Valdosta Daily Times

June 8, 2011

The barefoot skier

Chandler Cargile quickly learning, excelling in the sport

Adam MacDonald
The Valdosta Daily Times

LAKE PARK — Chandler Cargile has spent most of his youth living and playing on the water. Yet it wasn’t until 11 months ago that he discovered his calling — barefoot water skiing.

Cargile would go to the lake with his dad and his cousin and watch them barefoot ski. He wanted to do it too, but he could never stand up.

One day, he finally got it.

“I went to the lake with my dad and my brother, and my brother got it,” Cargile said. “That was motivation.”

As it turns out, Chandler Cargile is a natural at barefoot skiing — the act of being pulled behind a boat with nothing but a wet suit and a handle bar.

The 14-year-old has only been barefoot skiing on the water for 11 months, but he has proven to be a quick learner.

Last month, he finished first in a competition in Port St. Lucie, Fla. with a score of 900 points for his tricks. His coaches expected a score of about 350-450.

Cargile’s father Mark said that once the coaches heard about the score, they pulled him aside and said they had to talk. They told him that Chandler has the potential to be really good.

“I’ve skied on skis since I was six or seven, so I’ve had the balance,” Cargile said. “It wasn’t a big issue (going) barefoot. It’s about learning new tricks.

“I’ve only been doing it for 11 months, so I think I can get a lot better. I have a long ways to go. A long ways.”

Cargile is starting to realize and work towards his potential. He became a team member of the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven, Fla. last October. WBC sponsors Cargile, and touts itself as one of the best ski schools available, with top notch coaches.

At WBC, Cargile’s main coach is Gary “Swampy” Bouchard, who has 26 years of coaching experience. Bouchard is also the personal coach of Keith St. Onge, the current barefoot world trick holder and the 2009 overall world champion.

Bouchard, St. Onge and David Small, the world jump champion from 2006-09, all coach Cargile.

When not in Winter Haven, Cargile is on the water with his dad at Long Pond nearly every morning. Chandler and Mark hit the water at sun up, when the water is calm and looks like glass. It’s early, but Cargile is serious about getting better, and that’s when the conditions are best.

Since October, Cargile, a rising ninth grader at Valwood, has lost about 30 pounds and has added muscle. He works out, has cut out junk food from his diet and plans to take weight training classes as a freshman next semester. And of course, he said, the rigors of barefoot skiing itself work him out plenty. He can practice on the water for about an hour before he’s completely wiped out.

Undoubtedly, Cargile takes a beating when on the water. His feet haven’t developed calluses yet — they will — and he can get some pretty mean bruises on his backside and legs when he hits the water at high speeds. His wetsuit provides padding, but that doesn’t help when he lands on his face, which happened on his first fall. He developed a headache and had to quit for the day, but it didn’t deter him from wanting to participate in the sport.

“I just kind of forgot about it,” Cargile said. “I didn’t let it bother me that much. It took me about a day to get over it. I was done for that day, but I went out the next day and got it.”

Since starting barefoot skiing, Cargile is on the fast track. Mark, who used to barefoot ski, and thought he was pretty good until he saw his son, said it takes Chandler only one or two tries to get tricks down. Some of his competition tricks are toe-holds, one foots, hops, tumble turns and toe ups. Sometimes he begins face down in the water and pulls himself upright when the boat gets going.

Just this week, Cargile figured out how to do a dock start. That’s when he stands on the dock and lands on his feet as the boat starts racing.

Cargile said his coaches tell him he’s doing well, but he needs to learn his moves and tricks in the right order.

“It’s challenging and it gets even more challenging as you go along,” Cargile said.

Barefoot skiing might seem like a niche sport, but Mark says it’s more popular than one might think. He hopes that one day Chandler can earn a college scholarship as a barefoot skier. He said schools in Florida, Alabama and Texas have teams.

Chandler would like to take it a step further and eventually win a national or world championship, like his coaches.

“That’d be cool,” Chandler said.

In the meantime, he is preparing for upcoming competitions later this month and in July. Soon he’ll start training for nationals, and he hopes to be ready for the competition next summer.