Although barefoot slalom, tricks and jumping water ski events are very similar to traditional events, the major difference here is, you guessed it, participants do not wear skis.
In the slalom event, an athlete earns points for crossing the boat wakes in a course that does not have buoys. In tricks, an athlete attempts to perform as many tricks as he can during two 15-second passes. Each trick has a pre-assigned point value and an athlete may perform each trick only once. The athlete who earns the most points wins the event. In the jumping event, the ramp height is only 18 inches (45.5 centimeters), but the boat speed is more than 40 miles per hour, which is feet-burning fast!
Faster boat speeds are required for an athlete to plane on his two bare feet. There are no hand tools needed to make barefoot equipment repairs, only a tube of super glue. If a blister or cut opens on the bottom of an athlete's foot, standard procedure is to glue it shut now to finish skiing and deal with the stitches later.
In addition to slalom, tricks and jumping, barefoot athletes also participate in figure eight competitions and endurance events where the athlete who stays up the longest is the winner.
Barefoot water skiing began in Florida as a recreational activity in the late 1940s and was quickly introduced into the water ski shows at Cypress Gardens, Fla. Interest in barefooting grew, and in 1977 the American Barefoot Club (ABC) became a sport division of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports, the national governing body for the sport of water skiing in the United States. Originally, membership in the ABC was reserved for barefooters who could stay on their feet for a minimum of 60 seconds.
The barefoot craze spread overseas, becoming especially popular among the Australians, who eventually organized the first barefoot tournaments. They were patterned after conventional competition, with an added discipline called "start methods," which has since been discontinued. Today, barefooting is a world-wide sport recognized by the International Water Ski Federation, the world governing body of water skiing. A world championships is held every two years.
In the United States, USA Water Ski & Wake Sports sanctions more than 50 barefoot tournaments each year. The Barefoot Water Ski National Championships, held each August, attracts more than 100 of the nation’s top barefooters who compete for event and overall medals.
Barefoot water ski events – wake slalom, tricks and jumping – are similar to the three events in traditional water skiing. Differences arise in the speed of the boat and the skier (depending upon age division, barefoot events are sometimes faster, with a top speed for the Open Division of 43.2 mph), in the lack of buoys in slalom, and the height of the jump ramp (18 inches as compared to five or six feet for traditional jumping). The absence of skis more than makes up for the differences in the equipment on the ski course.
In wake slalom, points are awarded for full crossing from the outside of the first wake wave to the outside of the second, for crossing one wave only, and for straddling a wake wave at the moment the 15-second pass is terminated. Crossings can be made on one foot or both feet, the barefooter facing forward or backward. Point values increase for the more difficult methods.
Barefoot tricks runs are 15 seconds in length and are scored by judges in much the same manner as those in conventional tricks skiing.
In barefoot jumping, the takeoff edge of the ramp is approximately 18 inches above the water line. Jumpers must step off a ski prior to reaching a step-off buoy, located 165 feet before the ramp, and maintain a barefooting position into the ramp. Jumping distance requirements to qualify barefooters for Open competition are 35 feet for women and 50 feet for men.