Learn How to Barefoot Waterski





Introduction: Learn How to Barefoot Waterski

About: I've been posting Instructables since the site's inception, and now build other things at Autodesk. Follow me for food and more!

Teach yourself to barefoot waterski in an afternoon: it only requires a good set of abs, and a friend with a ski boat and a boom.

Step 1: Boom

The boom is a long metal pole protruding from the side of the boat. It's usually attached to a fixed post in the center of the boat thenrests against the side of the boat, and is stabilized by lines running to the bow of the boat. The boom can be raised and lowered to accommodate different activities and user heights.

A boom is quite necessary for beginners, as trying to learn barefooting on a long line generally results in heavy bruising and very little successful barefooting.

Step 2: Practice on the Boat

Put on your gear: a padded wetsuit (this has nothing to do with temperature!), a cup if you need it, and maybe a neck brace or gloves if you like. Now, practice the motions you'll use when hanging onto the boom.

You'll start planing off on your stomach/hips, holding the boom. First, flip your body around so you're riding on your rear end. Bend your knees and angle the kneecaps towards the back of the boat, such that you're riding on your left hip. Now, use those abs to scoot your body around so that your feet face front. Brace your knees solidly together, and SLOWLY roll forward so that you transfer some weight to your feet; this is the three-point position. Transfer more weight to your feet, and let the force of the water pop you up, and you'll ride like you're sitting in a chair.

Wasn't that easy? Now, hop in the water and let's try it faster and with spray.

Step 3: Plane Off and Flip Onto Your Back

Hang on tight, because you'll get a face full of spray when the boat starts up. Your driver should take you up to about 30mph, depending on your size and weight.

Remember our dry-land practice? You'll plane off on your stomach/hips while holding onto the bar, then flip your body so that you're dragging along on your backside while maintaining the same grip on the boom. Pretty simple, really.

Just ignore all of that spray and the bouncing; the padding in your wetsuit will prevent any visible damage.

Step 4: Bend Your Knees, Point Them Back, and Spin on Your Left Hip

This may sound complicated, but makes more sense once you understand the reason behind it.

Scooting around on top of the water is relatively easy; once you get going you can slide like you're on ice. However, if you catch some of that water moving past you at 30mph it will seriously slow you down.

Planing on your left hip raises the front hip, meaning that you can't catch a lapful of water while you spin around. Check out the pictures below to recognize the difference.

So: bend those knees, shift to your left hip, then use those abs to spin your feet around towards the front. Make sure to keep your front hip high all the way through, else you'll catch water and have to work a lot harder. A nice fast spin is cleaner, and produces less spray.

If you do catch water and get your feet tossed behind you just keep hold of the boom, plane off on your stomach again, and repeat the process.

Step 5: Knees Together, Feet Apart, Toes Up- and SLOWLY Into Three Point

Now that you've swung your feet around, you're probably buried in spray and bouncing along frantically on your butt wondering what to do next.

Thankfully, you remember that dry-land stuff again: clamp your knees together and spread your feet, making a rough equilateral triangle. Make sure to pull your toes up so they don't catch and angle your toes in to direct spray out.

Now, maintain this position and VERY SLOWLY roll yourself forward and incrementally transfer weight to your feet to achieve the three point position. Do not try to 1) move quickly, or 2) straighten your legs, or you will catch your feet and land HARD on your face. Your feet are (probably) a much smaller surface area than your butt, so there's a bit of adjustment to be worked through in the process. You can go for a good bit with both your feet and your butt in the water, so don't stress it.

In addition to providing foot stability, keeping your knees together has another benefit: it helps keep spray out of your face. This is key to being able to see ANYTHING at this stage. Also, turn your toes inward and press out a bit with your feet to direct spray away from the face; when you learn to do this properly you can avoid spray even with your knees apart. See pictures below for an example of a knees-apart, flat-footed barefooter eating spray.

Eventually you'll plane off on your feet and it will start to feel comfortable enough that your rear end will naturally come up out of the water as you transfer more weight to your feet. The proper barefooting position on a boom looks an awful lot like sitting in a chair: your thighs are roughly parallel to the surface of the water. You can move from side to side by adjusting the weight you place on each foot; pressing down with your left foot sends you right, and vice versa. It's just like shifting direction on skis.

Again, if your feet get ripped out from under you and you can maintain a grip on the boom, just plane off on your stomach and try again. However, if you botch the feet-in part you will likely be splatted on your face quite efficiently, and will have to wait for the boat to circle for another try. This is why the neck brace can be handy while learning.

Step 6: Add a Short Rope- Tumble Turns

Once you're good with the boom, you can add a short rope to the end for a bit more of a challenge. Having two solid points to brace yourself on is extremely stable; the rope can move up and down and spin. This makes it possible to try a few tricks.

First change the angle of the boom: it needs to be higher off the water to accommodate the change in angle from the short rope and give you room to maneuver underneath.

