USA Water Ski & Wake Sports

Barefooting - The Back Deep-Water Start

Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of The Water Skier magazine, the official publication of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports. If you are not a member of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports and you are interested in receiving the quarterly magazine, join now.


Written by Rachel Normand

Photography by Lynn Novakofski



Back Deep-Water StartAfter learning to barefoot forward, I was intrigued by backward and wanted to learn. While learning, people thought I was drowning, but I wasn’t! A back deep requires patience, proper timing, and using the right technique. It is not something you can just muscle. Here are eight pictures with key steps to learning a back deep-water start. Give it a try, like me, you may like barefooting backward more than forward.  


1. Begin by floating on your back and putting the rope between your legs. Hold the handle under your butt with your hands at the widest part of the handle. Lift one leg up and hook your foot under the rope.


2. Roll over toward the foot that is not hooked on the rope and take a deep breath. Keep your knees and body straight and legs close together. Your driver should slowly accelerate to 10-12mph. 


3. As the boat pulls you out of the water, your body will create a pocket of air near your face – yes you can breathe! Bring your free leg close to your leg on the rope. Make sure your legs are straight and knees aren’t bent. As your body planes on the water, completely straighten and relax your arms. Roll your shoulders down into the water and suck your stomach in. Look straight back and push your chin into the water. The boat driver needs to increase the speed enough so you can breathe, but if you start bouncing, it is too fast (recommend 10-12 mph).


4. Once you are smoothly riding without bouncing, practice pointing and flexing your feet. Then, slowly take your foot off the rope, flex both feet and keep them flexed. Rotate your legs and open them in a wide V so your toes are pointing out and the inside arches of your feet are facing the water. Keep your legs straight, arms straight, shoulders rolled down, and chin pushing down on the water. 


Back Deep-Water Start5. Slowly place your feet on the water. Do not reach for the water by pointing your toes. Instead, keep your feet flexed all the way back and slowly lower your legs, putting the arch of your foot through your toes on the water. Resist the urge to push on the water with your toes, which will cause your feet to dive to the bottom of the lake. Instead, allow the water to assist in further flexing your feet toward your shins. Once your feet are planted and stable, push your butt slightly up by sucking your stomach in and pushing your chest, shoulders, and chin down. Maintain this position as your driving starts to increase your speed.


6. Use the increase in boat speed to help pull you up while pushing your chest down and bending at the waist to pinch your butt up higher. Imagine your butt going up though your arms, this will help keep your arms relaxed with your shoulders rolled down and butt going in an upward direction. As you are coming up, squeeze your thighs so your legs stay in a V and don’t split wider and go behind you.


7. At this point, bring your legs closer together by rotating your feet to parallel (not turned out) and squeezing your thighs together. You should feel the water getting firmer under your feet allowing you to start putting more and more weight on your legs. As your weight transfers, your chest will start coming off the water. As soon as your chest leaves the water, roll your shoulders back, arch your back, stick your chest out toward the spray, and bend your knees. Doing this is very important to keep you from catching a heel. Your back needs to go from being turtle backed and pushing down to arching and lifting off the water.


8. Continue squeezing your legs closer together, lifting your shoulders up, and pushing your butt to the handle by bending your knees and arching your back. Your final back barefoot position has your head up, shoulders rolled back, chest out, butt to the handle, knees bent, and ankles flexed. Keep resistance by pushing your chest into the spray and having your hip/leg angle slightly toward the handle – greater than 90 degrees. Final speed is high 20s to low 30s (depending on weight).


Back Deep-Water StartRemember: Be patient, keep arms relaxed, feet flexed, push butt up first by hinging at the waist and pushing chest down, then arching into a strong back barefoot position. Enjoy the journey and a whole new world of backward barefooting! 


Rachel Normand is a Water Ski Hall of Fame inductee, five-time world individual champion, and four-time world team gold medalist. She lives, trains, and coaches on Lake Wylie in Tega Cay, S.C. The World Barefoot Center and Barefoot International sponsor Rachel. You can contact her at

Back Deep-Water Start