SHERRILLS FORD – Skiers welcomed the New Year feet first in what is dubbed as the world’s longest running barefoot skiing event.
The Carolina Show Ski Team hosted Saturday, Jan. 1, the 33rd annual Lake Norman Barefoot Challenge at the Lake Norman Marina.
“At the end of the runs the water felt like ice water,” said John Gillette, chief announcer and assistant organizer of the event.
The Challenge featured 11 of the world’s best barefoot skiers, but organizers wanted more than just a showcase. They hoped to get more people involved with the Samaritan’s Feet, a worldwide missionary nonprofit organization that provides shoes for children in need.
This year organizers created “Barefooting for Bare Feet” to raise money for the charity.
“I hope to raise awareness and funds for the plight of impoverished children who suffer needlessly from foot-borne diseases and infections due to a lack of shoes,” Gillette said.
Gillette, of University City, is also a former member of the first two U.S. Barefoot Water Ski Teams in 1978 and 1980 and coach of the 1982 World Championships. He had stayed away from the frigid waters since 1996 but felt supporting Samaritan’s Feet was too important to pass up.
“The partnership with Samaritan’s Feet added a noble and interesting element with Lake Norman Marina,” Gillette said.
Gillette is considered a pioneer of the sport and was the recipient of the 2008 Water Ski Hall of Fame Award of Distinction and authored the first comprehensive guide to barefoot water skiing.
The rules of the event consisted of allotting contestants a point for every second they remained on their feet. Points increase with added tricks.
To add incentive, $5 was donated to Samaritan’s Feet for each second they stayed up.
One contestant made history while out on the course, Gillette said.
Jeff Blair broke World Overall Barefoot Champion Ron Scarpa’s former course record by completing an 816-point run around the lake.
A bet between Gillette and fellow competitor Ron Meeks kept the competitive spirits high as both contestants sought to score the most points. Meeks would contribute $100 to Samaritan’s Feet if he lost to Gillette and would donate $50 if he beat Gillette.
Gillette took home the win.
“I was able to hold onto the handle with one hand, got my other hand on the handle, swung my feet around and stood back up forwards,” Gillette said.
“This enabled me to do some more tricks and add time to again beat Ron for the extra $50. That translates to five pairs of shoes for needy children.”
The event raised more than $300 for Samaritan’s Feet.