Your First Tournament 101

Where do I go?  What do I need to bring?  What do I need to know before I get there?  The idea that people don’t know where to get started hadn’t really been discussed until a recent Facebook poll about reasons why people don’t compete or haven’t given it a try.  Totally valid questions though!  Let’s try to work through these…

So you’re interested in trying a barefoot tournament.  From the start there’s generally two different types of barefoot tournaments: 1) Barefoot 3-Event or 2) Endurance Barefooting.  This article is geared toward Barefoot 3-Event, but we’ll touch on the endurance side at the end of the article. 

What is a Barefoot 3-Event tournament?

As the name suggests, there are three separate events: Trick, Slalom, and Jump.  If this is your first tournament you won’t be jumping, and neither will around 2/3 of the other skiers there for that matter.  Both the trick and the slalom events consist of two separate runs each, one going down the lake and one coming back, so 4 runs between the two events.  Each run consists of a deep water start of some sort (sorry no drop skis here), followed by a run that’s timed 15 seconds from when you start your first trick or wake crossing. The full 2021 rulebook can be found here for reference, but don’t feel like you need to read it for your first event.

In the slalom event you will cross the wake as many times as you can in 15 seconds each pass.  More points are scored for going forwards one pass and backwards the other.  More points are scored for also crossing the wake on one foot.  Since this is your first tournament you don’t need to worry about that, just cross on two feet forwards both passes.  The boats at a tournament are generally very good barefoot boats that make wake crossings easier than boats you’re probably used to.  Lots of people comment that they couldn’t even feel the wake the first time they ski a Sanger.

In the trick event you may perform whatever tricks you like, in almost any order you would like.  The exception being if you perform the reverse of a trick it must immediately follow the basic trick (e.g. a one foot on your left or right foot followed by another one foot on your opposite foot – no other tricks may be performed in between).  There are of course many other rules, but for the skiers this article is geared toward I feel that’s the one trick rule you’d want to know.  Your start is worth points added to your 15 second run.  You may take a little time in between the start and your 15 second run without the clock starting.  If you’re not sure what you should do, just talk to a judge at the event and any one of them will be happy to talk you through it.  Seriously, every one of them is a great person that’s also enthusiastic about getting new people into the sport and they would love to help.

Am I good enough to be skiing a tournament?

A few years ago, the ABC went to an ability-based division system for skiers 18+.  This means that regardless of how good or not good you are you’ll be competing against skiers of your caliber.  The lowest division generally consists of all skiers doing two forwards runs for each event.  If this is your first event, you’ll be signing up for Men’s C or Women’s B (there is no women’s C) unless you’re a junior (under 18) or if you’re 60+ there’s an option of age based divisions again.

Having competition in your ballpark can make for a fun tournament, but many skiers are just out there competing against themselves.  Hitting a new personal best is a great feeling of accomplishment that can’t be replicated outside a tournament atmosphere, and you can’t hit a personal best without getting a baseline score in your first tournament.  Seeing yourself progress and earn a spot in a higher division is something to be proud of as well.  Once you get to know more people at a tournament and get more involved volunteering it really becomes more than just an evaluation of your skiing.  It becomes a fun weekend all around.

If you really only have a trick or two there is also an Entry level division where tricks may be repeated, and boom skiing is even allowed (both with a point reduction).  The entry division is fairly uncommon to see though so you would want to check in with the tournament organizer beforehand to let them know if you’re interested in this division.

How do I find an event in my area?

The ABC tournament schedule is probably the most complete resource and can be found on under the Tournament Information menu > US Tournament Schedule ( ).  You can also see events in your area through your region’s Facebook page listed here:  Events should have a contact person listed that will be happy to give you more details when you reach out to them.

Generally a smaller local tournament is a better first tournament to start with. There are often opportunities to come the day before, ski the site, get some pointers, and get to know some people. A Regional tournament can sometimes be a more expensive and tighter structure that’s less geared toward first timers than a smaller local tournament would be. You’ll still find plenty of help at either option though if the Regional tournament is the one that fits your schedule better.

What should I bring?

For the skiing aspect you’ll need your own barefoot suit first and foremost.  Other than that, there is a tournament rope and handle already provided.  If you plan to do any toe holds or you just prefer your own handle and/or rope you can bring that for the trick event.  Other notable items might be to bring a folding chair, possibly lunch if it’s not provided (or look to see if you can grab something nearby), sunscreen, towel, and whatever else you would normally have for a day out skiing.

You’ll also need to have a USA-WSWS membership (available on ).  This is required at all ABC tournaments for liability protection to the organizers as well as supplemental insurance for yourself in the event of an injury.  The current price of an active membership is $85 or $55 if you’re under 25.  Starting in 2022 all members 18+ will be required to complete the SafeSport training as well; this will be prompted in your membership dashboard as well as through many emails from USA-WSWS until it gets done.

Endurance Tournaments

Endurance events are generally figure 8 competitions where skiers compete in a bracket format of two skiers behind the boat at a time.  Generally, both skiers start on a drop ski, step off at a designated area, and the boat continues in a figure 8 pattern until one skier falls and the other skier then advances to the next round.  These are also fun events I think everyone should at least try once. These events seem to generally be unsanctioned events though, meaning they are not insured through USA-WSWS and skiers will need to rely on their own insurance being sufficient.  Being unsanctioned events the ABC doesn’t really promote them, but if you’re hosting an endurance tournament that is ABC / USA-WSWS sanctioned we’re happy to promote this as well.

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