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Linton working feet and fists

An ultimate waterskiing championship title, a spot in the New Zealand Muay Thai team, and a Times-Age sports award for the mantlepiece – it’s been a big year for the Carterton sportswoman who can, literally, walk on water.

Sarah Linton was named Senior Sportswoman of the Year at last month’s Wairarapa Times-Age Sports Awards – impressing the judging panel and voting public with her achievements on the water and in the fighting ring.

Linton, 29, is perhaps best known for her water-sporting success: Having represented New Zealand in barefoot waterskiing, or “barefooting”, since her teen years and competing at both the Oceania Waterski Championships and Barefoot World Championships since 2008.

At last year’s Oceania championship, held in New South Wales in November, she picked up two silver and three bronze medals, and gold in the first-ever Women’s Ultimate Skiier event – combining barefooting, traditional waterskiing, wakeboarding and show skiing.

As if representing her country in one high-adrenaline sport isn’t enough: Linton is proficient in Muay Thai and boxing and competed at the International Federation of Muaythai Associations [IFMA] Senior World Championships in Bangkok, Thailand, in May, as part of the New Zealand Blackgloves team. She has also recently emerged from a professional boxing match against seasoned champion Holly McMath, and a charity tournament for communities affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Though she is clearly multi-talented, barefooting is Linton’s first love. As the name suggests, skiers compete barefoot while towed behind a motorboat – while standing on open water, without the support of skis or boards. Competitors move at break-neck speed, often while performing a series of tricks – from skiing backwards to spinning in mid-air – clearing jumps, or clocking up as many laps as possible in under 30 seconds.

“You go very fast – I usually go about 45 miles an hour, or 72 km/h,” Linton said.

“The sensation of the water under your feet is really cool. It’s great when you’re teaching people barefooting for the first time – they say they love the feeling on their feet, and they’ve never experienced anything like it before. You are pretty much walking on the water.

“It doesn’t hurt your feet – except if you hit the boards while attempting a jump. And if you fall, it can be a bit like hitting concrete. So, you want to avoid that – otherwise you’ll feel it a few days later.”

Linton, who grew up in Greytown, first learned to waterski on the Ruamahanga River, near Kahutara, at age five. Her first teacher, and later coach, was her father, Ross Linton – a competitive waterskier in his youth and manager of the New Zealand barefooting team.

“Dad started competing again when I started – we’ve gone up against each other in a few events. It’s allowed us to spend a lot of time together – hanging out down at the river and travelling all over the world.”

Linton began competing at the national level in 2007 at age 14, and progressed to her first international event, the Oceania championships, the following year. She progressed to the Barefoot World Championships shortly afterwards, and has since competed “all over the show”: South Korea, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In her most recent world championship, in February, Linton placed sixth overall in the Over 17 Open category, finishing fifth in the women’s jump round, sixth in tricks, and seventh in slalom.

In the jump round, she narrowly missed out on a place in the final – with the fourth spot having to be determined by a “jump-off” between Linton and Dutch competitor Kimberly Smit.

“That was the closest I’d been to a worlds final, so it was pretty exciting. I only missed out by about 20cm.”

Linton said the tricks round, where skiers have to perform as many “stunts” as possible in two 15-second blocks, would be her “most consistent” disciple. Tricks can include skiing on one foot, switching between sitting and standing, turning backwards, 360-degree tumble turns, or holding on by your feet to the tow rope.”

Linton is now training at SMAC Featherston for her next professional boxing match in August. She will begin training for the waterskiing season in September – with the next World Championships in Mexico early next year.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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