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USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation Announces 2024 Award of Distinction Recipients

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

The USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation’s Hall of Fame Selection Committee is pleased to announce the 2024 recipients of the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation’s Award of Distinction.

The five recipients will be honored with Hall of Fame Inductee Elaine Heller Fatla on Saturday, April 6, 2024, at Nora Mayo Hall in Winter Haven, Florida. For more information on the Ceremony, go HERE.

The 2024 recipients of the Award of Distinction are Joe Knapp, Alex Lauretano, Jason Lee, Dennis Longo, and Dusty Schulz.

Joe Knapp (Barefooting)

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 at 68 years young, 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.

Alex Lauretano (Water Skiing)

Having grown up on a lake in Connecticut, Alex Lauretano's love for water skiing started at an early age. But frozen winters made it difficult to train and compete on the world stage. Alex moved to central Florida at 16 to train and finish high school.

Two years later, she was competing on the pro circuit and setting records. Alex is a former Open Women national slalom, tricks, jump, and overall champion, Pan American Water Ski Championships overall champion, Collegiate tricks and jump champion, and member of the U.S. Elite Water Ski Team. She was the 2015 AWSA Jumper of the Year and recipient of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports’ "That's Incredible Award." Her jumping is indeed incredible. She set the Open Women national jump record of 184 feet in 2013 and a new record three years later at 188 feet that still stands today.

Aside from focusing on her training and career, she reached out in many other ways to advance the sport of water skiing and women in professional sports. She is a member of multiple standing committees for USA Waterski & Wake Sports and has been the Athletes’ Advisory Council chairwoman since 2013.

Alex was a charter member of Girls That Fly, an organization of the top women water ski jumpers in the world formed in 2011. Girls That Fly highlights and promotes worldwide jump events for women and establishes parity for women in areas such as prize money, publicity, and event equality.

Jason Lee (Barefooting)

Jason Lee’s illustrious decades-long barefoot career began in 1993. He quickly advanced and just a year later became the Junior Boys National Slalom Champion. He was a member of the inaugural Junior World Championships team, where he skied despite being injured and got the bronze in slalom. Lee continued to push himself, breaking into the Open (Pro) Division in 1996 and competing in the World Games in Lahti, Finland, the following year.

In 1997, Lee became the Junior World Slalom, Tricks, and Overall Champion in LaMede, France. In addition, he set the junior world records in slalom and tricks, which he held for nine and four years, respectively. The following year, he became one of the first American Red Bull-sponsored athletes.

In 2000, Lee became the Open World Slalom Champion and the NBC Gravity Games X-Style Jump Champion. He also gained the Open World Slalom Silver title in 2002 in Wallsee, Austria. He was a U.S. Elite Team member and top contributor for five years (1998, 2000, 2002, 2016, 2018.)

Lee excelled in all aspects of the sport, winning the Barefoot Racing Cup Series Championship twice (2005 and 2006) by barefooting in a six-series race from California to Florida. He was part of the winning team in the Dam2Dam Race in Austin, Texas, five times.

In 2015, Jason won the US Barefoot National Jump Championship. As well as competing, Jason coached the US Junior World Teams in 2018 and 2020. He was recognized for his coaching skills in 2018 when he received the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports and American Barefoot Club Coach of the Year awards.

In 2018, Jason became the Senior World Overall and Jump Champion in Napanee, Ontario, cementing his status as one of the greatest barefoot water skiers and the only barefooter in history to win a world title in all three Junior, Open, and Senior divisions.

Dennis Longo (Water Skiing)

Dennis Longo's early years in New Jersey and then Miami were filled with show skiing, learning to jump, flying a flat-wing kite, and barefooting before he focused on three-event traditional water skiing. And when Dennis focuses on something... look out.

Dennis immersed himself in the sport, training himself as a slalom, trick, and jump skier. He did not stop there. He became a senior judge, senior boat driver, and tournament organizer, as well as a fierce competitor in a career that has lasted decades. Dennis has set six National Records, six Southern Regional Records, and five Florida State Records.

Dennis has missed only one National Championship since 1975. That's nearly half a century of competing with the best in the country and winning. Just this year, Dennis took the overall gold medal at the Southern Regionals and at the US Nationals.

Dennis has not slowed down his training and participation as a three-event skier, senior official, and productive working club member. If anything, he has ramped it up. When the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation needed a revamped financial plan, it turned to Dennis. He volunteers countless hours, finding ways to make the Foundation financially sound while continuing the Hall of Fame celebration and the critical scholarship program.

Dennis is distinctive in his long career participating in the sport, improving it, and providing leadership and relevance for the future. We wish every ski club was full of amazing human beings like Dennis Longo.

Dusty Schulz (Ski Racing)

It is difficult to put into writing the contributions Dusty has made to the sport of water ski racing, both on and off the water. The National Water Ski Racing Association has no other individual responsible for so many different advancements in the sport.

Dusty has been an active member of the NWSRA for more than 40 years. He began as a competitive observer back in the early 1970s. Since then, Dusty has held many offices, positions, and chairmanships during his tenure in water ski racing. He has dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy not only as a competitor but as a true ambassador of the sport.

Many of his accomplishments were achieved solely for the promotion, evolution, and pure love of our sport. Even now, he volunteers for tasks and tackles them with as much enthusiasm as someone doing something for the first time.

In 2017, Dusty stepped down as Chairman of the IWWF Racing Council. He is still a PanAm delegate to the council and is the last inaugural member elected in 1979. He was recently inducted into the IWWF Hall of Fame for his service and contribution to the sport of water skiing. As a promoter and innovator, you couldn’t ask for anyone better than Dusty. He truly has the best interest of ski racing at heart.

In the 1970s, Dusty and Terry Bennett from Australia created the “America’s Cup Challenge” between the United States and Australia. Then, Dusty and Ron Tesarski formulated a plan for a marathon series in the United States. The US National Marathon Series was born in 1980. This series provided the foundation for the United States to select US World Teams better. The event structure and world team selection processes are still in place today. With the creation of the US National Marathon Series, Dusty took it upon himself to have an original trophy designed. This exclusive trophy is treasured by anyone who receives it.

In 1984, Dusty, along with Tom Johnson, had the vision to run water ski races on the Colorado River in Parker, Arizona, a previously unheard-of feat. Dusty and Tom laid the groundwork, met with city and river officials, and headed the organizing committee to bring the first Parker Marathons to life in March 1985. These same marathons just celebrated their 32nd anniversary, having only missed the 1989 season.

In 2000, Dusty’s dream was to bring the Water Ski Racing World Championships to the United States for the first time. To make it a reality, he devised a logistical and fund-raising plan to allow the NWSRA to host the world championships without any financial impact on the association. Not only did Schulz bring his plan to fruition when the finances were settled, but the final numbers for the event also showed a profit.

Huge Congratulations to all! We can't wait to celebrate these recipients in April! Tickets go on sale on January 1, 2024, and information on sponsorships will go out soon.

For more information on Hotels and the weekend schedule, go HERE.

Established in 1968, the USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation celebrates the history of all towed water sports and promotes these sports through our Scholarship Programs and the Water Ski & Wake Sports Hall of Fame.


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