General history


The History of Barefooting

By Philippe Poyet

The first man reported to meet the challenge of barefoot skiing was Dick Pope Jr, on March 6, 1947. In fact, it was the first time barefooting was recorded in pictures. According to sources at Water Ski Hall of Fame and witnesses of the event, it was actually the then 17-year-old A.G. Hancock, who made the initial attempts, the same year in Winter Haven, so they both stepped off into the unknown….

Three years later, the first barefoot competition was held at the 1950 Cypress Gardens Dixie Championships. As the tournament began, the first participants ended up with nothing but headaches, until Dave Craig of Miami successfully stepped of the ski. Then Stew Mc Donald of Tampa managed a short ride without skis. Pope, unaccustomed to the rough water of the tournament area had a difficult time, but was able to move into the first place with the longest ride. Finally, a young skier from Mexico named Emilio Zamudio was up. He kicked off his ski, stood up high, and waved joyously at the crowd, winning the competition.

As the story goes, Ken Tibado of Lake Wales introduced the two-ski jump out in 1953, and the beach start in 1956. In 1958, Joe Cash was the first to accomplish the front deepwater start, taking off in the water with no skis at all.

The “tumbleturn” was invented purely by accident in 1960, when Don Thompson and Terry Vance were performing a double barefoot routine, on the lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. As Vance stepped off his skis, he began to fall, but while he continued to hang on, his feet spun around, returning almost in front of him. Thompson, still on his skis, reached over and pulled Vance’s legs around, so that he could stand up.


Backward barefooting brought a new dimension to the sport. In 1961, Randy Rabe of St Petersburg started on a trick ski, then turned around, planted his foot in the water, and finally stepped off the ski. A friendly rivalry developed between Thompson and Rabe, who were both determined to learn new and different tricks. Rabe first accomplished the front and back toeholds, while Thompson perfected the piggyback barefoot ride with Joline Paoli Nathey. Thompson and Rabe share credit for the introduction of front-to-back and back-to-front surface turns, with Thompson even attempting back deepwater starts in 1965.

Meanwhile, barefooting interest was taking hold on the other side of the World. In March 1960 at Sackville, the Australian Water Ski Club was founded by such great exponents as Jack Murray, Ray Leighton, John Hollands and Ron Marks. In April 1963, Australia held its first official national competition, patronized by 38 skiers and eventually won by Irwin Luthiger. It was the first step toward barefoot tournaments, as we know them today. The Australians had their innovators: Garry Barton and John Hacker, considered to be the World’s best in the late ’60s, having developed many new maneuvers, including the back deep, stepover back to front, and backward flying dock start. In Europe, a show team included a barefoot act in 1963. In 1968, the first tournament in Europe was held at Cirencester in Great Britain and the rules were a simplified version of the rules developed by the Aussies. The first successful jump in Europe – of 10.30 m -was performed during 1969, but before that time, jumping was already a regular event in Australian competitions.

In 1973, Cypress Gardens invited the Australians for an international competition. Garry Barton, Peter Trimm, Grant Torrens and Mary Mc Millan – Australia’s best footers -accepted the invitation. As expected, they astonished everyone and make a clean sweep of the tournament. No one Australian came close to be beaten by a Yank, and the overall winner was 16 year old Grant Torrens. The seeds were planted here for the next wave of U.S. barefooters and this competition was the beginning of the active promotion of the sport in the United States. Other tournaments were held in Wisconsin and other parts of the country, consisting only of endurance and starting methods.

In 1977, Australian John Hacker acting as an ambassador for the sport, returned to the United States, to promote the first World tournament to be held in Canberra, Australia in November 1978. Meanwhile, the first European Championships were held at Princes Club in London, during August 1976, with 18 men and only one woman. At that time, there were already national championships in England, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium South Africa, New Zealand and of course Australia. During summer 1978, five regional competitions were held in the United States and in September the first barefoot nationals took place in Waco, Texas. Randy Filter won the men’s overall title, but show skier Mike Botti had the most outstanding performances, placing first in start methods, wake crossing and tricks.


Because he elected not to enter the jump event (Mike Seipel too !), he was ineligible for the overall title. Following the tournament, the first official U.S. barefoot team was selected to represent the United States at the World Championships. During November 1978, barefooting history was made in Canberra, where 54 barefooters representing 10 countries gathered on the banks of the Molongo river. Even with the increased level of competition in the United States, Australia’s talent and influence stunned U.S. footers. The Aussies were performing then unheard maneuvers, like backward and forward toehold starts, 360 degrees surface turns and even toe turns! Brett Wing and Colleen Wilkinson captured the men’s and women’s overall honors, but Mike Botti showed the potential threat of a strong U.S. team, by placing third in tricks and fourth in jumping. In addition, he was the first to complete a wake front-to-back and a wake back-to-front in competition.


This was compiled with the help from:

John Gillette’s ” barefooting “, 1987

Zenon Bilas, 1989

Charles Ramsey, 1987

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