100 Years of Barefoot History

By John Cornish, Betsy Gilman, and Tony Klarik


1940 Jack Andresen patented the first trick ski, a shorter, fin-less water ski.

1945 Shoe Skis. Ralph Hept > Chuck Sligh

c1947 Freeboards first appear on film, with riders (Dick Pope, Jr. & young girl) stepping off the binding less ski while wearing shoe skis. The push for smaller and smaller skis would lead to the natural conclusion of no skis at all. But in the meantime. Cypress Gardens skiers had everything in place to take a step of faith. The men who first rode on bare feet would step off in a similar fashion to the shoe ski step off. Time for gliding souls.

The freeboard step off ski was an important development for barefoot water skiing

1947 Go Boat – The Power to Pul

Brief development of boats leading to enough speed : first tow was also a function of speed

1947 (March) A.G. Hancock Barefoot Water skis by stepping off a ski and travels a few hundred yards.- Stew Macdonald inspired?

(March 6) Dick Pope, Jr. is the first to be photographed barefooting

Jr’s father Dick Pope, Sr. uses his media machine at Cypress Gardens in Central FLorida to spread the news far and wide with photos, print stories , and newsreels. Jr’s feat becomes an international sensation. 

The bond of boom and barefooter begins with the very first shots. The Miss Cover Girl photo boat at Cypress Gardens was rigged with boom(s) for perfectly placed pictures.

*Australians have stories of early barefoot water skiers but lacks documentation as with Hancock

Dick Pope Jr is the first to be photographed barefoot water skiing. Images of his amazing feat go far and wide thanks to his father’s worldwide media promotions for Cypress Gardens.

1949 Dick Pope held the first barefoot competition (endurance) in conjunction with the Dixie Water Ski Championships at Cypress Gardens. At the time there were only 12 people in the world who could barefoot, 10 from the USA, and 2 from Mexico. Emilio Zamudio (Mexico) took top honors with 3 laps, followed by Dick Pope Jr. who made 1½ laps. According to Zamudio the engraving on the trophy reads “World Champion Barefoot Skiing Florida Cypress Gardens 1949”


1951 Charlene Zint Wellborn became the first woman to barefoot water ski. She went on to perform at Cypress Gardens, and a newsreel of her skiing was even on an episode of the iconic TV show M*A*S*H, where her performance with Stew MacDonald was described as “patriotic, aquatic, ecstatic, and acrobatic!”

Charlene Welborn rides the water at forty miles an hour without the aid of skis. You can license this story through AP Archive. Charlene Wellborn on M*A*S*H (Season 10, Episode 5 “Give‘em Hell, Hawkeye”

1953 Ken Tibado, barefootin two ski jump out

1955 Ken Tibado used a long running start off the beach to get as much speed as possible before hitting the water. A brave move in nothing but a pair of shorts

1957  Deep Water Start invented by Joe Cash

All around waterman Joe Cash did it all, Master’s slalom Champion, World record Jumper, and barefoot pioneer.

c1955-1959 First Australian woman barefooter Betty Leighton & Betty Wheeler . In 1960 these two along with Jackie Sidwell barefooted for 30 seconds to become the first women in a State Australian Barefoot Club

First woman barefooter, Betty Leighton on the Hawkesbury River, NSW, Australia

1959 (June) Randy Rabe was the first to backwards barefoot by stepping off of a trick ski at 40 mph

TOP 100 PHOTO LINK: https://wakeski100-new.squarespace.com/barefoot-entries/rabe-first-backwards


1960s: (summary) Performers at Cypress Gardens in central Florida  and Tommy Bartlett’s  in Wisconsin Dells gave thousands of ski shows featuring barefoot water skiing.. Barefooting continues to be popularized worldwide through Dick Pope’s media machine at Cypress Gardens. In 1964 Cypress Gardens ties with the Grand Canyon as the #1 US tourist destination. 

