Barefoot waterskiing is one of the most intimidating and rewarding water sports in practice today. These skiers travel at high speeds on just the skin on their feet! To some this is appealing; however, due to the mental obstacles barefooting brings, many beginners can be discouraged. To beginners, stories of painful wipeouts and injury often overpower the wonder of the sport. In this instructable, I will demystify the difficulties, and fears that come with barefooting to get you on the water as easy, and soon, as possible!
Before we set foot on the water, we need to go over what you will need to get started, and basic stance and techniques. Let's get started with the next step!
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Step 1: What You'll Need
To learn the basic techniques that I'll present to you, you will need:
-A small ski with a back binding ("concave" skis offer more stability)
-A 100ft rope with a large handle (if it is less that is OK)
-A boat capable of reaching speeds of 36+ (depending on your weight)
-A padded barefoot wetsuit (or padded shorts)
-A calm lake
-A "boom" (RECOMMENDED)
When learning, the most important gear to have is a well padded wetsuit, and a boat that has enough torque to get you out of the water fast and keep you at your desired speed.
As stated above, I recommend that you use a boat that has a "boom" installed. A "boom" is a large aluminum pole that can be installed into just about any boat which one can learn to ski off of. It is easier to learn on the boom because it is closer to the boat (for instructional purposes), it is more sturdy than a rope, and it can support tons of weight. However, this equipment is only recommended, it is still very possible to learn to barefoot without a boom, but it'll require more effort.
Step 2: Dry-land Practice
Before taking anything to the water, its best to practice on land first. Hook your rope to a nearby tree or dock and let's practice!
We will begin with practicing appropriate barefooting stance. For beginners, It is best to assume "the chair". As seen in the first picture, you will want to bend your knees, lean back, have your chest out, and feet shoulder width apart. Basically, it looks like you're sitting upright on an invisible chair. Have a friend nearby check your stance to make sure you are following the guidelines stated before.
Also, keep in mind that when you are on the water, you will need to flex your heels back and lift up your toes to ensure the water rides just under the ball of your foot. This is hard to practice on dry-land since the water will be a bit softer than the ground, but keep that in mind while you take it to the water.
Each time before we hit the water, I will go over the dry-land practice that must be done beforehand. So don't take off the pier until you practice the appropriate dry-land practice for each barefooting technique!
Step 3: Boat Driving
In order to barefoot, we are going to need a decent boat driver (and a spotter). The job of the boat driver is to keep you in calm water, and at an acceptable barefooting speed. Finding your appropriate speed is simple using the following formula: (weight/10) + 20. So for example, if you weigh 180 pounds, we can just divide that by 10 and add 20, giving us our suggested speed: 38 mph (World Barefoot Center).
Once you find your estimated barefooting speed, and instruct your boat driver on their responsibilities, we can get all stretched and ready to shred some gnar!
Step 4: Stretch and Get Ready!
Despite the arguments between pro barefooters about the benefits of stretching before a ski run, let's take a moment to stretch. Some say stretching lowers your reaction time for high speed sports such as barefooting, but since we are just learning it is best to stretch to be limber and avoid pulling muscles.
I will present two ways you can learn to barefoot in this article: the deep water start, and the step off. I suggest trying both of them and seeing which one is best for you. Personally, I learned stepping off first, but many others learn deeps first.
While still on dry-land be sure to get all of your land practice down and have nice calm water to ski on. Once you are prepared, we can finally take it to the water!
Step 5: The Deep Water Start
One way to get your feet gliding on the water is to do a deep barefoot water start. This technique requires a well padded wetsuit, and once you learn to get out of the water, you can be barefooting in just a few tries!
Before attempting this behind the boat, take a look at the last five pictures on this step and make sure you've practice the technique on land.
To do a deep water start:
-You should begin laying flat in the water with both feet wrapped on top of the rope and your handle at waist level. Tell your drive to idle you forward. When you are ready, take one last breath, cock your head back and just as your head goes back your driver should being pulling you out of the water.
-Depending on your boat, you may have to hold your breath and get a little waterlogged before you actually get out of the water, but eventually you will plane out. Once you do plane out, bend forward at the waist and look forward. Begin to "edge" left or right to get outside of the wake.
