I first set my bare feet on the water July of 2008.  I had slalom skied for years, but thought barefoot skiing was too far out there.  My first successful pull on a short rope off the boom did it.  I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to get better, but knew few people, if any, at my ski club could offer any instruction.  Most of the guys there were old school, 45 MPH denim shorts, long liners that hadn’t set their feet on the water in years.

I recall an article in Prosper magazine a client showed on some whack job skiing backwards on his barefeet.  He lived in the Sacramento area, and possibly had a barefoot ski school.  I did some on-line searches, and swerved into a fellow, Andy McCarville, who skied with Willie on a regular basis.  He said Willie did not teach any more, but Andy opened his boat for me to ski anytime.  That is a cool thing about barefooters, they are always stoked about new footers joining the sport.

I enjoyed skiing with Andy many days during that summer, but no sign of Willie.  He was out there, footin’ as usual, but hadn’t hooked up with us.  Low and behold, early September Willie surfaced.  He was cordial, affable, and fully stoked at “fresh meat” in the boat to provide entertainment.  We hit a spot called Lost Slough, a 2-mile long footer’s paradise, which was glassy, and there were no other boats to found.

We all took turns ripping it up.  Little did I know at the time what this relationship with Andy and Willie would become.  Willie was very comfortable at this spot since it looks like the Cajun Bayou and it appears as if crocs are going to emerge out of the swamp.

Willie at Lost

Willie, Andy and I would go out on many occasions after that.  Willie learned shortly after this outing that he was named to the US Barefoot Team and would go to New Zealand in January.  September in Sacramento is hot, the water is warm, and January seemed a great way off.  I did not know it at the time, but I would become part of Willie’s crew an be part of his road trip to the World’s. 

Over the next several months we skied a lot.  Me, the rookie, learning one foots, toe holds, progressing on the back deep; Andy, always energetic, fine tuning his massive quiver of techniques with emphasis on surface turns.  Willie, now, is another story.  The best I can describe him train is like a samurai warrior.  Honing and sharpening his already deadly sharp sword;  Visualizing his trick run while taking a light jog down to the launch.  Willie is a highly focused, very intense individual, especially while barefooting.  He is constant about proper technique as well as boating and skiing safety.  He knew when to hit the water and when to stay in the boat because “something wasn’t quite right.” 

But don’t let Willie’s intensity take away from his lighter side.  He is a jokester and makes footing a lot of fun. His sense of humor had somehow charmed his way into a local club of 50 members that are outboard fisherman, and only one barefooter, Willie!  He would always mix things up at any given time, like the time he ripped a backwards one foot with a phone book in his hand as a promo for the phone company he worked for. 

Willie's Phone Book Promo
Phone Book Promo

Late Fall we made a spectacular trip to his friend Jerry’s private lake, and hit legendary conditions.  Willie tuned his trick runs, Andy hit a few more front to backs, and I nailed my first toe-hold.

Willie at Diablo Shores

Summer gave way to Fall, and Fall finally conceded to Winter.  The water got down to 48 degrees, the weather at times was still beautiful, and the 3 musketeers were still footing, still progressing toward our goals.  As the Winter came into full bloom, out came the drysuits, and the cooler full of hot water, and baby powder all over the place.  Willie’s game became very mental at this point.  His runs were concise, to the point, and very focused.  His technique was sharp, fast, and very physical.  I had never seen him fall, not once.

This whole time I was transforming.  I was becoming a barefooter.  At times watching Willie work his magic, I often thought: “How is this possible?  Months back I was struggling to catch a foot ride off a hydroslide.  Now I am out barefooting with one of the best in the world.”  Exhilarating and humbling at the same time.  The day Willie left for New Zealand I had a very memorable phone call with him.  He thanked me for being part of his team, for helping him get ready, for inspiring him, for driving the boat.  He parting words as he readied himself for a long plane ride were, “I’ll make you proud down there.”  I said, ” I already am proud.”

Proud to know him, proud to be part of his crew, proud to be his friend.  Willie stands alone:

Stand Alone