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Blast from the Past: Lori Powell-Drell

Lori Powell



1. Tell us about the first time you barefoot water skied. When was this and where?  Who taught you?My Dad had always been my coach, but in June of 1980, we met Ed Finley at Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, FL. He worked with my Dad and me to teach basic barefooting technique. I remember trying and failing for two days to step off a slalom ski behind the boat, but on day three, I succeeded on my first attempt. At first, barefooting was only a hobby for me as I was focused on competing in traditional 3 event skiing, but then my brother, Rick, broke his leg jumping. He had already registered for several barefoot tournaments during the summer and could not compete. My Dad, Ed and I decided that I would train for traditional events each morning and barefooting in the evening. Things progressed very rapidly from that first successful step off of the slalom ski. Twelve weeks later, I was an 11 year old first alternate member of the US Barefoot team and on my way to San Francisco for the 1980 World Championships.

2. How many years have you been barefooting?I’ve been retired from barefooting since the 1988 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, but I competed for 9 years.

3. Who was/is your favorite instructor/mentor/coach?My Dad was always my coach. He also coached my brother, Rick. Given that we were both U.S. and World Overall Champions, it would be hard to consider anybody else as my favorite. That being said, Ed Finley deserves a shout out for helping both my Dad and me learn the fundamentals of barefooting. Of course there were many others, too numerous to mention who influenced my barefooting career and the success I experienced.

4. What are some memorable moments of barefooting?

  • Becoming overall World Champion in 1988 was the crowning achievement of the ultimate goal from a competitive standpoint. Although we are friendly now, the intense rivalry with Jennifer Calleri toward the end of my career pushed me far enough to finally get the title. It’s a good thing I won in 1988, because she became far too dominant for anybody (including me) to mount any reasonable challenge.
  • It was an honor to teach my good friend, George Blair, how to do a back deep at 75 years old. He was such an icon and passionate supporter of barefooting and is missed greatly by many in our community.
  • Traveling to so many places in the U.S. and abroad….the friendships and memories from those experiences at such a young age.
  • I had the opportunity to be in a Mountain Dew commercial with Ron Scarpa, where we skied behind barrel racing horses. At the time, Ron and I were the most famous people in the commercial, which is pretty funny now that I think about another young cast member by the name of Brad Pitt who, at the time, dreamed of being as successful and famous as we were. Sometimes dreams do come true. ;-)
  • Teaching the now notorious “PTL club” founder, Jim Bakker how to water ski on national television, while his wife, Tammy Faye Bakker, sang “you can make it”. The video was pretty cheesy, but it still stands out as a top memory for me.

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

I was 11 years old and honestly do not remember anything about my first tournament. My earliest recollection was qualifying for the U.S. Barefoot team at a tournament in Ocala, FL. I wanted to make the team so badly and vividly remember how satisfying it was to perform well enough to receive the invitation from the committee after barefooting for only 12 weeks.

6. What was your most memorable tournament and why?

Without a doubt, winning the 1988 Women’s World Overall Title in Melbourne. Having my training partner and brother, Rick, win the Men’s World Overall Championship at the same tournament was the icing on the cake. Words cannot describe how fulfilling it was to have 2 World Champions in the same family after all the years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice it took to finally achieve our ultimate goal.

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

Things have changed a great deal in barefooting since I hung my feet up to dry. For much of the 1980’s I won nearly everything in sight, knew I was the best and had no reservations about letting others know. Those who knew me would probably have said…..humility was the toughest skill for me to learn. ;-)

8. Who inspires/ed you in barefooting?

Aside from those I have already mentioned, I really looked up to Lisa Emory from the U.S. and Debbie Pugh from Australia. They were clearly the best of the best in women’s barefooting at the time.

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

“There’s an element of personal duty in life to make the best of our circumstances.” -CHRIS MOON, DOUBLE AMPUTEE AND MULTIPLE BADWATER ULTRAMARATHON FINISHER.

10. What was your greatest accomplishment in barefooting?


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

I’ve been away from the sport for quite awhile, so it would be difficult for me to give any specific advice about how to train and prepare to be a top competitor in today’s barefooting world. However, I do very strongly believe that the principles of success that worked in my era are still true today. Life has never been, or will be fair. There are many qualities that ultimately lead to success: hard work, persistence, falling and getting back up, sacrifice, pursuit of perfection. All of these things and more don’t guarantee success, but certainly give you a good chance. Above all, savor the experiences you have with others in the sport…..in short, have fun!!!



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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One thought on “Blast from the Past: Lori Powell-Drell”

  1. Brian Perry says:

    Some of my best memories of Barefoot Waterskiing were spent with the Powell family teaching me the techniques that brought to life my dreams of winning barefoot tournaments which would have never been made possible without their coaching, leadership, and example of what champions look like! – Oklahoma boy :-)

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