By Deanna Dean
The Southern Regional Barefoot Community has a rich history in South Florida. The young and old of the sport are remembering their late friend Ed Finley this summer by celebrating his life with, what else, barefoot water skiing.
Mills Pond Park in Broward County, Florida, hosted the 2019 Ed Finley Southern Regional Barefoot Waterski Championships which attracted barefooters from around the country and the world. Water Ski Hall of Famers, USA Barefoot Team members and barefoot waterskiing phenoms made their way to Broward County to honoring late local barefoot water skier and airline pilot, Ed Finley.
“We were honored so many high-profile athletes participated in this world record eligible championship in Ed’s memory,” says Tournament Director Mikey Caruso.
“Mills Pond has been the home to many major water ski events – the conditions were great and we have the records to prove it! The Gold Coast Ski Club was extremely supportive, as was Broward County – I’m thrilled we could bring this event and these athletes to our region. We definitely believe Ed was with us in spirit,” says Caruso.
Father of Mikey and Florida State Representative Michael Caruso who volunteered with the local organizing committee, commented:
“I’m so proud of how our community pulled together to bring this championship to the region, we are supporting local Florida athletes while attracting new visitors and tourism into our local economies as well. We had international athletes from five different countries participate. The sport of water skiing epitomizes what Florida offers athletes, our beautiful weather that provides the ability to enjoy the water and great outdoors year-round.”
New Pending World Record set by current World Champion, Ashleigh Stebbeings
This world record capable event attracted athletes from five countries including the current World Champion Ashleigh Stebbeings, from Australia. Stebbeings currently holds all women’s world records, and skied yet another Pending World Record in the wake slalom event with an 18.
“Ashleigh is an incredible athlete and wants to push herself to the limit. She is one of the most sought-after coaches at the World Barefoot Center as well.” says Swampy Bouchard, Stebbeings’ longtime coach at the World Barefoot Center. “Many of the skiers we train competed and achieved personal records, and that is exciting too.” he added.
Brett Swanbom of Pasco County, Florida is just 13-years-old, was one of those skiers. Swanbom, the youngest member of the 2018 Junior World Team, set several personal bests with scores that propelled him into Elite Open Division.
Ellis Osborn, 16, of West Palm Beach, also set personal best records. And several of the USA’s top athletes competed at Mills Pond including USA Water Ski Hall of Fame inductee and multiple USA Barefoot Team member Willie Farrell, who traveled from California to compete and participate.
Zenon Bilas of West Palm Beach, long-time competitor, author and coach as well as Boca Raton’s Mike Frankenbush, also a well-known water ski coach made appearances.
Freestyle barefoot skier Andre Devilliers of South Africa gave an on the water demonstration for the crowd. Even legendary Peter Fleck made an appearance to give Andre some tips !
In addition, 2018 Junior World Gold Medalists Jackson Gerard, Brice Storman, Alex Youngblood and Lexi McCauley from the USA Junior Barefoot Team also competed. These athletes live and train in Florida and along with Swanbom and Osborn, are candidates to represent the USA at the 2020 International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) World Barefoot Waterski Championships in Sydney, Australia.
Check out all the tournament results Here.
Deanna Dean, incoming Southern Regional Director stated “Our massive thanks goes out to Tournament Director and USA Barefoot Team Skier Mikey Caruso, Broward County & GLFCVB, local donors and volunteers who worked to make it a great event. We are so thankful for Carol Hudson of GFLCVB and the local State Representatives Chip LaMarca and Mike Caruso who put resources in motion to bring the championships to South Florida.”
We are also grateful to Bruce Walter, Jim Forster, Jim Chard and the Ellis Family along with Mike Frankenbush of www.walkinonwaterski.com who supported the event with equipment and resources.
And Rodger Roth for taking some freaking amazing photos, Ouri Kahn for all of his site help and Todd and Ariel Fipps for just being all-purpose helpers! A huge thanks to Jorge Presas of the very Southern Region… Argentina… for all of his monetary support of the Southern Region and The USA Barefoot Team.
Massive thanks to the Gold Coast Ski Club’s George Levien and Richard DeCarlo for safety and site support, plus American Barefoot Club President Betsy Gilman and World Level Judges Joe Knapp and Dale Stevens who traveled to Broward so we could make this a world record capable event.
We’re so appreciative of The World Barefoot Center www.worldbarefootcenter.com for getting Ash Stebbeings here to set this world record and their students who skied and staffed the event.
Our special thanks also to Celsius beverages, www.celsius.com, the official sports beverage of the event, which provided product all weekend long for our athletes as well as free samples for the public – it was wonderful to have them.
The area has been very welcoming, and we’d definitely be open to bringing events here in the future. Athletes, family and fan followers invest time & money to travel to events. When athletes receive support from the community, a near guarantee of ideal weather conditions, and so many amenities that makes us want to return.
For more information on World Champion, Ashleigh Stebbeings visit www.WorldBarefootCenter.com
For resources on Broward County and South Florida events & travel visit www.Sunny.org.