When Daniel Wicks took up barefoot water skiing 15 years ago, he vowed that he would ski at least once in every state and in as many tournaments as he could.
Wicks is more than halfway there – “I’m at 38 states and counting,” he said – but there was one event the 57-year-old Washington, N.J., native heard about that he had to compete in.
It took a couple years, but Wicks finally made it to the Lake Norman Marina for the 37th Annual Lake Norman New Year’s Day Barefoot Challenge, one of the nation’s oldest barefoot skiing tournaments.
This year’s Barefoot Challenge drew one of its biggest fields, with nearly two dozen barefoot skiiers – most from North Carolina, but also drawing entries from South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida – testing their skills and endurance on the cold and choppy waters of Lake Norman.
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One of those competitors was Wicks, who made his first barefoot ski run on Lake Norman while visiting the area three years ago. That’s also when he was told about the New Year’s Day Barefoot Challenge.
“My wife (Sandy) and I were on our way back from Florida when I had the idea to try and hook up with somebody who could give me a (ski) tow here,” said Wicks, nicknamed “Sparky.” “I gave Don (Simon), who knows everybody around here, a call. He gave me four numbers to call, and Justin (Landers) was able to accommodate me. We skied on Lake Wylie and Lake Norman.
“When he was towing me, he told me about the New Year’s bash, just to do it. I was going to do it in 2013 and 2014, but I decided I was going to do it this year. I’m glad I came, even though it’s a long ride from New Jersey.”
While Wicks didn’t finish that well, completing just over three-quarters of a lap on the circular course, his white beard, red dry suit and Christmas hat made him look a lot like Santa Claus – a near-perfect fit for the holiday week.
“This is the first time I’ve worn this dry suit,” Wicks said. “I special-ordered it because so many people wanted to see Santa out there skiing.”