For the 35th year in a row, professional water skiers will celebrate the New Year by competing with their bare feet on Lake Norman.
The annual “Barefoot New Year’s Day Challenge” will take place today at Lake Norman Marina in Sherrills Ford.
John Gillette, spokesperson for the event, described the competition as “full of fast action and exciting maneuvers.”
Started by a local group of skiers more than three decades ago, the event is currently sponsored by the Carolina Show Ski Team, which took over the competition in the late 1990s, Event Chairman Justin Landers said.
The 40-member club and nonprofit group, based out of Tega Cay, S.C., sponsors the yearly contest with Lake Norman Marina.
However, nonprofit organization Samaritan’s Feet also aids the event, soliciting donations for their overseas relief work, which provides shoes for people in third-world countries.
The organization also raises awareness about foot-borne illnesses and the infections that many residents of impoverished countries develop by not wearing shoes.
Gillette, a former barefoot competitor and world champion, encouraged citizens of surrounding communities to come out and watch the rare experience — considered the world’s longest running event of its kind.
This year’s competition will not only feature a number of competitors from across the country but also X-Games winner and seven-time national barefoot champion Peter Fleck.
The Orlando native received five national victories as part of the U.S. Barefoot Team and also holds the world record for barefoot jumping, according to a Lake Norman Marina press release on the local competition.
Gillette got involved in the sport at the age of 13, learning how to barefoot ski on Tampa Bay’s “rough waters,” he said.
Three years later, he acquired his first U.S. tournament title followed by global barefoot skiing success, winning the “European Challenge” in 1980.
Throughout his barefoot career, Gillette competed in additional events across Mexico, Australia, Germany and South Africa.
His greatest career accomplishments include two world championship titles as part of the U.S. Barefoot Team in addition to writing the first definitive book on the sport and pioneering a few of America’s most well-known barefoot maneuvers, he said.
Gillette additionally received the Water Ski Hall of Fame Award of Distinction in 2008.
For Saturday’s competition, Landers said, competitors will ski around a circular course at an average speed of 40 mph, racking up points for tricks and length of time on their feet.
Individuals may ski at any speed they want between 38 and 42 mph, Gillette said.
As far as tricks and other maneuvers, Landers noted that skiers can perform anything they choose to impress the crowd with — from backwards skiing and flips to a move called a “tumble turn.”
Event officials anticipate nearly 20 competitors at this year’s effort. In the past, skiers have ranged in age from 10 to 70 and maintained varying skill sets.
The Barefoot Challenge will start 12 p.m. at the marina.
For more information, contact Justin Landers at (704) 572-9174 or firstname.lastname@example.org or John Gillette at (704) 497-0078 or email@example.com.