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Blast from the Past: John Gillette

John Gillette

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John Gillette is well-known for his instructional book, “Barefooting,” which was published in 1980. The book includes a detailed history of the sport, some of which is detailed on the American Barefoot Water Ski Club site: Barefooting History. 

1. Tell us about the first time you barefoot water skied. When was this and where? Who taught you?

I think in 1970 on a small, protected area off Boca Ciega Bay just inside St. Pete Beach, FL. A friend and I simply tried and tried until we could do it.

2. How many years have you been barefooting?


3. Who was/is your favorite instructor/mentor/coach?

I never really had a barefoot instructor, mentor or coach. Closest person to that would have been Stew McDonald, who mainly coached my skiing. I learned back barefooting by watching skiers at Cypress Gardens and ask them questions, as well as a few local guys like Charlie Hock, and Bill McGill who skied in the St. Pete area. Most everything I learned was through the, “school of hard knocks”. I read articles in The Water Skier magazine and Ralph Hester’s book, Water Skiing, gave instruction on beach and deepwater starts (not very helpful), two ski jump-out and “Flip-Up” start (tumbleturn before it had an official name).

4. What are some memorable moments of barefooting?

There are many. Competing in the 1973 Cypress Gardens National Barefoot Tournament with the top Australian barefooters, Gary Barton, John Hacker and others, and meeting Bill Price and Mike Botti, who became instrumental in the sport. Competing in the first World Barefoot tournament. Performing before thousands of spectators daily at Sea World.

5. Where and when was your first tournament? Tell us about that experience.

The 1973 Cypress Gardens National Barefoot tournament. Meeting the Australians and seeing them ski propelled me forward in my knowledge of and enthusiasm for the sport. This event was a catalyst to barefooting developing into a competitive sport in the US in 1978.

6. What was your most memorable tournament and why?

The 1973 Cypress Gardens tournament would probably be it, or maybe the first world tournament in Australia in 1978. Both were historic international events bringing the best barefooters from different countries together, and forging friendships that last to this day.

7. What has been the most challenging skill to learn in barefooting?

The back step off took me may attempts to learn on my own. Second to that was the front to back.

8. Who inspires/ed you in barefooting?

Some of the Cypress Gardens legends like Don Thompson and Jerry Atkinson, Aussie legend Gary Barton, and my friend Mike Botti was a natural, unlike me.

9. What is a favorite quote or lesson you live by?

Hard to limit it to one. Here are a few:

Jesus: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

Solomon: “All hard work brings a profit.”

10. What was your greatest accomplishment in barefooting?

Probably writing the book, “Barefooting.”

11. What advice would you give to someone in the sport today?

Enjoy the thrills and camaraderie. Think; don’t take foolish risks. It’s just recreation; there are higher priorities. See question 9.



About: Karen

Contributing writer for WaterSki and The Waterskier. Author of Barefoot Water Skiing: From Weekend Warrior to Competitor. Co-author of Gliding Soles with Keith St. Onge. Barefoot junkie.

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