Imagine having a boat as your office and getting paid to travel the world. That's a reality for Keith St. Onge, two-time world barefoot ski champion and 10-time national champion, who made his dream job happen. Apart from holding the Slalom and Trick World Records, he founded the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven, Florida. Men's Fitness met up with St. Onge, 31, to ask him how a kid from the snowy northeast turned into one of the planet's greatest footers, got his insider tricks for getting up without skis, and found out what to do if you encounter a 'gator.
MF: If you weren't a professional barefoot water skier, what would you be?
KS: If my skiing career didn't take off, I'd be a prison guard. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire called Granite State, and they'd just opened a prison around the time I'd graduated from high school. A lot of my friends got jobs there.
So how'd you get into barefooting?
My grandfather had a cottage on Umbagog Lake in New Hampshire, and both my parents skied for fun. I first tried it on two skis when I was nine years old, and my cousin, Gary Bouchard-we call him Swampy-ran a local ski club. I was hooked.
How'd you manage to make a living out of it?
I moved to Florida after graduating high school with only $1000 in my pocket and no job. My dream was to be a professional barefooter, so I worked odd jobs that paid under the table during the day. I met a guy that I knew from competitions that let me stay in his "efficiency," which was really more of a shed, in exchange for free lessons. Pretty soon, I got a boat sponsor, began giving lessons myself, and rented a house on Lake Minneola in Clermont. It all started from there.
What advice do you have for guys wanting to try barefooting?
Learn the right way to get up from the right person the first time, and you'll see what the rush is all about. Many times guys end up taking a hard fall when the boat is going 40 miles an hour, and they wind up never wanting to try it again. Going to a ski school is the smartest thing you can do if you're just starting out. It's easiest to get up when the water is like glass, and that's why the lakes in Florida are good for learning.