Use the same technique to plane, spin, and stand as when holding onto the boom directly. When spinning, pull the handle in towards your torso to help pull yourself around. Alternatively, get up holding the boom then transfer to the short rope after you've planed off.

With the rope, you can try tumble turns. This is essentially the same motion you used when getting up the first time, except you start and end in an upright position. Drop back into your three-point position, pick up your feet, angle those knees toward the back of the boat, spin 360, and hop back up. Easy, right? Right. Try it until you get the hang of it, and remember exactly how good this is for building those six-pack abs.

Use the rope to your advantage; first, pull the rope in towards your hips as you're facing forward, then pull it towards the side you wish to turn. As you spin, keep the handle right around your belly button; don't let it float too far away from you. As you come around, pull the handle toward the opposite hip, then back to the center as you return to your three-point position.

Remember that you keep your kneese pointed to the back of the boat to keep from catching a lap full of water; this involves swapping directions halfway through the tumble turn. See pictures below.

Step 7: One-footed

Try this on the boom first, then perhaps on the short rope. Consult with your driver, as you may need a bit more speed to be able to plane on half the foot area; 32-33mph should do it.

Stand up as normal, scoot your feet a bit closer together, shift your wieght onto one foot, then... slowly slide the other foot forward then up and out of the water. The remaining foot will of necessity center itself a bit more to adequately support you. Slide your foot back into place slowly, then redistribute your weight.

If you're doing this on trick on the short rope, turn the handle towards the foot that's going to stay put, then follow the boom instructions above.

Expect to clean out your sinuses thoroughly until you get this (or any) trick down properly.

Step 8: Jumping

Don't try this one until you're quite proficient at setting your feet into the water perfectly each time, as now you'll be doing it very quickly.

First, practice "upweighting": squat and raise yourself back to the standard barefooting position. This gets you used to weight shifts on your feet. Work up to deeper squats and more propulsive upweights, then you'll be able to naturally progress to small hops.

Once you're properly up and going, ask the driver for a bit more gas then... jump. It's just a more dramatic form of the upweighting you've been practicing. Push down on the boom to get some properly impressive air. Now comes the hard part- landing! You've put your feet in before; this is the same, just faster, so be sure to do it right. Wasn't that helpful? Now, try it again. No, again. Er... maybe it's time to try more upweighting.

Step 9: Advanced Technique: Direct to Kneeling Position

Unfortunately I don't have spectacular photographs of this technique, as it just happens too fast. Again, a video would have been nice.

Once you've got those abs properly developed, it's possible to pop up directly from your stomach to skiing in a sitting position with your legs tucked under you. If you've practiced jumping, this is a similar technique: push down against the water and raise your torso, then use this additional space to QUICKLY pull your knees toward your chest. If you manage not to catch your knees in the oncoming water, you should find yourself essentially sitting on your feet, planed off on the top of your feet and ankles.

From this position you can roll onto your rear end and get up via a three-point position, or for bonus points you can execute a truly impressive jump and land on your feet. If you're going for the latter, definitely work on the upweighting first and try not to catch your toes on the way up.

Step 10: Hand Skiing

The short rope has a handy spot for your foot, enabling you to inhale more water learning a new trick: skiing on your hands. Again, the boom needs to be up high to leave you room to maneuver, and the rope needs to be wrapped so that it's extremely short.

First, up you go on the boom, then transfer to the short rope. Sit down comfortably on your rear end, stick one of your feet in the foothold on the handle, adjust as necessary, then tense up your abdominal muscles and let go with your hands. Lean back; it's all on your foot. Curl your toes up a bit to keep from sliding out of the foothold.

Now, take a deep breath and flip onto your stomach, facing the back of the boat; the handle will spin with you. You're going to get a lot of spray in your face, so arch your back, pressing your chest into the water, and pick your head up to breathe in the spray-free air pocket you've created. Put your hands under your nipples, and... do a pushup. The water will be trying to push your hands out from under you towards your sides and the back of the boat, so maintaining this position will require some serious effort from the triceps, lats and pecs. Work hard to keep your hands from drifting outside your torso. Keep your head up and out of the spray.

To return, reverse your pushup, spin onto your backside, sit up, and grab the handle again. Wasn't that fun?

Step 11: Move on to the Long Line

Getting up on a long line is something else entirely, and may get its own post when I've got some better pictures. For now, rest assured that it's trickier than getting up on a boom or the short rope, and since you're going even faster (at least 35mph) it's even more fun when you fall. You should have plenty to practice with on the boom and short rope for now; make sure you get it right here first.

In the meantime, Ben suggests that you check out http://www.barefootcentral.com/cool.htm for inspiration, particularly Andre De Villiers "Goin Too Fast".

Have fun!



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    24 Discussions

    Thanks for this very useful tutorial. Barefoot wakeboarding is so much fun but it also involves risk so think safety first by wearing protective gear and use the proper equipment.


    As one who has done barefoot the first time I tried without a boom and at the end of a 50 foot tow rope I believe this was possible for me because of 10 plus summers of slolem sessions including many of continuing duration of 3 to 4 hours continuous 2 or 3 times a week. I always started by droping out of a slolem ski at speed. Note: Used 10 Canadion gallons of gas per session by quickly switching tanks at midpoint.

