Barefooters take waterskiing to the extreme

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 18, 2002

The line of waterskiers approaches fast from the end of the lake. The skiers quickly step out of one ski, then the other. Having no skis doesn’t deter them; they’re still skiing &045; on their bare feet!

Barefoot waterskiing has been around since the late 1960s, said Doug Edwards, a member of the Albert Lea Bayside Skiers and captain of the club’s barefoot team. But the extreme sport’s as popular as ever.

Edwards recalls seeing someone in the original ski club jump out of two skis and keep on skiing during the club’s Fourth of July show.

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&uot;I was about 15 and I thought that was way cool,&uot; Edwards said. &uot;I just had to do it.&uot;

He and his brother had been skiing for years before that, and soon discovered that the only way they could barefoot behind their boat was to get enough speed up to whip around the corner.

&uot;It was quite an adventure, learning how to barefoot,&uot; he recalled. &uot;We had no teacher. I probably took 1,000 falls. But I was young.&uot;

Edwards finally went to the ski club himself just to find out who he’d seen barefooting. &uot;Finally, somebody took me out and taught me how to kick off,&uot; he said.

Learning his first trick also gave Edwards some hard knocks. &uot;Originally I thought I had to jump so far out of my skis,&uot; he said. &uot;The farther you jump, the harder you land. Now I can do it with greater success. I haven’t fallen in years.&uot;

Learning to do a deep water start also proved a challenge. He borrowed someone’s old scuba suit and he, his cousin Scott Ver Hey and friend Erik Larsen tried all day to do a deep water start. Larsen was successful.

&uot;I was black and blue,&uot; Edwards recalled of his attempts. &uot;The next day I put in sponges for padding.&uot;

Ironically, that next day someone from the Twin Cities was down and was doing a deep water start on the lake. &uot;He gave us some pointers and even let us use his barefoot suit,&uot; Edwards said. &uot;After that, we all went out and scrounged up money for a suit.&uot;

Soon after, Edwards bought his first boat. &uot;I thought I had to go so fast,&uot; he said. &uot;I thought I needed to go 50 mph. We ended up having to buy neoprene booties because we’d burn up our feet so bad. It was a learning curve. We now do two feet at about 38 mph and one foot at 41 or 43. It’s so much safer.&uot;

By then, books and magazines were coming out on the subject, and Edwards and his friends were reading them to pick up whatever tips they could.

The tumble turn was the next real trick he learned. That’s where a barefooter gets down on the water, spins on his back, then gets back up on his feet.

&uot;By that time, I got a real inboard boat with a barefoot boom,&uot; he said.

Now barefooters learn first on the boom, or a long arm that stretches to the side of the boat, then on a five-foot bridle, then finally on a long line behind the boat.

&uot;There are now barefoot booms, barefoot suits, barefoot handles and barefoot ropes,&uot; Edwards said. &uot;People can learn much quicker and much safer now.&uot;

One of the hardest tricks to learn is barefooting backwards. &uot;The body has a tendency to flex forward, and falls can be uncomfortable,&uot; he said.

There are certain tricks Edwards won’t do anymore, including skiing with the handle behind his neck. &uot;And I don’t do barefoot jumping off a ramp. You run the risk of falling right before you hit the ramp,&uot; he said.

His favorite trick is the forward toe hold while skiing on one foot. And his favorite group trick is the hot pickup, where Edwards jumps off the dock, is pulled around the lake on his barefoot, then the boat picks up a couple other barefooters as it passes the dock &045; all without stopping.

Edwards has passed what he knows onto his children &045; both Mark and Amber could barefoot behind the boat by the time they were 10 &045; and other members of the ski team. They’ve also picked up many tips from a world class barefooter who lives in Fergus Falls.

Curtis Clarambeau learned what he knows about barefooting from Edwards. &uot;My brother knew how (to barefoot ski) and I couldn’t let him get away with it,&uot; he said with a chuckle.

Clarambeau said his most accomplished trick is the barefoot pyramid, a stunt the club has been working on since members have seen others do it at tournaments. It starts with three people on skis. One steps out of his skis, then climbs onto the shoulders of the other two, who first kick out of the inside ski, then the outside one.

Clarambeau’s daughters, Acacia and Cassandra, have also learned to barefoot ski, and he’s also been willing to help any club members interested in learning.

&uot;I like the freedom of skiing without any other equipment &045; just my bare feet,&uot; Clarambeau said.

Another ski club member, Jeff Englin, also taught himself how to barefoot back in the mid-1980s. &uot;It looked really cool,&uot; he said of his desire to learn.

&uot;It took three months of beating myself senseless,&uot; Englin said. &uot;But the first 50 feet I skied made up for all the bruises.&uot;

He considers his most accomplished trick to be a one-foot toe hold and wake crossing.

In retrospect, Englin said he could have learned how to barefoot much quicker and safer through a club with the proper tools, and recommends anyone interested in learning do it that way. &uot;Those three months could easily have been shrunk down to one day,&uot; he said.

Still, there’s nothing like barefooting, he said. &uot;I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love the rush. It’s awesome.&uot;

And the feeling is what keeps Edwards going as well. &uot;It’s still an absolute thrill to get out there, take off and stand on the water,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s almost a peaceful exhilaration for me. And it keeps me young.

&uot;We have such a beautiful lake &045; and I’ve probably barefoot around it more than most people have skied around it.&uot;