For the 29th year in a row, the Carolina Show Ski Team held the â€œBarefoot Challengeâ€ on the lake to ring in the new year, and the rainy, cold New Yearâ€™s Day didnâ€™t keep more than 40 people from watching what has become an annual event at Lake Norman Marina on N.C. 150 east of N.C. 16.
Unlike previous years, turnout was low and only 12 skiers had pre-registered. There were also fewer people on hand to witness and cheer on family and friends this year than last year.
Of those who â€œtook the plunge,â€ Don Simon, 67, from Tennessee is believed to be the oldest barefoot skier of the group. Simon has been â€˜barefootingâ€™ (water skiing barefoot) since the late 1970s.
â€œThe camaraderie is what keeps me coming back each year,â€ said Simon. â€œThereâ€™s always someone you know at this or any barefoot tournaments and youâ€™re always talking to them.â€
One person who fully intended to ski barefoot this year wasnâ€™t able to do so. Sherrills Ford resident Terry Cody, one of the eventâ€™s founders, was readying for this yearâ€™s challenge as he recently turned 50.
However, complications from an accident suffered many years ago manifested itself during 2006, requiring surgery.
â€œThe doctor told me not to do anything for a year, so I wonâ€™t be skiing this year,â€ said Cody.
Barefoot skiing started as a publicity stunt for a water ski club.
â€œWSOC came and filmed us in shorts and T-shirts skiing in our bare feet,â€ said Cody. â€œWhen the TV cameras left, we kept skiing.â€
Cody added his family thought he was nuts for skiing on Lake Norman in his bare feet.
John Gillette of Charlotte has been attending the event for the past 15 years.
â€œThereâ€™s not another tournament quite like this one in the world,â€ he said. â€œThe tournament combines barefoot endurance with the ability to do some tricks in a circular pattern.â€
Gillette said barefoot skiing calls for calm water, giving participants an added challenge.
â€œThe water here isnâ€™t calm because the boat is going around in a circle,â€ he said.
Skiers are launched from the dock and make two circles around the lake. During their ride, they try to do as many tricks as they can, earning points along the way. The number of points a contestant can earn depends on the degree of difficulty of the tricks, and feet have to be completely exposed.
Many of the people in attendance at this yearâ€™s event called Gillette â€œa very accomplishedâ€ barefoot skier.
Gillette has been skiing since the age of 14. Now at the age of 50, Gillette said heâ€™s been skiing more than 35 years.
â€œPerseverance is the key to success at barefoot skiing,â€ said Gillette. â€œThere are a lot of falls involved. I love the sport and Iâ€™m passionate about it. Iâ€™ve worked at it.â€
by Jon Mayhew