    A Very Good Tutorial.  A very long time ago it took me about two weeks to go from waterskis to feet on the sea.  But I have stress the importance of a wetsuit  otherwise when you come off the "plain" (when you slow down) you give yourself an cold Enema !! Something not recommended  I can still taste it.....

    When I was learning to barefoot, I tried three methods: the boom, a kneeboard, and stepping out of a loosely bound ski. I found that the boom required more upper body strength than I had at the time (I was ~13). For those without a boom or without the requisite upper body strength, I'd recommend a kneeboard start. The basics are described at http://www.ehow.com/how_7762_water-ski-barefoot.html.

    2 replies

    Pre-boom, my brother tried all of these with varying success. (Ben, maybe you can offer some comments here?) We've found that the boom is by far the easiest way to teach barefooting, largely due to the increased stability you get from two fixed handholds. With good technique, you really don't need much upper body strength; you predominantly use your abs and shoulders during the start when you try to spin in the wrong position (see step 4). Of course, everything is easy once you get the hang of it.

    combine the methods -- a loose slalom "drop" ski, while holding onto the boom. The ski makes getting up to speed a breeze, and builds confidence/familiarity with the sensation of skimming across the water using the boom...

    Then you cautiously test adding weight to the non-ski foot - be sure to squat down REALLY low!  Standing up too tall = crash.  Then bend the knee of your ski-foot and let the water pull the ski off - no need for kicking or thrashing.  Quickly plant the former-ski foot... and away you go!

    Also, don't expect to Foot all the way around the lake-  just go a couple hundred yards. Otherwise your body will get lazy and you'll catch a foot ... BLAM, brutal crash!  Instead, squat down to 3-point and lean back into a "mummy" pose, gliding to a ker-plunk.

    It's fun, but your toenails will degrade (turn black) and fall off. Don't worry-- there are new ones underneath. It just takes a while for them to appear.

    Better way for beginners to start - especially if they aren't really strong: 1. Get on top of the boom, with the boom above the bottom of your jacket, just below where the bottom of a bra strap would be. Once the boat is at 25mph(120lbs) or 30mph (140-160lbs) have the driver notify you. Then, tuck your legs in, and swing them ahead of you, and drop them in the water. As you let your arms out (if you're stable), make SURE you keep your feet way ahead of you. Don't let your feet get under you. Also, unless you'll die if you drop from tired legs, try to avoid putting your knees together. I couldn't stand for 2 days after. I have VERY strong quads, I can dead-lift over 250lbs, however when you put your knees together like that, you inner knee supporters (rarely used) will swell up by the next morning, and you'll definitely need to take a bath - showers will be too hard to stand up in. Of course 1, this only works on the boom and 2. you need to eventually do it like the guy in this tutorial, but until then this is a good way to learn without the "getting up" frustration of barefooting. A third way to do this, is off the boom, hold on, and put your feet UP on the boom support cords. When you're at the right speed, just un-wrap your feet and let them drop in.

    2 replies

    Sounds like good advice, but I'd be a bit worried about the failure mode of starting a weaker person propped on the boom. When/if their feet get swept, there's a distinct chance of faceplanting into the boom and chipping some teeth. (Maybe it's all the dentists in the family brainwashing me.)

    That looks like that would be a lot of fun but really hard. I can barely waterski with waterskis so I don't think I'll be doing this anytime soon... Also no one I know has a boom so that's another reason I won't be doing this anytime soon...

    It doesn't hurt your feet at all. If you have "glass" water, after skiing for maybe a minute, once you drop your feet may feel numb for a second. Normally it doesn't do anything to your feet. I've never seen someone hit themselves on the boom. Normally as you fall the water decelerates you from the boom faster than gravity accelerates you towards it. Another tip FOR THE BOOM, NOT SHORT ROPE: Raise the boom as much as possible. It doesn't train you for the short rope really, but it's good for beginners. It keeps most of the spray out of your face, and you from hitting the water (if you hold on). My boom is about 6 feet above the water (before someone holds on to it)

    hey theres my brother.... and my cousin... and my cousin posted this.... woah.... this is a cool instructable!!!! very explained.... on a chart of 10.. this is 20 :)haha

    1 reply

    great explanations. If only I had balance!

    howbout barefoot SUBMARINEING (my boat only goes 23mph...)

    1 reply

    Cut yourself a big enough plywood circle and you can plane off behind just about anything stronger than a trolling motor. It's not as much of a chick magnet as barefooting, but it makes pokey boats a bit more fun without springing for expensive gear.


    11 years ago

    ive alwayas got that fear that a rouge branch will skewer my feet.

    1 reply

    That's what your driver is for! If they can't properly see the water directly in front of the boat, post a small cousin in the bow to check for drift. Once you're up and skiing you can see what's coming and edge sideways (or jump if you're good) to avoid anything suspicious.