SHERRILL’S FORD, N.C. – Warm weather and world class competitors brought a large crowd of spectators to the Lake Norman Marina shoreline to watch the 41st Annual New Year’s Day Barefoot Tournament.
In addition to contestants from the Lake Norman region, contestants also came from New Jersey, Indiana and Florida to compete in this unique and challenging event. Most notable contestants were Keith St. Onge, 19 time National Champion and 11 time World Gold Medalist, and Rachel Normand, former Woman’s World Champion and 2018 Senior Women’s World Champion. St. Onge was also selected by USA Water Ski as their Male Athlete of the year for 2018.
What makes the tournament unique is that it combines barefoot starts, tricks, and endurance skills in one single ride. Contestants receive points for the degree of difficulty of their starting method (flying dock start, backward dock start, etc.), degree of difficulty of any tricks they perform (one foot, tumble-turns, 180 degree turns) and one point for every second they remain on their bare feet.
Performances at the tournament were hindered by rougher water due to a high lake level increasing backwash off of the shoreline. Waves make barefooting much more difficult. Many contestants, including St. Onge, had a disappointing first round. However, Normand, her second year competing in the tournament and the only female in the Open Division, led the first round barefooting backwards her entire run! Her 177 seconds plus 345 points for tricks and her start earned a total score of 522 points.
Fred Steinbaum, one of the infamous “Jersey Boy’s featured on “Growing Bolder,” had an impressive run winning the Men’s Division, hanging on for 151 seconds and 50 points for his start for a total score of 201 points.
The drama built with St. Onge as the final contestant in the second round of competition. In November, he retired from a long career as one of the best competitive barefoot skiers in the world. Numerous years he had considered making the trip up from Florida for the tournament, but this year it worked out to make his first appearance, coupling it with a family trip to Sugar Mountain.
The tournament’s circle pattern, rough water and unique format is a type of competition unfamiliar to St. Onge. Everyone knew he had the ability to beat the long standing course record set by Mooresville resident Jeff Blair, but would the conditions prevent that? He did not disappoint, performing multiple 180 degree turns, backward one-foots and tumbleturns and the longest run of the tournament. His 262 second run coupled to his 840 points in tricks and backward flying dock start resulted in a new course record of 1,102, beating Blairs record by 286 points!
“The challenging water conditions caught me by surprise in the first round. The second round I was more cautious, though I risked the front-to-back turns for additional points and to be able to change up my muscle groups. I’m pleased to have been able to top Jeff’s record, but most of all it was a lot of fun to finally participate in this unique event with this enthusiastic group of barefooters!” said St. Onge.
Lake Norman Marina and the Lake Norman Boat Club donate $.10 per point scored in the tournament to Samaritan’s Feet. Samaritan’s Feet is a Charlotte based charity that provides shoes to underprivileged people around the world. Total points scored were 4,201 earning $420, plus contestant John McCelland did his own fund raising through the event earning over $1,700 toward the charity.
The annual tournament is organized by the Carolina Show Ski Team and Hosted by Lake Norman Marina, the largest boat dealership in the Charlotte/Lake Norman region.
More photos and information is available on the New Year’s Day Barefoot Tournament Facebook page.