USA Water Ski & Wake Sports

Barefoot - The Back Toe Hold

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 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 Scott Normand


Rachel Normand Back ToeholdOnce you have mastered a back one foot, it is time to progress to a back toe hold. A back toe handle is longer than a front toe handle and a key element to have when learning a back toe hold. Riding backward one-foots for longer periods of time, as well as lifting your foot higher and touching the rope, will help prepare you for a back toe hold.

1 – Begin in a strong back barefoot position having your shoulders rolled back, chest out, butt to the handle, knees bent, and ankles flexed. Squeeze your thighs and bring your feet close together.

2 – Transfer all your weight to one leg by doing these three steps. First, have your feet very close together. Second, shift the handle over and down your supporting hip and leg that will stay on the water. Third, angle your hip and shoulder up on the side of the leg you are lifting. In picture 2, I am shifting the handle over the left leg that will be my support leg, then angling my right hip and shoulder up higher than my left. If you do all three of these steps you should feel the weight come off the leg you want to lift.

3 – Now that all your weight is shifted to one leg, lift your foot off the water by bending your knee to do a one foot. Keep the foot in the air flexed. Remember to keep the handle angled down on your support leg with your other hip and shoulder angled up.

4 – Next, lift your leg higher by hinging at the hip. As your leg goes higher your shoulders and chest should lean into the spray while keeping your head up – do not look down. Bring your leg up directly behind you, going in-between the handle’s stiffeners and above the toe strap. To maintain your balance, remember to keep your hips and shoulders angled and knee on the water bent. To prevent your foot from pushing on the water keep your ankle flexed back.

5 – Find the toe strap with your foot. Securely put your foot all the way into the toe strap. Do not just hook your toes but push your foot all the way in so the strap is at your ankle. Once your foot is securely in the strap, immediately bring your shoulders and chest upright and bend your support knee as much as possible.

6 – Now it is time to release your hands. Rest your handle on your upper leg then slowly let go and bring your hands to either side of your chest keeping the same angle as your shoulders. Your toe hold leg should stay slightly bent, do not allow it to get pulled away from you. Remember to keep your hip and shoulders angled, head and shoulders up, chest out, knee bent, and ankle flexed back and not pushing on the water.

Recovering: First, bring your hands back to the handle. Then, as you lift your foot out of the toe strap lean slightly away into the spray. Finally, bring your foot back to the water, square your hips, and settle into a great back barefoot position. You did it!  

Boat speed notes: I recommend glass calm water for practicing this and a speed that is firm for back one-foots. I typically call 38 mph for this trick and I weigh around 120 pounds.

Once you have accomplished both front and back toe holds behind the boat, record a video and submit it to your local American Barefoot Club (ABC) examiner to be awarded a Master Barefooter Badge!

Rachel Normand is a USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation 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