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A Barefoot Legend
Mike Seipel has been a legend in the realm of barefoot water skiing since he and his brother, John, learned to barefoot at ages 10 and 11 in their hometown of Lake Dousman, Wis. Seipel, already a champion three-event (slalom, tricks and jumping) competitor in the Boys division, soon became famous with his brother performing as the "World's Youngest Barefooters" in the Water Bugs Ski Show in Milwaukee.
By age 15, Seipel was dominating regional barefoot competition and decided to quit three-event skiing to concentrate solely on his new passion. In 1978, he qualified for his first Barefoot National Championships, held in Waco, Texas. Seipel surprised even himself by placing second in the tournament. His performance also earned him an invitation to join the U.S. Barefoot Water Ski team that would travel to Australia for the first World Barefoot Championships later that same year.
Seipel didn't win any medals at his first Worlds, but he launched a sports career that would eventually earn him 11 National titles, six World titles and nine World records. He skied on eight U.S. Barefoot Water Ski Teams and has since trained numerous National and World champions at his Barefoot International Ski School.
Seipel founded Barefoot International, one of the first training centers for barefoot water skiers, in 1980. The first location was in Wisconsin, and by 1982, the business had grown enough to incorporate. Seipel opened a new site in Pompano Beach, Fla., and later that year moved the business to West Palm Beach.
In 1983, Seipel began manufacturing the barefoot boom that was his trademark way of introducing skiers to the sport. Although a version of the boom had been used by skiers in the past, the Seipels were the first to design a unit that fit all towboats and was also cosmetically appealing.
The brothers placed an ad in The Water Skier magazine. There was only one problem – the booms were not yet made. The calls started coming in, and John began the manufacturing process at a machine shop in Milwaukee while Mike handled the marketing.
Soon, the business was growing and the brothers began making and selling other barefoot accessories, such as sportswear, wetsuits, ropes and handles.
Seipel continued to be an innovator throughout his career as a barefooter. In 1988, he decided to give up slalom and tricks and specialize in jumping, which was his strongest event.
One day during training, he went out the front while going over the jump. Later, he thought he could learn to pull out of a bad jump by relaxing, letting his feet fall behind him and then bringing them back beneath him. He tried it until he eventually skied one away. As he got better, Seipel noticed that the technique added distance to his jumps. The inverted method of barefoot jumping was born.
When Seipel began using his new technique in competition, he was unstoppable. At the 1990 Worlds, barefooters from around the globe were exposed to inverted jumping, and it eventually became the preferred method of top competitors.
Seipel retired from competition in 1994. His ski school and retail businesses were growing, and Seipel found it was becoming harder to make the time for the training he needed to stay on top in the competitive ranks. He continues to run Barefoot International both on site in West Palm Beach and through traveling clinics. He lives in the West Palm area with his wife, Gwen, and their daughter, Kimberly