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Barefoot skiers ring in 2007 in traditional ceremony on Lake Norman

For the 29th year in a row, the Carolina Show Ski Team held the “Barefoot Challenge” on the lake to ring in the new year, and the rainy, cold New Year’s Day didn’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 “took the plunge,” Don Simon, 67, from Tennessee is believed to be the oldest barefoot skier of the group. Simon has been ‘barefooting’ (water skiing barefoot) since the late 1970s.
“The camaraderie is what keeps me coming back each year,” said Simon. “There’s always someone you know at this or any barefoot tournaments and you’re always talking to them.”
One person who fully intended to ski barefoot this year wasn’t able to do so. Sherrills Ford resident Terry Cody, one of the event’s founders, was readying for this year’s challenge as he recently turned 50.
However, complications from an accident suffered many years ago manifested itself during 2006, requiring surgery.
“The doctor told me not to do anything for a year, so I won’t be skiing this year,” said Cody.
Barefoot skiing started as a publicity stunt for a water ski club.
“WSOC came and filmed us in shorts and T-shirts skiing in our bare feet,” said Cody. “When the TV cameras left, we kept skiing.”
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.
“There’s not another tournament quite like this one in the world,” he said. “The tournament combines barefoot endurance with the ability to do some tricks in a circular pattern.”
Gillette said barefoot skiing calls for calm water, giving participants an added challenge.
“The water here isn’t calm because the boat is going around in a circle,” 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 year’s event called Gillette “a very accomplished” barefoot skier.
Gillette has been skiing since the age of 14. Now at the age of 50, Gillette said he’s been skiing more than 35 years.
“Perseverance is the key to success at barefoot skiing,” said Gillette. “There are a lot of falls involved. I love the sport and I’m passionate about it. I’ve worked at it.”
by Jon Mayhew

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