Barefoot water skiing's story begins in Winter Haven, Florida, a city amongst the clusters of lakes between Orlando and Tampa, where 17-year-old A.G. Hancock made the first barefoot ride back in 1947. It gained momentum in the 50s as a feature in the water ski shows at the city's Cypress Gardens theme park (now home to LEGOland). The barefoot riding style also crossed the Pacific to Australia during the 60s, and the first barefoot waterskiing world championships were held there in Canberra in 1978.
Now, 24-year-old Ben Groen, a member of a family that's essentially New Zealand's barefoot royalty, is literally following in his father's (and uncle's) footsteps. Ben first came to Florida when he was 18 to pursue his craft at the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven. His skills were so impressive the ski school now sponsors him — he currently rides the WBC Pro team and ranks 3rd best overall in the world. Barefooting requires traveling at higher speeds (starting at 30 MPH) to keep the skier upright. Now watch as he goes for a ride towed from a small aqua airplane. He does a few spin tricks and even glides gracefully on his back for a few seconds as if he was wearing a turtle shell.
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