Trick Barefoot Ski Champ
By Brenda Eggert Brader
Jackson Gerard owns the trick barefoot waterskiing championship record. Setting a pending national record for boys’ II division in trick barefoot skiing, Jackson earned a score of 7,250 in May, slashing the reigning score in that boys’ division II of 2,980, which was set in 2002. Because of that incredibly high score, Jackson will now compete in the open professional division for the barefoot waterski trick division.
Adult-sized achievements, these huge milestones have been set by a young man age 12.
“He blew it out of the water,” says his mother Joni Gerard as she exclaims her pride in her young son’s abilities shown at the May 9 PGA Season Opener in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“Watching him I could see he was calm and confident,” Gerard says. “I don’t get to ride in the boat a lot so I don’t get to see him skiing. I was so amazed at his ability and skill. His dad and I are very happy for him. He has been doing this a year and a half and now he can see the fruits of his labor.”
Jackson, the son of Clarke and Joni Gerard of Lake Wales, has been active in water sports his entire life, largely due to residing in a lakeside home. Jackson had participated in a previous tournament when he was first taking water ski lessons and scored well for a beginner.
“Going into the (recent) tournament Jackson was in the boys’ division II essentially categorized by age as a mature division,” says Landen Ehlrs, an instructor at the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven where Jackson trains. “Because of his performance he skipped the open division and went straight to the open pro division in the tricks division.”
“With that score, I felt awesome and felt like I was gifted,” Jackson says. “It was really cool.”
“The scores are taken by an International Barefoot Association (IBA) certified senior judge riding in the boat who officially tallies up the skier’s score,” Ehlrs says. “To be an official barefoot tournament it has to be sanctioned by the International Barefoot Association and has to have a certified driver and judge in the boat. The score will go toward Jackson’s world ratings.”
Now in future IBA tournaments, instead of competing in the tricks division against amateur boys, he will be competing against the open professional division in the tricks competition and likely against his very own coaches who are world open pro barefoot skiers.
“Jackson also has set a pending national record – a boys’ II national record in trick barefoot skiing,” Ehlrs says. “The score is pending in that it must be verified and registered by the World Barefoot Council.”
Jackson now performs in the open division for the wake slalom since the tournament, having also done well in that division.
“I am working jumps, slalom and tricks now,” Jackson says.
And how does he feel about his impending competition now in the open professional tricks division?
“It is a funny feeling since I am skiing against my own coach,” Jackson says.
How it all began
“Two years ago my dad took our boat out and went barefoot waterskiing,” Jackson says.
“He made me interested. He went out and started barefoot skiing and I said, ‘Dad, I want to try that.’ He told me to take a lifejacket and get a kneeboard and to sit on the kneeboard with my legs straight out front. He told me the saying is ‘look down, you fall down; so don’t look down.’ When I looked down, I did the expected thing. After 10 seconds I skied and I thought I could go longer and after that I went the whole length of the lake.”
He had a long rope and was behind the bay boat that makes a huge wake to ski against and makes it so much harder,” Joni Gerard says.
“I got up the third time and went around the lake,” Jackson says. “Our lake is oval and so that was like the length of the lake and the next time I went around it I was videotaped and I said to mom, ‘Look, I can barefoot ski!’’’
Jackson’s mom posted the event on Facebook and when the action was viewed by a family friend, that friend suggested the Gerards take their son for lessons at the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven thinking Jackson was a natural at the sport.
Jackson purchased a wet suit and was given a private lesson and soon loved the sport and made it his ambition.
“The coaches take him under their wing and teach him all those tricks,” Joni Gerard says.
Jackson goes for practice every afternoon taking Friday and weekends off. But during a competition week, he practices all weekend.
“While I love it so much, it really is a humbling sport,” Jackson says. “If you take a break, you drop a level the next day. But it sticks in the brain and everything changes so you have to keep practicing. You need to put everything together and if you force it you can fall.”
His coaches are world champions native to other countries like New Zealand and Australia, says Joni Gerard.
“The best of the best are here (World Barefoot Center) and that is what is so amazing,” Joni Gerard says. “Jackson is meeting these incredible people from all over the world who are also taking lessons. He meets them all when they come here to practice. We have such a great advantage with Jackson only being 30 minutes away he can come and get training.”
Coaches Keith St. Onge, an owner at the World Barefoot Center and many times over a national and world barefoot ski champion, coaches Jackson.
“Jackson has been skiing since September two years ago,” St. Onge says. “He came and learns. He learned four times faster than most kids just because he learns how to take turns hard and take falls. He is learning right (correctly) from the beginning.”
Jackson has been awarded a scholarship from the school.
“The school awards three or four scholarships a year to take lessons and spend as much time as they can and want in the program,” St. Onge says. “Scholarships are not full pay but add a discount to the fees for instruction.”
Jackson is performing high tech tricks for his age, says St. Onge and that was proven in his resulting recent competition scores.
Competitors must be members of the USA Waterski Association that costs $80 a year for the skier, says St. Onge. Jackson is a member of the organization.
“Jackson can take this as far as he wants,” says Coach Ben Groen from New Zealand. “But this end goal is he can do it, but it is up to him. He is comfortable in the water, a great competitor in the water, spends a lot of time in the water and you can’t do that without supportive parents. The key is the more time spent in the water the more you progress.”
Groen says Jackson has learned an awful lot in two years.
“As time goes on it will be interesting to see how he competes with his class in competitions and he has a bright future in national competition,” Groen says.
A competition coming up includes the Southern Regional competition in July in Groveland for barefoot skiing on Lake David.
“Qualifying in a regional makes you allowed to participate in national tournaments,” Groen says.
Jackson will be competing in nationals too on Aug. 2 in Wisconsin.
In preparation for the world competition in 2016, Jackson says he is working on slalom, tricks and jumps. Held in different parts of the world every two years, the world competition also will be held in Wisconsin and Jackson plans to be there.
“That’s his goal to compete and do well,” Joni Gerard says.
“You compete against others but you are really trying to beat your personal best,” says Joni Gerard. “Those competing are just trying to encourage each other, no cutthroat competition.
“Jackson has a saying he says all the time when he is happy or anyone needs pumped up, ‘Welcome to my life,’” Joni Gerard says. “He has an incredible life, homeschooling in the morning and barefoot skiing in the afternoon. It’s a great little slogan.”