The ski's the limit

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The Independent Culture
Barefoot waterskiing, fact or fiction? At the Spelthorne Barefoot Waterskiing Club I found out how it's all done with Laurie Morgan and British Men's Coach, Team Captain and Senior Men's National Champion, Clive Wilsdon. I suspected Clive might be quite good!

Morgan provided my first demonstration. Facing skywards, and away from the boat, she cut through the water on her back until the vessel reached its optimum speed. I'm not quite sure how, but she pulled herself onto the water's surface before turning through 180 degrees on to her haunches (called a tumble turn) and then her feet.

Her basic body position resembled sitting in a chair - if it was painful Morgan wasn't showing it. A few seconds later, she raised her right foot off the water and into a toe- hold on the rope so that a single size-five foot stood between her and wipe-out city.

"Barefoot waterskiing is performed in straight lines, or `runs', the length of which are determined by the size of the reservoir. When starting a run, competitors can win extra points for a higher degree of difficulty," explains Wilsdon, referring to Morgan's tumble-turn. "That was quite an easy one." It looked anything but easy from where I was standing.

Before she finally climbed back into the boat Laurie had performed several astounding tricks including reverse and flying (jumping off a jetty) starts.

Clive gave me a pair of plimsolls with what looked like a plastic plate attached to the bottom. With these shoes I could maintain greater contact with the water's surface, providing an easier introduction to the fundamentals of barefoot waterskiing.

The instructions given me were simple; lie flat in a rigid shape as the boat starts to move before dropping your backside onto the water. Then slowly retract each foot until your legs are tucked up underneath your body before standing up.

The process before standing is called the "three point position" as you have three points of contact (two feet and one backside) with the water. With Wilsdon shouting instructions, I managed to get up first time. After another run, it was time to lose the space shoes and ski au naturel.

Amazingly, I managed to get up first time before leaning too far forward (called the "Jockey" position) and wiping out with a vengeance.

Over the next couple of minutes, I wiped out in the jockey position so many times that I felt ready for the Grand National, but with further tuition I managed to get the hang of things.

Most extreme sports involve a board or some kind of structural aid, but here I was skiing on my bare feet at 25mph. Cutting through the water there was no real pressure on your feet - just an incredible feeling.

But don't take my word for it - today is the final day of the European Barefoot Championships with competition including slalom, tricks and jumping. The top barefooters can reach speeds of up to 50mph and travel over 90ft "Superman-style" using ramps. Apparently, it's also possible to ski on your hands, but that's best left to the experts.

Competitors from 13 countries will be competing at the European Barefoot Championships with England having an excellent chance of winning the event. If watching gives you the urge to have a go, then indulge. Barefoot skiing has one of the easiest learning curves of any adrenaline sport while delivering plenty of excitement.

Alister Morgan

The European Barefoot Championships: Today, Spelthorne Barefoot Club, Egham Surrey (0181-263 3926) free admission. Telephone the British Waterskiing Federation (0171-833 2855) for additional information on barefoot skiing and your nearest club

FIVE PLACES TO TRY BAREFOOT WATERSKIING

Spelthorne Barefoot Club

Spelthorne, Sheperton North Lake, Chertsey, Surrey (01932-848 906)

Lowood Watersport Centre

Lowood, Windemere, Cumbria (015394-39441)

Keuka Water Ski Club

London Road, Fairford, Gloucester (01249-712 146)

South Lake Ski School

St Neots, Little Paxton, Cambridgeshire (01480-216 966)

Princes Watersports Club

Clockhouse Lane, Bedfont, Middlesex (01784-256 153)

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