2021 Western Regionals, aka Who’s Who in the Western Region

By Kellen Birch

To think I used to say I was a barefooter!

An awkward silence led to me half-drunkenly nominating myself to do a writeup on the western regionals, so buckle up! It’s amazing what can come from one quick message on Facebook! In the spring of 2019, I messaged Hank Cobb about a repower on his outboard Sanger. It’s been a wild ride since! I have been standing on water since I was 3 on the boat I still own. But that was the extent of my barefooting experience and skills. Hank recommended I look up a guy named Brian Heeney that snow skis at my local mountain. February of 2020, I saw a guy walk into the bar in a blue coat that I had seen online in his pics. I asked if he was Brian Heeney and he replied, “Yeah who the **** are you?” Little did I know that would be the start of a great friendship with he and his awesome wife Linda. He invited me to ski at his lake in Helena later that spring. I set the goal of barefooting backwards in the summer of 2020. We accomplished that the first weekend I spent at the “Heeney House of Pain” in April. I think it was that weekend that we started discussing competitions, scoring, and events. I was very interested. We spent the rest of the summer skiing at Brian and Hank’s lakes and having a great time with new friends. One of the last get togethers of the season at Hank’s I had the pleasure of meeting LaWana and her boyfriend Rick, as well as Paul Klutz and Crystal Anderson. Instant friendship with all involved.

Fast forward to 2021 and my first competitions. The Montana Barefoot Tournament in Helena and Western Regionals at Lake Silverado both acted as great introductions to tournament skiing. From here I am going to do this in the best way I see fit, saying thank you (in no particular but somewhat chronological order of my meeting them) for what I have observed in a short amount of time in this community.

Hank Cobb- comedian, light hearted, fun-loving skier. One of my favorite clowns to play with. Always willing to chat and talk through any topic. Great friend and fun host. Works hard, plays harder type of guy.

Brian Heeney- Brian is a very talented skier, intense as hell, has become a very close friend and very welcoming host to people wanting to get their feet wet. Brian and I both like technical discussion in progression and advancement of skiing. And we both love friendly competition. 

Linda Heeney- Mama Heeney is one of the sweetest hosts I have ever been around, she welcomed me and my family like her own kids and grandkids. Always plans meals and snacks and opens her house to tons of crazies at any given moment.

LaWana Quayle- LaWana is a cheerleader for all! Always smiling and laughing. Badass water-skier and footer.  Time with LaWana is time well spent.

Paul Klutz- Paul is such a sweet guy, healthy fun competition for me and killer fix it man. If someone is doing a project Paul dives in. I don’t know of any site that hasn’t been improved from Paul and his electrical knowledge.

Crystal Anderson- Crystal was so welcoming and kind to my wife Shelley and I when we met. She encouraged and promoted Shelley trying skiing and footing with a great perspective.

Jay Leuck- Jay was an instant buddy to me. We just clicked over good beer! Jay is arguably the most aware and talented driver I have had the pleasure of dragging behind. Jay is a great mechanic and always helping people tinker. Jay just has a happy feeling about him that is intoxicating. The amount of time Jay puts in behind the wheel does not go unnoticed and I love spending time in the seat learning from Jay.

Joe Lovato- Joe is a smartaleck. For somebody that is that sarcastic and funny he crosses the wake like a mad man! Joe is my kind of fun to be around and joke with. The banter is world class and I can’t wait to beat on him this winter when we are snow skiing!

Doug Jordan- Doug is a quiet giant, while others are debating how to do something he has already started doing it. His site is the best I have had the pleasure of skiing. The second he pulled in for regionals he was working till after dark getting campers tents and other accommodation’s ready for guests that were arriving that night. I was skiing a slalom pass back toward the boathouse and ate shit hard. The second I came up all I could hear was Doug yelling, “Yay Kellen!” (In the most sarcastic voice possible) I knew I had come to the right place! Doug was driving for Grandpa’s (Mike Brisco’s) grandkids and you could see the genuine happiness from getting new kids out on the water. Doug thank you so much for hosting such a fun and well ran event, I was very impressed and can’t wait to get back up there to ski with you again! I will bring the silvers (Coors Light).

Dianne Jordan- Dianne planned meals and pick-ups for a bunch of skiers that were flying in. She pulled up and had a car full of food for the weekend. We hadn’t met and she was so sweet asking if I needed anything and if my sleeping arrangements in one of her campers was ok. I was so blown away by Dianne and her ability to juggle that many people running around their site.

Andy Gould- Andy and I met at the Heeney household and I love his engineering perspective and outlook on skiing and projects. Very kind and fun guy to have in the boat. (I can’t wait to see the barefoot treadmill.)

Ted Klein- Ted met me in the boathouse and instantly welcomed me and gave me the tour of “Sanger Alley” Ted was great about showing me where everything was. Thanks for the coaching and positivity Ted.

Vicki Klein- Vicki is a hell of a skier, working back slalom (something I need to work on). She is such a positive inclusive person to have in the boat and on the dock. I am looking forward to working back slalom with her the next time I see her.

Danny Bray- Danny is the dude I want on my side in the bar fight. He was the third barefooter in the world to jump inverted and it is great to see him back.  What an interesting dude, bull rider, body builder, and watching Danny jump is wild. I can’t wait to ski with you again and get jump coaching from you and Doug!

Claudia Bray- Claudia I look forward to the next time we see each other! You and my lady Shelley will hit it off! Claudia crossed the wake for the first time at regionals and I was so glad I was able to be there cheering her on!

Grandpa Brisco- Mike walks right up and says, “I have seen you on Facebook I am Grandpa!” Mike really embodies that nickname and I love it. Yelling for everyone that skis by and good or bad pass Mike was talking us up.

Jerry Kanawyer- Jerry knows what he is talking about. I was so impressed at the textbook answers he had for every question I asked. I was filming in the boat and as he was judging with Ali I was blown away at the experience and wealth of knowledge he has. Watching him front-flip the wake was insane!

Ali Gates- Ali is a sponge around the experienced judges and skiers. She is very outgoing and a technical thinker. Skiing with Ali was a very good time. Ali come out this winter and you have a place to stay and ski with us!

Adam Page- Adam and I have been friends on Facebook for a while. It was great to meet in person and it felt like an old friendship. Adam is a bit ahead of me overall footing and it was great chasing him and watching his progression. I am very excited about skiing with Adam more.

Bjorn German- BJ and I have never met and knew nothing about each other. He walks right up and started a conversation with me. I was warmly welcomed by him and love how he went out of his way to say hi and chat with everyone he was around.

Andrew Martin- I saved Andrew for last. Andrew is a phenomenal skier and technical wizard! He walked skier to skier getting them registered and checking to make sure info was entered correctly. Andrew is quiet but his actions are not. He gets things done and is the type of personality that you want to help. I think we all unanimously agreed to have Andrew be the Western Regional director and I feel we are in good hands.

Western Regionals was a total blast and has some serious talent. I am happy to say I am part of the club.

Thanks everyone and I look forward to my next set with each and every one of you.

Kellen

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