Step 1: Get on the kneeboard

The most important part of barefooting is getting up. I’ve tried many techniques to get up — from holding onto a rope and being dragged behind a boat at a high speed to dropping a slalom ski — but the most successful technique has been to slide off a kneeboard. So, I will teach you what I call the “kneeboard method.” To use this method, you need only a few supplies. I would suggest have a kneeboard and a pair of flat bottom canvas shoes. Shoes are not necessary to barefoot, but it makes barefooting a lot easier and less painful. I barefoot in the Mississippi and am scared of cutting my feet on debris, so I use shoes. To start off, just get on the kneeboard in the usual kneeboarding position.

Step 2: Switch to a sitting position

Step two took a while to master. It involves a series of actions to go from kneeling to sitting on the board. Usually I have the boat go fairly slow (around 15 mph). The first movement is to move one leg forward. This is done most easily by putting a hand on the board on the opposite side of the leg you are moving, as shown in the picture. After you place your hand for counter-balance, you need to lift your knee and put your foot flat on the board, as shown in this picture. Then, while resting on one foot and your counter-balance hand, point your knee (the knee on the board) sideways, and swing your leg around. Basically you just pick yourself up so you are on one foot and the opposite hand, and then point your knee out so you can swing your foot from behind you along a line up the center of the board, and then in front of you. After this step, you will have both feet planted in front of you, and will be supported by one hand behind you to the side.

Now, from this position, just sit down with your feet in front of you. Placement on the board is important — you need to be up far enough that you can plant your feet in the water, but back far enough that you don’t do a nose dive. It takes some practice to get in the right position, but you should look something like this when you are sitting. At this point, the speed should still be fairly slow (around 15 Mph). Once you get in this position and feel stable, wave to the driver. This tells the driver to accelerate (I usually go full-throttle). Stay in this position until your speed is up (maybe around 25 mph).

Step 3: Plant your feet in the water

Then, when you feel like you are going pretty fast, place your feet in the water (put your heels down, but make sure that your toes are above water — similar to how you would place your skiis while getting up on double skiis). When you put your feet in the water, there will be a lot of spray and resistance. I usually just close my eyes and hang on. If you made it this far, you have made it past the hard part. ALL YOU DO NOW IS HANG ON. I fell a lot during this step when I was trying to learn how to get up because I would try to stand up like on two skiis. This is not the correct technique. Just keep your feet planted in the water, and let the boat continue to accelerate (and make sure you lean back). When you are going fast enough, the board will leave from under you and you will be barefooting. It can take a while for you to get to a fast enough speed for the board to slip away, so don’t worry if you are sitting on the board for 10 or more seconds.

Here you can see the point right before the board leaves. This is actually my sister’s first attempt at barefooting. She got up on her first try! Sadly, however, we didn’t tell her what to do when she got up or how to stop, so she had a bad wipe out and hasn’t tried barefooting again. At this point she is still in the sitting position in which she started, and the board in still under her, although she is raising up off the board (while not standing up or doing anything besides holding on).

Step 4: Hold on

Above you can see my sister standing on her own. The board slipped out from under her, and now she is standing. I generally like to barefoot around 35-40 mph, because it gets really choppy when I go faster. Notice my sister’s position. This isn’t really a good barefooting position (and I think it is the reason she had a violent fall). When you are barefooting, it isn’t the same as double skiing. You want to have your knees bent, and you want to lean back a lot. Its almost like you are trying to stop yourself from going forwards, so you are giving yourself the most resistance possible. Here are some pictures to show you what your form should look like.

After you get the hang of getting up and staying up going straight behind the boat, you can try fun stuff, like crossing the wake. Crossing the wake successfully isn’t very difficult, but it takes some practice to master. Surprisingly, you can make yourself turn from side to side by moving your feet, just like on skiis. Just head towards a wake and hang on. It is easier to cross to the outside of a wake than to cross back into the middle. Just make sure that you always keep your feet above the water (don’t let them get trapped under the water when you cross the wake) or you will fall. Notice that I am wearing my shoes in this picture.

Step 5: Dismount

Often times this step occurs unplanned, and it isn’t very pleasant. It took me a while to understand that you could stop barefooting in a non-painful manner. All you have to do is let go of the rope and lean back, so that you fall gently onto your back. You can see this being done in the picture to the left. You should just sink into the water. If you use this technique to stop barefooting, you shouldn’t get hurt. I’ve only really gotten injured from a head-first tumble, so be careful not to let yourself fall forward. This is more likely to happen if you are not leaning back far enough or do not have your knees bent enough while barefooting. Be aware that you can get hurt barefooting. I spent a long time one day working on Step 3 with some friends. After numerous falls, one friend was sent to the hospital for a CT scan because of head pain and confusion. Also, my sister seriously hurt her back when she fell forward and tumbled through the water.