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Ever seen someone water ski barefoot? You’ll get a chance on Lake Lanier this Halloween
water skiing
A small group of teams from around Georgia and Florida will participate in the 2020 Lake Lanier Barefoot Run on Oct. 31, 2020, which involves barefoot skiing 18 miles from Buford Dam to the Gainesville Marina. (Photo courtesy Jeff Harwood)

When Jeff Harwood of Cumming races across Lake Lanier, he doesn’t use water skis but instead opts for his own bare feet.  

“I guess it’s really an adrenaline thing,” Harwood said. “When I tried it for the first time (20 years ago), it was like nothing I’d ever done in my life before.” 

Also called “barefooting,” Harwood said the extreme watersport originated in Florida.  

Like water skiing, barefooting involves holding onto a rope attached to a boat. Harwood said when he goes barefooting, he begins in the water by laying on his back and placing his feet on the rope. When the boat speeds up to around 40 miles an hour, he stands up and rides the water on his feet. 

2020 Lake Lanier Barefoot Run 

What: An extreme sports competition where teams will water ski barefoot across Lake Lanier  

When: 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31 

Where: Starting at Mary Alice Beach, 1820 Mary Alice Park Road, Cumming at Buford Dam and ending at Gainesville Marina, 2145 Dawsonville Highway, Gainesville 

Recommended spectator Parking: West Bank Public Use Area, 2995 Buford Dam Road, Cumming 

Registration cost: $50, which will go to the Boys Lodge of Forsyth County 

Tickets for participants: Lake Lanier Barefoot Run Facebook page 

“Once you get going, you stand up and hope you don’t fall,” Harwood said. “If you get below 40 miles an hour, for some people, they’ll start sinking.” 

After two decades of no barefoot racing competitions on Lake Lanier, Harwood is reviving the event and holding one at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. The 18-mile race will begin at Buford Dam along Mary Alice Beach, located at 1820 Mary Alice Park Road in Cumming, and end at the Gainesville Marina. 

Harwood said the race is for anyone familiar with long-line barefooting, which involves holding onto a 100-foot rope that is being pulled by a boat. To those who have never gone barefooting, he advises against participating. 

“If you haven’t done it before, you won’t be very successful,” Harwood said. 

Harwood said he doesn’t expect a large crowd, since the race is mostly to “see how it works out” and is geared toward athletes. However, people are welcome to view the beginning of the competition from its launch point. Harwood recommends parking at West Bank Public Use Area at 2995 Buford Dam Road in Cumming. 

Those who want to participate in the event can sign up at a link on the Lake Lanier Barefoot Run’s Facebook page. Registration costs $50 per person. All proceeds will be donated to the Boys Lodge of Forsyth County, a residential program for at-risk boys ages 12-21. 

So far, Harwood said four teams of around four to six people have signed up to participate. The members hail from different cities in Georgia and Florida. Harwood said Ashleigh Stebbeings, the current barefoot water-skiing world champion, will compete in the race. Instead of a grand prize, he said the winning team will earn “bragging rights.” 

The competition will act as a relay, where members switch places when a teammate takes a fall or becomes tired. Depending on the number of waves and “wipe outs,” Harwood said the race could take anywhere from an hour to three hours.  

When approaching waves, Harwood said he squats down, lets his knees become shock absorbers and “says a prayer.” 

“It’s a difficult sport,” Harwood said. “The water has to be almost perfectly flat to realistically do this. There’s going to be some challenges.”