Blast from the Past: Mike Seipel
Mike Seipel is a true legend in the sport. He was the first person to jump inverted. Today, Mike continues to stay involved through his company, Barefoot International.
Tell us about the first time you barefoot water skied. When was this and where? Who taught you?
The first time I barefooted I was ten years old. My family went to amatuer water ski show on a little lake in Wisconsin. We were just going to watch the show. Every time a barefooter went by, the whole crowd stood up and cheered. That was the only thing the crowd liked was barefooting– they didn’t stand up and scream and cheer for ballet. I thought wow if i wanted to be the best skier on the lake, I have to learn to barefoot because people will cheer for me!
My brother John was nine and we both wanted to learn to barefoot, no matter what it takes. Every time I tried I was beat up and sore for one week. Despite being sore, I never thought of stopping. I kept trying i get very very sore when i do my sport i would try and fall hurt wait a week then go back and try again only 30 mph it was not more tthan 30 mph or the falls would get injured we werent sure what we were doing. Finally, I was able to step off but I had so much spray I couldn’t see or breathe. I could not wait for my dad to come home from work that day so I could show him.
Just from seeing that one amateur ski show, I thought to myself, I want o do that–I want to be the best skier on the lake!
How many years have you been barefooting?
I started in 1970. I’m 54 now, so that’s 44 years. Since I retired from competing, I decided to focus on selling equipment with my brother John and there’s not a lot of time. I loved competing and training. When I retired, there was not a lot of reason to continue to foot. Every every now and then I would go to Footstock– they would ask me to do a show–then I would end up being sore for two weeks! Obviously if you do it regularly like Banana George did, then it’s healthy and you can ski as old as you want. Banana George was like 90 when he stopped. If you have good technique and do it a few times a week, you can keep from getting hurt. The last time I barefooted was about six years ago–and that was at Footstock. They put names in a hat and convinced me to ski against the name drawn–it was Bob Dorn from North Dakota. I barely beat him!
Who was/is your favorite instructor/mentor/coach?
That’s tough to say because back then wheni ws competing there were no coaches or teachers back then. We were the first people to start giving lessons and teaching others.
In the beginning, I had certain people who made an impact on me. Ron Scarpa and O started a barefoot school. Ron was in the boys division and I was in the mens division–we were both kicking butt. We weren’t competing against each other so we trained together. i grew up in wisconsin so to be able to live with rona nd his family and be on the water that was the big thing back then we pushed each other until he moved to the mens division we started the first Randy Filter started one too called Super Feet. Ours was International Barefoot Training Center. Our school only lasted a year then Ron moved to the Mens division and it became serious between us. I was very competitive he was very competitive so we went separate ways.
What are some memorable moments of barefooting?
The first one that still comes up was at age ten– seeing that water ski show show–that’s the first time my family saw barefooting.
Another memory was when my dad came home and I barefooted that afternoon and went all the way around the lake with bad technique and water in my face–I was excited to show show him.
I have many awesome memories–the two times when I won the world championship and became the overall world champ–those were incredible experiences.
Where and when was your first tournament? Tell us about that experience.
My first tournament was in 1972. Mad City team had that event. They would have a barefoot tournament every year and the club just made up rules. We had an event called the Start Method. There were twelve different starts you could do in the rules. We did a step off– back then people skied on a round disk , deep water starts, back step offs– twelve dif kind of starts. I would see guys do all twelve and I decided I wanted to learn all twelve so I could do that next year. Slalom was not the same as today–you had to start the wake crossing between a buoy and do many as you could. I don’t remember a time involved. I went across as many times as I could. Tricks– I can remember some are the same as today, but we didn’t follow rules. Serious competition started in 1978 then the Worlds–we followed rules that the Australians invented. I skied the first nationals in 1978. We also had the midwest regionals you had to compete in the regionals I also started the Wisconsin state tournament.
What was your most memorable tournament and why?
The Worlds in Acapulco– I got second against Brett Wing. Ron Scarpa won Jump and stStart methods. I remember that whole experience was awesome. I also remember winning the Worlds in Australia, but I really liked the tournament in Mexico–seeing kids in the canoe and grass huts. I remember hoping I would get my ski back after stepping off! We skied in a beautiful lagoon.
What has been the most challenging skill to learn in barefooting?
I would say either flips or multiple turns. I had to practice those more than anything. Toe turns and other turns were easy, but multiple turns without hesitation was difficult. We faced very tough judging–you had to be very smooth with no slowing and no hesitation. If you slowed down, you didn’t score it. I remember taking a lot of time to perfect multiple turns and learning how to do a flip.
Who inspires/ed you in barefooting?
In 1972, I saw John Gillette (author of ‘Barefooting’) on the cover of Water Skier magazine. I remember seeing that and I said to myself, “One day I will be on the cover of the magazine. I will do whatever it takes to become a World Champion.” I’ve been on the cover of several magazines.
What is a favorite quote or lesson you live by?
Probably more than anything, I turn to the Bible for my inspiration and lessons.
What was your greatest accomplishment in barefooting?
Winning the second World Championship. Winning two means that it’s more than just luck. The first one was a great experience, but the second one really validated everything for me. I’ve won the Championship twice–that proves it wasn’t just luck.
What advice would you give to someone in the sport today?
Practice harder than anyone else! That’s what I did. I knew if I practiced harder and spent more time on the water than anyone else, then I would win. Work harder and try harder than anyone else.