feet spun around, returning almost in front of him. Additionally, in 1972, Garry Barton introduced the world to the first one-foot forward barefoot slalom, pushing the sport’s boundaries of skill and technique.
### Women in the Spotlight
The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the rise of talented women in barefoot water skiing. Charlene Zint Wellborn became the first woman to barefoot water ski in 1951, captivating audiences with her performances at Cypress Gardens. Her remarkable skills even found their way onto the iconic TV show M*A*S*H, where her skiing was hailed as “patriotic, aquatic, ecstatic, and acrobatic!”
A New Era of Achievements: 1980s-Present
Pushing the Limits: New Tricks and Records
The single biggest contribution to the history of barefoot skiing was incorporating the water ski boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Barefoot International’s Mike Seipel, Winter Haven local Rob Beaman, and others manufactured the booms that started to be used in barefoot ski schools. This led to tens of thousands of booms being made and sold worldwide. I believe this part of barefoot skiing history is crucial to understanding how barefoot skiing became more achievable for water skiers.
The 1980s and beyond witnessed a surge of incredible achievements in barefoot water skiing. Ron Scarpa mesmerized audiences with his stylish side slides and barefoot flip, while Mike Seipel made history by successfully executing the first inverted jump in competition. These daring feats pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible in the sport.
Mike Seipel almost accidentally became the first barefoot jumper during photo and video shoots of him barefooting on a 5-foot rope off a very high boom. He began by jumping in a more upright position than had ever been seen before in competition. He eventually began to become more and more parallel with the water until he passed parallel to an “inverted” style with his patented 1 handed release.
This style allowed Mike to dominate for years as other barefooters tried to copy his style. Little-known barefooters Casey Scalise and Lane “Dawg” Bowers began experimenting with inverted jumping by copying Mike’s “boom jumping” for photo shoots down in Barefoot International in Lantana, Florida.
Casey Scalise and Lane Bowers became top-ranked jumpers with Lane winning the 1992 World Jump Title in England against a stacked field, including the then-current world record holders. By this time, at least a handful of barefooters had braved this new style.
Lane “Dawg” Bowers developed the Progressive Barefoot Jump Method for his students, allowing the entire world to learn safer by using the barefoot boom directly, then progressing on to a 5-foot rope before moving to the long line.
Equipment Innovations: Rigid Handles and Barefoot Nautique
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Garry Barton pioneered the development of rigid handles, allowing barefooters to recover from challenging positions and execute impressive tricks. In 1978, Correct Craft introduced the Barefoot Nautique, the world’s first towboat designed specifically for barefooting. Its specialized features provided the ideal platform for barefoot water skiing, propelling the sport to new heights.
In 2003, the next greatest breakthroughs in barefoot skiing equipment came from Barefoot International’s Fly High Extended Pylon which raised the pull of the rope from 3.5 feet to 7 feet above the water. It became the new standard before wakeboard towers became popular.
The additional height of the rope reduced the difficulty of barefooting by about 30%! In addition, the extra height made slower barefooting speeds possible.
A decade later, The Super Fly High or Tower Extension raised the standard pull to 14 feet off the water. This was a controversial time as many of barefoot skiing’s officials vowed to ban it from competition because they believed it made the sport “too easy.”
If it were not for the tireless efforts of Lane “Dawg” Bowers, Richard Grey, Fred Groen, and the New Zealand Barefoot Association, the higher standard would not have been accepted. Once the rest of the world realized how much safer the sport was with the higher pull, it became part of every competition and world record.
The Rise of Championships and Global Competitions
The late 1970s saw the establishment of the American Barefoot Club under the American Water Ski Association, bringing together enthusiasts and athletes from across the nation. The first U.S. Barefoot Nationals took place in 1978, followed by the inaugural World Barefoot Championships in Canberra, Australia. These prestigious events provided a stage for talented barefooters to showcase their skills, driving the sport’s growth and competitiveness.
A Sport for Everyone
Throughout the years, barefoot water skiing has welcomed participants from all walks of life, breaking barriers and fostering inclusivity. Female barefooters, such as Lori Powell and Jennifer Caleri, have made significant contributions and shattered gender stereotypes in the sport. Today, barefoot water skiing continues to embrace diversity and create opportunities for athletes of all backgrounds to excel.
Embracing the Future: Technological Advancements and Beyond
As we look to the future of barefoot water skiing, technology is poised to play a pivotal role. Advanced materials, such as the first 23mm barefoot suit and 23mm IronMan shorts made barefoot skiing safer for first-timers to learn at slower speeds and without falling.
Lane “Dawg” Bowers’ tireless efforts in teaching thousands of beginners were able to publish the No Fall Barefooting Technique which revolutionized how people began to learn. Almost none other than Mike Seipel and Lane Bowers believed that barefooting could be done at 25mph and that backward barefooting could be done at the same speed regardless of weight!
Most new barefooters were coming from Ski Shows across the United States. These clubs were known for having new barefooters “step off” a slalom ski behind the boat at speeds closer to 40mph on the low pylon. The success rate was extremely low, implying that only the toughest and strongest kids could learn to barefoot.
As Show Skiers began to learn The No Fall Barefooting Method and the No Fall Backwards Barefooting method, the sport started flooding with more girls, women, and even older folks who were in love with the amazing feeling.
All you had to do was to run into Banana George Blair to become a believer. The Swing Method and the No Fall Barefooting Method were critical to allowing the beloved Banana Geroge to barefoot into his 90s.