1960  Terry Vance invents tumble turn

The “tumbleturn” was invented purely by accident in 1960, when Don Thompson and Terry Vance were performing a double barefoot routine, on the lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. As Vance stepped off his skis, he began to fall, but while he continued to hang on, his feet spun around, returning almost in front of him. Thompson, still on his skis, reached over and pulled Vance’s legs around, so that he could stand up.

1960 Randy Rabe – front and back toe holds? (according to waterskibarefott.eu)

1963 First Australian Competition : 38 competitors

1964 Don Thomson successfully practiced with a 130 pound sandbag to convince Dick Pope, Sr (founder of Cypress Gardens) to let him try a tandem ride.

Don Thompson & Joline Nathy performing the first documented piggy back ride

TOP 100 Photo LINK: https://wakeski100-new.squarespace.com/barefoot-entries/tandem-don-t

1964 First Barefoot Jump – Geoff Nichols, Australian

The earliest barefoot jumps were performed down under, mounting a flat surface on top of a 55 gallon drum filled with air for flotation

Australian Geoff Nicols performs the first documented barefoot jump

1965 Rope on Toe – Graham McPherson, Australian (need photo)

Backwards one foot – Col Watson, Australian

1966 Jumping at Australian Nationals

David Hamilton Australian Side Slide

1967 Garry Barton develops the Barefoot Water Ski Wetsuit

Thicker neoprene in vital areas such as the Back, Chest and Butt – Adjustable Draining Leg Straps –

Locking Collar and Chest Velcro Zip locks.

First manufactured commercially by Ron Harding Wetsuits – Sydney Australia – 1967

(Prior to the barefoot wetsuit water skiers barefooted in one and two piece dive suits and basic wetsuits for water skiing and surfing)

The basic design that Garry Barton designed during 1966 and 1967 is still being used more than 50 years later in 2019, by wetsuit manufacturers worldwide.

WEB LINK Garry Barton: https://www.maitlandmercury.com.au/story/4983071/barton-in-class-of-his-own-in-hall-of-fame/#slide=0

1968  Rope in Teeth one foot – Peter Forrester, Australian

 Rope one foot backwards – Erwin Luthiger, Australian

 First Australian woman to barefoot backwards – Mary McMillan

Mary McMillan does a 1 foot backwards in 1968 Mary was an all around skier and champion speed skier.

1968-1971 Garry Barton develops the RIGID HANDLE

Developed because it was impossible for a barefoot water skier to recover from a backwards toe hold position. Early prototypes were made with wooden broom handles, garden hose and then electrical conduit. Garry used his new handle to be the first person to recover from a back toehold in 1971.

A comparison of the new rigid handles (front and back toe) to the early style all rope handles

1968 One such performer at the Gardens was barefooting’s first star, Don Thomson, the first to do surface turns back and front in the early 1960s. In this all time classic shot Don teamed up with Red McGuire aboard the Miss Cover Girl sky tower, to create advertising magic for Jantzen.

Don Thomson famous backwards barefooting image

1969  Backwards Beach and Deepwater Starts – Garry Barton, Australian

Garry being an instructor of martial arts understood pain and also from his championship days road cycling. The months of pain now started on the water  pioneering a new barefoot start – Backwards!

Garry persevered for nearly a year many times every week with different speeds and techniques until he finally stood up backwards barefoot for the first time.

This was in very early 1969. (He also used rubber thongs as well as a cricket box that he wore in the groin of his wetsuit to lessen the pain whist perfecting this new start method)The water ski world was totally amazed when he performed this new backwards start method in public for the very first time at the Australian Barefoot Water Ski Championships at Manly Dam in Sydney, Australia on May 03, 1969.

In 1972 he perfected backwards one foot stand ups both from deep water and the beach.