-Once out of the wake, you may continue to ride on your butt until you are comfortable to take your feet off of the rope. When you are ready, slowly take your feet off the rope and place your feet as close to your body as possible (like a fetal position).Try to keep your heels close to your butt. Be sure you have your heels flex back and keep your toes raised.
-Apply pressure against the water with your feet. It is important to keep your chest out and lean back so you do not catch a toe in the water.
-If done correctly you should go right into your "chair" stance and be barefooting!
If you are using a boom, you may follow these same steps, but attach a handle to the end of the boom and do a "shortline" barefoot deep start.
After several attempts with no success, take a break or try our next step on how to do a "step off"!
Step 6: The Step Off
If the deep water start is too intimidating, maybe stepping off a ski will seem a bit easier! This technique uses a ski to help get you flying across the water.
Like the deep water start, it is best to practice the step off on land before we take it to the water. View the last five pictures of this step for a visual of what you should practice on dryland.
To do a step off:
-Begin by doing a deep water slalom start (or dropping a ski). Be sure to distinguish what your front slaloming foot is and be comfortable with taking your back foot out of its binding at high speeds.
-Next cut outside of the wake, (if you are left foot forward go to the left "curl" of the wake, if you are right foot forward go to the right), and give a signal to your boat driver to approach your barefooting speed.
-Once up to speed, take your back foot out of the binding and set it on the water (shoulder width apart from your other ski). This foot should be kept a foot's length forward relative to your ski binding. This is so that when you step off, you are already leaning back in case the water does not support you as expected.
-With your foot in the correct position, begin to put pressure on it. Feel where the water comes up to on your foot. Ensure that it does not go over the "ball" of your foot. Continue to push on the water with your foot and until you are confident that the water will support you. (If it doesn't feel hard enough, ask the boat driver to raise the speed).
-In one quick motion, you will have to take your foot out of the ski binding and onto the water, joining your other foot. This will require you to have your chest out and lean back so that you do not catch a toe. While stepping off, you will actually barefoot on one foot for a split second (see second picture) so be sure that you lean far enough back so your foot has enough support.
-Once your final foot reaches the water, assume the "chair" position and continue to lean back.
Learning to step off will most likely take a few tries to get it, but once you get it the first time you won't forget it. If ever discouraged, you could always go back to the deep water start to try another approach on barefooting.
Step 7: Advanced Tricks
Barefooting doesn't stop at deep water starts and step offs! There are plenty of more tricks you can learn as you advance your skills.
In your barefooting career you can look forward to doing the following tricks:
Just as it sounds, this trick has you barefooting only using one foot. There are many resources online with tips and tricks for this move. For starters, you need to be going a bit faster than your typical barefooting speed and work on balancing your weight across one foot.
This is a popular tournament trick where one does a 360 degree spin while butt-sliding on the water, comes back around and plants their feet.
This is a barefooting start where you begin by holding onto the rope facing the boat. As the speed increases you flip onto your back, spin around, and plant your feet into the water.
-Two Ski Jump Out
The title explains it all. For this trick, you must jump out of two skis, keeping your handle at waist level, your chest outwards, and prepare for impact.
One of the more peaceful looking barefoot tricks. To do this trick, you must slide on the side of your back and take a hand off the rope and touch the water. Aka "hugging the water".
This one holds up to its name. You basically barefoot on the sides of your feet. Usually this is only done on the boom or "shortline"; however, many have mastered it 100ft behind the boat too!
The list of tricks can go on and on. However, To point you in the right direction on where to find the latest barefoot tricks.I suggest checking out the "Freestyle Barefoot" scene at Barefoot Central. (They have tons of incredible videos of the latest innovations in barefoot waterskiing.)Freestyle barefoot is a type of barefooting where one performs unconventional tricks (typically on the boom). Here is a sample of a freestyle barefoot video I made last year: (you may want to skip to 1:10 for actual skiing)
Step 8: Keep Practicing!
As with all sports, practice is really the key. Even after you take a scary fall, to become better, you have to get back out there and try again, no matter how hard the challenge may be.
I hope that these steps were sufficient in teaching you to barefoot, but everyone learns differently, so in case you need more instruction here are some great links for further tips and techniques:
-Barefoot Central (Home of "Freestyle Barefooting")
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