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Joe Knapp

Joe Knapp

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Joe Knapp fell in love with barefoot water skiing when he was 13 years old. He saw someone barefooting on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota and said, “Wow, I gotta learn how to do that.” After many failed attempts teaching himself to barefoot, he finally learned on June 6, 1976, at 9:30 pm on Lake Minnetonka with his future wife Debbie driving the boat. He had courage and faith as he took his right foot off the safety of his slalom ski and barefooted away without sinking.

In 1978, the first Barefoot National Championships was held in Waco, Texas. Joe was there and had the honor of being the first competitor on the water. Arriving at the tournament, he had never jumped. In spite of Debbie saying she’d give him $100 not to jump, his competitive nature and passion for the sport got the better of him. While waiting on the starting dock, a fellow competitor taught him how to jump, saying it was like jumping out of two skis without jumping. Joe successfully jumped, for the first time, at the first nationals.

Joe won his first Men’s National Overall Championships in 1987 and continued winning in 1991, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2018, 2021, and 2022. Aside from his numerous individual successes, he has been the most committed and persistent competitor in barefoot water skiing. He is the only person to have competed in every Barefoot Nationals from 1978 to the present, and he has competed in every event – slalom, tricks, and jump.

In addition to Joe’s on-the-water success, he has a passion for helping others, talking with every competitor at every tournament, and giving time to the sport he loves. He is a Level 1 (World Level) Judge and has been judging and volunteering at tournaments since the 1980s. As soon as he started judging, he became an appointed judge at every national, regional, and local tournament he attended. In 2001, he was recognized for his lifetime of service by receiving the American Barefoot Club's Stew McDonald Long Time Service Award.

With no plans to slow down , Joe is barefooting more and has added extra fitness routines. His goal is to compete in every Barefoot Nationals until he dies. He hopes to live to 102, the age at which his grandfather died.

“Every time I barefoot, even on the simplest of terms, it’s still really exciting. Now it’s just trying to fit it into whatever life I have and trying to make that work,” says Joe.

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