Figure 8s Explained
by Bob Mahnke (Figure 8 Champion)
other sport can a 44 year old, part time competitor take on the current
National Champion head-to-head and actually think he has a reasonable
chance to win. Welcome to the world of Figure 8 barefoot tournaments. This
is a sport where the weekend warrior can actually rub elbows with the
likes of Keith St. Onge, Peter Fleck, Paul Stokes, or current Junior world
champion Mikey Caruso, and if you have trained hard enough, and win the
coin toss which decides which side of the wake you ski on, can pull off an
A Figure 8 tournament involves pairs of competitors,
both behind the same boat navigating a Figure 8 course, maintaining their
respective side of the wake, and continuing until one of the skiers
fatigues or catches a toe. The end result is usually a face plant or body
parts flailing through the air in cartwheel fashion. Staying upright and
on your side of the wake requires total focus as the boat is in a nearly
constant curve. As it straightens for the brief period at the center of
the eight, you will encounter the double set of boat rollers from the
previous pass through. Then of course you have the wind, which at some
events has produced constant whitecaps. If conditions happen to be calm,
you are usually dealing with burning feet and forearms. To get an idea of
the endurance required to be competitive in one of these events, stand
with your back against the wall, knees bent at 90 degrees. Try holding
that position for a about 3 minutes, and you'll have an idea of the
strength needed in your quadriceps. Forearms pumped to twice their normal
size and bruised feet from the constant pounding are symptoms of a good
concept of Figure Eight tournaments might be one of the fastest growing in
all of barefoot skiing. If you can make a step off, you can participate,
and whether you win a single run or not, most competitors are hooked after
their first experience.. It is a personal challenge that only gets better
each time you hang on longer than the skier next to you. Getting to the
final rounds is a combination of skill, experience, strength, luck and
absolute concentration. One mental lapse and you are down, and in the
consolation bracket. This makes winning the event a real challenge as you
have several more runs to win and then after winning the entire
consolation bracket, you have to beat the guy on the winners side twice.
typical tournament starts with anywhere from 40 up to 200 competitors.
There are usually age group divisions with 16 and under comprising the
junior division and 40 and over reserved for the senior division. The rest
are grouped into the open division, with many of the seniors competing in
both divisions. FootFest, a tournament held each spring in Orlando,
separates the competitors one step further with an Open and then Open
Advanced division, which gives the guys that have never won before a
chance to take home a trophy. Banana George hosts an event with several
divisions of Juniors, including a boom division, and for the adults, the
age groups break down for Men I, Men II, and Open. The Open division is
reserved for all skiers that have placed previously or US Team members,
and those up for the challenge. The winners of all the divisions then ski
a mini tournament for the title of World Champion.
Skiers are randomly placed in a NCAA like bracket with
the exception that most events are double elimination. The first round is
run through with winners advancing and the ones that either missed their
step off, biffed in the first corner, or had to ski against Fleck, moving
into the loser's bracket. Dropping to the loser's bracket this early makes
winning the event an almost insurmountable challenge. It means you ski
nearly twice as many runs that weekend as the guy that goes through the
winners bracket, and then you have to beat him twice to take the title.
use the term "guy" with no disrespect for the gals in the sport,
as there are a couple of women, Sharon Remy and Rachel Friede, that have
taken down more than their share of guys. Incredibly, due to the
relatively few women in the sport, they often find themselves competing
against the men, and doing quite well, recently finishing second and third
respectively at the Banana George event in October of 2001.
As the rounds continue, and more skiers are eliminated,
the time between runs diminishes, and the runs themselves get longer as
the better footers endure. Staying fed and hydrated is critical as an
enormous amount of energy is expended in the matches, which sometimes
encompass two or three complete laps of the course. One lap around the
course is between sixty and ninety seconds, and if that sounds short,
consider that it usually in four to eight inch chop, or water stirred up
by the constant churning of two inboard towboats.
Winning an event usually comprises being in superb
condition, feet toughened by a season of footing, and often a lucky coin
toss or two. Often, late in the day as the winds pick up, the choice of
sides can determine which skier has the better chance of winning.
The first known event and still home to what most
competitors consider the grand daddy is in the northern Wisconsin town of
Crandon. Originally titled the US Open Barefoot Challenge Championship,
and with some resemblance to the culture of another legendary event, it is
now appropriately known as Footstock. The Crandon Water Ski Club were the
founders of the event and for most of the last two decades has been run by
the Bob & Kurt Landgraf.. In 2000, the local club resumed control of
the tournament, and it still offers one of the largest cash payouts of all
barefoot tournaments. The money is only part of the prestige. Laying claim
to having skied against some of the legends of the sport, such as Steve
Tucker I Chris Barnhart, and Peter Fleck, is worth the price of
admission. It is an event steeped in the tradition of camaraderie between
competitors, both pros and amateurs, and some fairly memorable parties.
The success of this premier event has spawned a virtual
circuit of Figure 8 events, many in barefoot crazy Wisconsin, but also
Footfest- Orlando and Banana George's BlairFest held annually in the
waterskiing Mecca of Winter Haven.. A listing of known events follows at
the end of this article.
The culture of the Figure 8 tournament scene wouldn't be
complete without inclusion of the voice of the majority of the stops on
the tour, Dave Miller. His non-stop bantering and ribbing of competitors
and fans alike, keeps the 2 to 3 day events free of the monotony one might
expect. He somehow manages to sunburn his feet and forehead to blisters
nearly every tournament but manages to maintain his edgy humor for the
entire 8 to 10 hours of bare footing each day.
It is a sport when described to the common man or even
another skier, often begets the response...
Why would you want to do that?
It is all about the competition.
The feeling of head to head competition and knowing that
at any instant in the run, including not making your step off, the run
could be over and you find yourself in the loser's bracket or out of the
tournament. It's also about training. Based on water conditions, some
events never see a complete figure 8. Others may require a skier to have
several runs in a row, where 2 to 3 complete laps of the course are
necessary to advance. The average course layout results in a single Figure
8 of about 1 minute 30 seconds in duration. That may not sound like a lot
of time, but the conditions during a fast paced tournament, where
you are dealing with wind chop and rouge rollers from the previous pass,
can present a challenge. I know skiers that can go out and barefoot for 20
minutes in calm conditions but not be able to complete a single 8 in
tournament conditions. With nearly constant turning with rollers hitting
you head on, coupled with the pressure of the guy next to you wanting to
win just as bad as you, most runs end before either competitor expects.
The skiers are seeded based on past results of the tournament, usually
keeping the top footers from facing each other until the final rounds.