Jim Boyette and Joe Knapp are the only two barefooters to have participated in every single U.S. Barefoot Nationals since 1978. And they were just two of the barefooters honored by the American Barefoot Club at the Nationals Awards Breakfast on Friday, August 4th in Polk City, Florida.
Congrats to all of the winners! Here are their stories!
Jennifer Renee Odom Spirit Award: Brice Storman
Sometimes his jump helmet seems bigger than his whole body and his padded shorts tend to fall down… but this young man is quietly climbing the ladder of barefoot waterskiing… breaking into open at 13, Open Pro in tricks at 14. This super star is setting the water on fire.
But barefooting is just part of what he does, he pitches in at tournaments with video, dock starting, and clean up… always asking what he can help with. His positive attitude and cleverness will boost your mood. And if you are ever in the boat with him… you can’t help but smile. He never gives up and continues to train pushing himself to be better. But we already think he’s the best. Brice Storman is this year’s Jennifer Renee Odom Spirit Award Winner.
Banana George Barefooter of the Year: Joe Knapp
He has been the backbone of the Minnesota Barefooters Association for decades. He is the one thread that has been constant throughout. With the MBA Club boat owner having to quit barefooting for health reasons Joe has stepped up to purchase half of the club boat.
He is one of just two skiers to have skied in every Barefoot Nationals with this being his 40th. This is a remarkable achievement I think unprecedented in probably any sport.
He has not just gone out and participated but has been competitive his entire career and usually can be seen on the podium at every Nationals.
He recently has committed himself to qualify for the 2018 World Championships in Canada. Besides being a competitive barefooter he is a great ambassador to the sport. I see him going out of his way to make new skiers, young and old feel welcome at every tournament.
He is also a Level 2 Judge and at many tournaments stays in the boat for the entire day and only gets out to ski himself.
He deserves to be acknowledged as Barefooter of the Year…. Here’s to 40 more years of barefoot nationals with Joe Knapp!
Community Barefooter Award: Brent Payne
Although he has just recently become involved into the sport of Barefoot Waterskiing he has jumped in with both feet! Hosting FREE clinics to anyone who signs up, taking the time to set it up, hire a professional, allowing the use of his own boat, all simply for great camaraderie and new footing friends.
This generous event has brought new footers into the sport and old footers out of the driver’s seat. I nominate Brent Payne for the ABC Community Champion Award.
Stew McDonald Lifetime Achievement Award: Jim Forster
This man is the reason we have boats ready to every day at nationals. He quietly works in the background, often the first person on the site in the morning and the last to leave. He is dedicated and focused on doing an amazing job. Always. Down to the last boat. He cleans, he fixes, he nurtures tournament boats to perform their very best. Boats often leave his tournaments in BETTER SHAPE!
He has also served on the ABC Board of Directors from the Southern Region for many years… hosting the Legendary PGA Season Opener for nearly a decade. He has been a driver in 50 tournaments, served as Chief Driver in 20 tournaments and Assistant Chief Driver at 15 tournaments.
For his unselfish contributions to Barefoot Waterskiing… Jim Forster deserves the Stew McDonald Lifetime Achievement Award.
Award of Distinction: Heller Family
What the Heller family has done for the Midwest Region, American Barefoot Club and the World of Barefooting is remarkable. Blake Heller decided to build a Barefoot specific lake for his three children, Elaine, Cody and Shannon, to train on in the mid 2000’s. Blake invited the Minnesota Barefooters to host the Midwest Regional tournament there in 2007 which we were ecstatic about. That was the beginning of 10 years straight hosting the Regional tournament, hosting five National Championships and one World Championship.
All this time the entire family has played a critical role in making sure all the tournaments held at the Blue Moo run successfully. Never once has the Heller Family asked for anything in return and continued to improve the site year after year.
The Heller Family deserves to be recognized with an American Barefoot Club Award of Distinction for their commitment and dedication to the sport of Barefoot Water skiing.
(Mike Molepske accepted the award on behalf of the Heller Family)