Ron Brooks and Gordon Pagel have been skiing on Wisconsin lakes and rivers all their lives. After college, Brooks took over his father’s dairy farm, and Pagel broke into publishing and advertising. Each had four daughters and all eight learned to water-ski. Once they could afford boats fast enough to barefoot behind, they dropped their skis and endured face-plant after face-plant until they could navigate the wake on the soles of their bare feet.
In 2012, Brooks competed in the master’s division at Footstock, a national barefooting competition held in Crandon, Wis., every August. Coming in fifth place, at age 52, his new goal is to beat the current national champ, Wayne King, a competitor from Canada. According to Sponsorship Director Jacob Weber, the Footstock tournament attracted roughly 100 skiers and between 300 to 400 spectators this year.
While most Wisconsinites will begin winterizing their boats, Brooks and Pagel plan on taking advantage of another three months of training. They head out to Wolf River in the calm of early morning, bundle up in wetsuits, and plunge into the icy water, waiting for the boat to pull them to the surface.