Banana George Blair was the single largest financial contributor to the sport. He even had his own parking spot at USA Ski Headquarters. He is also immortalized in an amazing wax figure which you can still see today.
One of the greatest breakthroughs and unrecognized secrets to the world’s longest barefoot jumps and records was the use of the IronMan Shorts. Although this sounds trivial, it should be noted that the thicker 23mm barefoot suits in conjunction with the 23mm wrap-around shorts developed by Mike Seipel and Barefoot International can not be understated.
While Mike Seipel and Lane were quietly wearing massive amounts of protection, other barefooters like Ron Scarpa tried using barefoot suits with a lighter and more flexible design of a 6-8mm suit. World Champion Rick Powell was also a huge fan of this design.
But the secret could not be contained when the sport started to experience its greatest growth, including massive ESPN coverage of the X-Games, which featured barefoot jumping, flips, and tricks. EVERYONE started to see the huge advantage of the equipment that Mike and Lane were using.
It should also be noted that while others were laughing and calling the thick shorts “diapers,” they could not deny the results. It took even longer for the world of beginners to see the massive safety advantages of using these super suits.
At almost the same time another secret innovation was sneaking in when Ron Scarpa and Lane Bowers showed up at tournaments with barefoot ropes thinner than shoe strings! No one took this too seriously for a year, but this new “spectra rope” that Ron and Lane had purchased from a parachute supply company became another game-changer.
While this new unstretchable laser-type rope was unforgiving, it was insanely efficient and provided a huge advantage when the skier began to get used to the loss of stretch or yaw in the rope.
This also became controversial as competitors such as Jon Kretchman tried to get the rope banned for safety reasons. The rope was so tight that it certainly would do major damage if you got caught up in it, but that was not happening, and eventually, everyone knew the truth. Spectra rope was here to stay, and everyone wanted in on it. It was a massive advantage, and although other historical experts do not recognize some of these changes, they propelled our sport forward to higher performance levels.
The growing popularity of video-sharing platforms and social media has also provided a global stage for barefooters to showcase their skills, inspire others, and foster a vibrant community. Online tutorials, training resources, and virtual competitions have made the sport more accessible than ever, nurturing emerging barefooters’ talents worldwide.
The Unsung Hero of Free-Style Barefooting – Andre Devilliers
Although it is not a recognized event in barefoot skiing, free-style barefooting was invented almost single-handedly by South African Andrea DeVilliers. Although Andre was long recognized as possibly one of the best in the sport, his real contribution came when he began showing up on YouTube videos highlighting his incredible creativity on the water.
All previous publishings on the history of barefooting do not include Andre, but the truth is that he made barefoot skiing more popular and fun for new and existing barefooters with such moves as side slide variations such as “Switch” and “Frog” side slides. Andre’ also made famous the “Dolphin” start even though it had been done off of youtube many years earlier. In addition, massive “butt slides” where the footer slides on his butt after you let go of the rope.
Although Andre’ was not the first person to do the Side Slide (I believe that was made famous by Ron Scarpa) or the long butt slide, he certainly made it attractive and addictive to many because of the popularity of YouTube as a source for tutorials and showing off. Ron Scarpa and Lane “Dawg” Bowers had been showing off for students and in competitions for many years with not only the butt slide but the number of tricks that can be done after letting go of the rope. Examples of these tricks include standing up again, knee skiing, a flip, and the “dead bug!”
In conclusion, the 100-year history of barefoot water skiing is an awe-inspiring testament to the indomitable spirit of those who dare to defy convention and glide on the water’s surface with nothing but their bare feet. It’s a sport that embodies passion, tenacity and a touch of sheer madness. As we reflect on the milestones and achievements of the past, let us raise a toast to the countless faceplants, epic wipeouts, and triumphant moments that have shaped this extraordinary journey.
But this is just the beginning! The future holds limitless possibilities for barefoot water skiing. Who knows what daring tricks, mind-boggling stunts, and record-breaking feats await us? So, buckle up your wetsuits, grab your tow ropes, and brace yourselves for a thrilling adventure that will make your heart race and your adrenaline soar.
In the realm of barefoot water skiing, gravity may be your enemy, but laughter is your faithful companion. Remember, it’s not always staying upright; it’s about embracing the spills, picking yourself up, and embracing the next thrilling ride. So, whether you’re a seasoned barefooter or a curious newbie, let the water be your playground, the boat be your partner in crime, and the wind be your mischievous accomplice.
In the ever-evolving saga of barefoot water skiing, there’s one thing we can guarantee: the exhilarating joy of gliding on the water’s surface, defying gravity, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. So, go forth, my fellow barefooters, and may your flips be flippant, your jumps be jaw-dropping, and your bare feet forever leave their mark on the water.
About the author, Lane “Dawg” Bowers
Lane “Dawg” Bowers is the undisputed guru of barefoot skiing hilarity. With an infectious love for the sport, he effortlessly glides through the water, leaving a trail of laughter in his wake. Bowers’ expertise is as impressive as his ability to make even the clumsiest beginners feel like Olympic champions. Armed with an arsenal of quirky techniques, outrageous tips, and witty one-liners, he has become the go-to source for side-splitting barefoot skiing wisdom. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a bumbling novice, Lane Bowers will have you in stitches as you tumble, stumble, and enjoy your barefoot skiing journey.
Thanks to www.wakeski100.org for the reuse of the photos