I was asked if I would write a little article on my recent water-ski adventure, so I said sure.
I recently was appointed as a judge for the 14th World Barefoot Water-Ski Championships that were held down under.
In October of 2003 I accepted my first world judging appointment to judge the Jr / Sr. World Barefoot Water-ski Championships held in Lakeland, Florida. Although I would have given almost anything to participate as a skier, the experience of judging such an event was fantastic.
After the finals of the Jr. / Sr. worlds I was asked if I would like to be appointed as a judge for the Open World Barefoot Water-ski Championships? When I found out that there were going to be held in Victoria, Australia, I really wanted to attend. Well, with much support from my wife I accepted the position. It was a trip of a lifetime!
For those who have never flew over the seas, this is one of the longest flights you could ever take. I left on 1/28/04 and arrived in Melbourne on 1/30/04. (This is because you cross the International Date Line.) It basically takes 25 – 26 hours from the east coast to Australia. (15 hours flight time from L.A.)
The ski site was located in a small country town called Mulwala, Victoria. This region is called Sun Country and serves as a vacation spot for the people of Melbourne. It is about 2 -3 hours northwest of Melbourne. There is a large recreational body of water called, lake Mulwala. Every type of water sport that you could think of is performed there.
This next bit of background information blew me away. There is a ski club in town that was the cosponsor of this event and it has a facility on the water that is as big as a large chain grocery store. Its annual revenue exceeded $6M. It profit for 2003 exceeded $500K. They built their own small-enclosed section of the lake to perform some very exciting ski shows. The ski club was extremely generous to all the barefooting community throughout the event.
For those that do not know how a world event works, here’s a short overview.
The tournament is 3 rounds for each of the 3 events in barefooting. Slalom consist of two 15 second passes, with the object being to cross the boat wake as many time as possible. The skier gets twice as many points for crossing on 1 foot versus two feet. One of the passes must be skied backwards. Tricks also consist of two 15-second passes, with the object being to score as many points as possible. Each trick has a predefined value based on its degree of difficulty. There are no points for style, you either performed the trick for credit or you did not. The decision is based on the majority of 3 judges in the boat. If a majority can’t be reached then the judges will refer to video. Each run is recorded from the boat. Jump is the last event. Each contestant has three attempts to jump as far as the can and ski away on there bare feet.
A team consists of a maximum of 6 skiers and at least one has to be a female. Each team’s top three scores will be used towards the team points, which are based on the overall point contribution from that skier.
To advance to the second round you must have a score that is in the top 12.
Only the first 2 rounds count towards the team scores. The final round includes the top 3 places from the second round and the next two highest scores from any round. This round is for individual medals.
The weather in Australia was HOT!! The coolest temp was 95 and for three of the tournament days it was 115!
The ski site was man-made twin lakes that were 3000 and 2800 feet long, which are very long for barefooting. The USA man made lakes for barefooting are around 2500 feet.
The US team was made up of Lane Bowers (FL.), Keith St.Onge (NH), Bill Brozzoza (RI), Ryan Body (WV), Rachel George (Ohio), Mikey Carusso (FL). The coach was Jon Kretchman (MN).
After round 1 team USA found themselves with all 6 skiers in the semi finals. Most of them skied somewhat conservative in their opening rounds. Gizzella Hallaz skied an amazing 4700 points in her 1st round tricks. This was a new world senior record and had she landed her front flip she would have shattered a long-standing open women’s world record.
After the semifinal round team USA had two skiers in the jump finals, three skiers in the slalom finals and three skiers in the trick finals.
Although their semi final scores were less than expected they had clinched an astounding 10th consecutive World Barefoot Championship title. The Australian’s came in second and the French followed in third.
During the semi final round, David Small of GBR set a new world record in tricks, an incredible 9900. In the final round he shattered the existing jump record of 25.3 meters with an amazing leap of 27.4 meters (>90ft).
On Sunday the banks were lined with over 1000 spectators watching the most incredible barefoot skiing ever witnessed.
Team USA’s Rachel George, swept the medal round, winning gold in all three events. Keith St.Onge won silver in slalom and bronze in tricks. Lane Bowers won a bronze in jump.
One other very exciting piece of information was that 16 year old Andre DeViller from South Africa finished 2nd in tricks. He scored the first ever barefoot side slide trick in a tournament. (This not a beginner trick) This young man is a very up and coming competitor. He is the reigning Jr world overall champion. It will only be a matter of time until he is the next Open world overall champ. He was also named the IWSF male barefoot waterskier of the year for 2003.
The host of the event, the Victoria barefoot club and the Mulwala ski club provided the best hospitality that I have ever seen at a water sports event.
It was the event of a lifetime. I truly recommend that if you ever have the chance to be part of or attend a world water skiing event, do what you must to get there. Or if you should ever consider going to Australia you won’t regret it.
PS: Here is a picture from the 2003 Barefoot Nationals in Sacramento, CA. This was published in the Waterskier. The photographer caught me in a flying dock start just prior to me disturbing the water.