“Footin’ fool female…” the message from Dan Tanis began. I had no
clue who Dan Tanis was when he reached out on Facebook, but the rest of
his message made me smile at how we ended up connected.
I had posted a picture that I took at a recent Footstock barefoot water
ski endurance tournament. Walking down the steps was Dan Tanis, who was
getting ready to compete in the Senior division of the Figure 8. Dan’s cousin from Germany saw the photo and forwarded it to Dan.
Dan did a little digging and discovered a photo of me barefoot water
skiing with Bud DeGraff. Small world made even smaller: Dan’s father
knew the DeGraff family. So Dan connected with me via Facebook and
invited me to barefoot with him and his friend, Jeff Hoekstra on Cedar
I could almost hear my mother-in-law’s voice in my head as I drove down 294 at 5:30 a.m. towards Cedar Lake. “Karen, are you crazy? Meeting two guys in a boat- what if they’re axe-murderers?”
Since the barefoot world is small, I called Keith St. Onge,
the two-time World Champion who knew Dan and asked some questions.
“So, he’s not an axe-murderer?” I joked. Keith laughed and said that
Dan was a good guy to barefoot with.
Dan is the owner of FootnGear,
a website that supplies barefoot equipment. He’s from St. John,
Indiana and works for Tyco International. Jeff is from Cedar Lake and
is the owner of Hoekstra Alignment and Service in East Chicago. The two of them barefoot together twice a week.
I met them at the launch and we got right into the boat just as the sun
was rising. Jeff went first, using a handle attached to the boom off
the side of the boat. He barefooted with no hands– biting down on a
leather strap attached to the handle. I jokingly asked if he ever lost
any teeth doing that trick.
I practiced a tumble turn and accomplished my first successful turn on
the water and got back up barefooting. The guys gave me some tips on
how to improve my turn so I tried it again. I caught my heel on the
water during the turn and wrenched my knee. I climbed back in the boat
to give it a rest and watched as Dan barefooted behind the boat. Jeff
went back out and then I did a final run holding on to the boom as I
wasn’t sure if my knee would hold up.
Dan is no stranger to pain, as he has experienced several dislocated
shoulders. In 1999, he had reconstructive surgery and only experience
one dislocation since that time. A few years ago, Jeff and Dan were
doing a photo shoot while barefooting and Jeff playfully jumped on Dan,
dislocating his shoulder again. Dan didn’t want to give up
barefooting, so he designed a shoulder holster to keep his arm close to
his body and prevent future dislocations. He now sells that on his FootnGear website.
“Not only do I have the dislocated shoulder, but I also have a
herniated and compressed disk,” said Dan. “I really should just be
driving the boat!”
So as soon as my knee heals up, I’ll be heading out to Cedar Lake again.
Maybe Dan should invent a knee strap.