Garry Barton performs the first backward beach start in the Barefoot Water Ski Championships at Manly Dam in Sydney, Australia on May 03, 1969


1970  First female jump in NSW Australia, Haidee Lance, not in competition as it was banned

1971 First recovery from backwards toe hold – Garry Barton, Australian

Garry Barton with his original rigid handle design, allowing him for the first time, to recover from the backwards toehold position

1972  NEW MOVE: feet to feet toe turns both front to back and back to front – Garry Barton, Australia

 1972 Barefoot Slalom Innovation- Garry Barton

Barefoot Slalom had also become stagnant and in 1972 Garry Barton pioneered and was the first ever in the world to execute one foot forward barefoot slalom.

Also during 1972 he introduced backwards barefoot slalom both on two feet and one foot but he was not given approval to do these in competition by the Australian Barefoot Water Ski Club as they said it would give him an unfair advantage!

However this backwards barefoot slalom was then approved during 1973, the year after Garry had retired from the Australian Nationals competition in open men’s division! (Garry was undefeated overall in any competition from 1969 to 1972)

Garry Barton, Australian Barefoot Water Ski Champion and IWWF Hall Of Fame Pioneer magazine cover 1972

Barefoot water skiing Timex watch commercial from 1970 with Garry Barton from Australia’ Timex’

Knee Ski by Mike Murphy – world’s first water ski kneeboard – promoted as barefoot training device.

1973 Around The Boat – Garry Barton, Australian

It is believed that Garry Barton was also the first water skier to ever accomplish this on his bare feet and not on a water ski! his 360 degree whirl amazed the crowds during the 1973 ski show at the Moomba Water Ski International in Melbourne, Australia.

1973 Rope on Toe Deep Water Start frontwards – Paul McManus, Australian

1973 Cypress Gardens “Up From Down Under”, Australia vs USA Barefoot Tournament competitors and officials

1973 Up From Down Under (Paul Gerresh)

1976 Mike Turns it on barefoot poster by Ski Master

1976 Mike Botti in a poster ad for Ski Master Inc.

1977 First toe turn front-to-back by Alan Moffat from Australia 

1977 Bob Wing “Every Trick in the Book”

“Every Trick In The Book” instructional book by Bob Wing featuring Robert and Brett Wing

1978 American Barefoot Club is formed under the auspices of the American Water Ski Association. First edition of the American Barefoot Rules are established.

1978 Correct Craft develops the Barefoot Nautique, the first towboat designed specifically for barefooting. The first model was used to pull the first US Nationals. 

1978 Correct Craft attempts to develop the first commercially available barefoot boom. Made of stainless steel, its high cost, proneness to bend (unlike aluminum) and Correct Craft’s attorney’s opinion that it is too high of a risk, the boom is never brought to market.

1978 First U.S. Barefoot Nationals, August, Waco, TX. First US Barefoot Team is selected based on performances at the Nationals. 

1978 First World Barefoot Championships held in November, Canberra, Australia, 54 barefooters from 10 countries broadcast on Australian TV.  Brett Wing and Colleen Wilkinson winners

1978 American Barefoot Club under the American water ski Association patch. Qualification was to barefoot for 1 minute. Minutes above the 1 minute was indicated by small number patches that could be sewn on with the patch. Photo courtesy of John Cornish
The American Barefoot Club under the American Water Ski Association later also had 3 levels of proficiency badges for barefooters who were judged and performed prescribed tricks. Photo courtesy of John Cornish

First Barefoot Water Ski World Championships 1978, Canberra, Australia.

This is the first Barefoot Water ski Championship held in 1978 in Canberra, Australia

1978 Barefoot video featured Brett Wing, who was fresh from his World Championship win along with Kim Lampard a future champion from Australia.

1978 John Hacker, Australian, coach and barefooter makes the cover of Spray as a pioneer super star.

1979 John Hacker, Australian Barefoot Ambassador, coach and barefooter publishes a “Step-by-Step Barefoot Water Skiing” how to book using stick figures in the illustrations. ( 11” x 17” paperback) A very interesting and helpful book at the time. It was done in cooperation and distribution with the American Barefoot Club.

Photo courtesy of John Cornish
Photo courtesy of John Cornish
Photo courtesy of John Cornish
Photo courtesy of John Cornish
Photo courtesy of John Cornish

1979 A new product the Hydroslide kneeboard is successfully promoted by Danny Churchill. Early advertising for the board (and other brands that follow) almost always include promotions regarding using it as a training device to learn how to ride. This very early ad for Hydroslide features barefoot speed world record holder Lee Kirk. Kneeboards are the hottest ride in towed water sports in the 1980s, and thousands of people use their kneeboard to learn how to barefoot for the first time.

Upper right corner: using the Hydroslide as a barefoot training device. The explosion of popularity of kneeboarding in the 1980s is boon to teaching new barefooters.
1997 (May) Mike Botti, Spray Magazine’s first American barefoot Superstar, center fold.


1980 John Gillete book “Barefooting” was a paperback book that featured history, how to, and general information pertaining to all aspects of barefoot water skiing.

In Search of Glass

Great barefooting video shot at Cypress Gardens. Featuring Barefooters:

T.J. Beatty, Rob Bemman, Betty Bonifay, Lisa Emry, Mark Voisard, Sally WInter

1982 Raging Bull Ron Scarpa popularizes the side slide…with style!
1983 Brett Wing sequence doing a front flip with a special handle

1987 Ron Scarpa jumps out of a helicopter 67 feet above the water and barefoots away for the Guinness Book of World Records at the 1987 US Barefoot Nationals, Owego, NY. It was covered and televised by the Guinness Records TV Show

1987 John Gillette’s 2nd Edition” Barefooting” book.

Ron Scarpa comes up with a winning commercial for Mountain Dew, Water skiing behind a Horse. Watch!

1989 Dave Reinhart in James Bond, License to Kill

One of the world’s best water skiers Dave “The Dog” Reinhart doubles for Timothy Dalton in this classic 007 escape stunt. From scuba diving to “barefooting”, while  dodging bullets, and a highflying finale.

1982 Lori Powell recognized as the first female jumper in the world when she was allowed to do a demonstration jump at the World Barefoot Championships in Acapulco

1989 Scott Pellaton’s World Record Barefoot Speed Run 135.74 mph. A record that still stands today.


Early 1990s Early 1990s Water Ski Magazine promotes Barefooting instructional books and video alongside growing list of different things to ride. (WSM April 1992)

1990 Mike Seipel lands first inverted jump in competition at the World Championships. Casey Scalise (USA) was a forerunner for the jump event and also successfully landed an inverted jump.

1990 Hot Rock N’ Feet II video featuring Mike Seiple, Lane Bowers and others

1992 6 year old Mikey Caruso and 77 year old Banana George Blair show their barefooting

1993 The first sanctioned “Night Jumping Tournament” held in MA, USA program cover.

1995 Very first X games (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) Australia’s Justin Seers wins gold in the combined skills jumping event.

1995 Banana Geroge stars in “Captiva Island” feature film with Ernest Borgnine and Artie Johnson


2000 – Flight Worlds Banana George Exhibition Toothold @ 85 + Interview on ESPN

The Banana Man on ESPN…with his trademark flying ramp start and front tooth hold…all at 85 years old!More Great Water Skiing:Wet & Wild Water Ski Playlis…

200X First “Backbreaker” barefooter wears a harness and tows a jumper off the ramp, a new act for show skiing.

2004: Dean Lavelle Develops Double tower for Barefoot International – Dean develops the tall tower to help get even bigger air on his wakeboard, but barefooting and hydrofoiling take notice. Barefooting permits this equipment to be used in completions

2004-2005 Andre De Villiers -develops freestyle with the use of the tall tower.

The high tower now most commonly referred to as “The Fly High”