Ashleigh Stebbeings announced herself onto the barefoot scene at a very early age. Since becoming the youngest Queensland female to achieve barefoot club membership as an eight-year-old, Ashleigh has continued to rack up titles and achievements and an incredible pace.
Still only 17, she is a multiple World Barefoot Waterski Champion, and in January this year won a maximum eight out of eight individual Gold medals at the 2009 World Barefoot Championships in Otaki NZ.
is an unassuming, yet very proud Central Queenslander who has already achieved more than most would dream of achieving in a lifetime in their chosen sport.
It all began with her competitive streak to be better than her older brothers, and as a young girl in a sport perceived to be “for the boys”, she would often wonder what all the fuss was about.
As a 12-year-old little blonde dynamo, her natural talent was identified and earned her selection on the Australian Junior Barefoot Team in 2003, both for the Asian Australasian and Junior/Senior World Championships. In her first year of wearing the green and gold she returned with the World Junior Girls Barefoot Trick title.
Six years on many more successes have followed, but not without hard work and sacrifices. Affectionately nick-named ‘the Tank’ by others on the Aussie team, Ashleigh continues to push herself at every opportunity.
We caught up with Ashleigh at Mulwala Ski Parks as she prepared for another World Championships in Berlin 2010.
First up, tell us about your early days, and how you got started barefooting.
I first learnt in October 2000 at Marian Weir (Pioneer River, Central Queensland) and I was taught by Ray and Donna Ivory. The main reason I wanted to learn to barefoot was because my brothers had learnt by stepping off a kneeboard and even though they are a few years older than me, we have always been competitive. Because they could do it, I wanted to learn as well.
You have achieved a great deal at a very young age. Can you tell us about your first win or achievement which you recall as being special for you.
When I learnt to barefoot I became the youngest Queensland female to achieve barefoot club membership, at the age of eight years and four months. Then I became the youngest person in Queensland to achieve backwards deepwater start and barefoot backwards, at the age of nine years five months. I can still remember these two achievements clearly; they might not seem like much compared to everything else I have achieved, but they are special because they were my first two.
Tell us about some of the places you’ve visited while competing. Do you have a favourite or most memorable?
I have been to most states in Australia including NSW, VIC, SA and WA. For International tournaments I have been to America (Florida and Seattle), South Africa, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan. Out of all the places I have been to South Korea and Taiwan were interesting because a lot of people didn’t speak English and this made it hard to communicate and also the food was very “different’. However, nothing could beat South Africa as it was the most memorable because not only did I win my first Junior Girls World Championship there, but the Australian team was so close which made it such an amazing trip.
What do you remember about your first Worlds Championships?
I can remember how much fun we had training in Texas before the Worlds, and making it into the finals and winning Junior Girls Tricks. It was the most amazing feeling ever standing on the podium as they played the Australian national anthem.
Do you have a favourite ski spot?
There are a few great ski spots around the area but nothing could compare to Mirani Weir, it’s just a perfect barefoot spot. Unfortunately it hasn’t had water in it for about a year, so it has certainly made it harder to train.
Barefooting can be a very tough sport on many levels. How do you get through those tough times?
Everyone who plays sport is likely to go through their own hard times. There have certainly been a lot of tough times throughout the last nine years of barefooting. One of the hardest was probably when the people I trained with got older and quit barefooting. It was hard because training was so much fun when there was a big group of us and I found it hard to keep motivated training by myself during winter for a World Championships. I only got through these times because of the support from both my family and friends. Without them I probably wouldn’t be barefooting anymore. I owe a great deal to my dad and mum who have spent many hours in the boat observing, coaching and driving.
Who has been the biggest influence in your barefoot career?
My biggest influence has always been Nadine De Villiers, the champion barefooter from South Africa. She is so amazing and has had so many extraordinary achievements in her barefoot career. Many people aim to achieve at least one World Record, let alone holding all six. In saying that, a lot of people don’t get to that point in their ski career because they quit for various reasons. After meeting her I also found that she is so down to earth and a great individual and this is why I aspire to be like her, not just as a skier but as a person.
What do you enjoy the most about this sport?
I definitely enjoy the travelling, and getting to meet new people and catching up with others. Also, when you go out in a training session or a competition and ski great and get personal bests, nothing could beat that feeling because it means all the hard work has paid off and that it’s worth it.
At first your strength seemed to be in the trick event, but now you have equalled the Junior World Jump record. Do you have a favourite event?
It’s hard to have a favourite event when I have to continually improve in all three. Trick was definitely my favourite event ever since I started barefooting, but as the tricks have got harder it has become more challenging. I don’t really have a favourite or best event anymore. Some days I can go out and do really good in one of the events and that will be my favourite event, then other times it’s frustrating because I can’t do a trick or I don’t jump as well. My biggest strength would be in tricks because I know my basic tricks really well, but you can still fall on them.
Describe a typical day in the life of Ashleigh Stebbeings.
There’s nothing special about my typical day, it’s pretty much like most other teenagers. I go to school, play a lot of sport and can be found hanging out with my mates Aleesha, Shell, Jess and Bonnie. I go out training two times a week for a couple of hours after school, depending on if there is a tournament coming up or not. As well as training after school I help my dad coach Milly, who is a Sub-Junior Girl who really enjoys barefooting. I love doing this because it is great to see others who have a passion for the sport as much as I do. If I am not training after school then I can be found doing school sports like touch football or AFL.
At 17 years of age and in your final year of school, you have many choices and opportunities available. What has persuaded you to continue competing as opposed to doing other things many 17 year olds do when they learn to drive and discover a sense of freedom and independence?
Nothing has had to persuade me because I really love barefooting and competing. Although at times it has been hard, like when my mates are going out and I can’t because I have to train on the weekend or have a tournament. Sacrifices have to be made to continue to do what you love. I have definitely learnt to balance my life, like I take my friends out training with me and teach them to ski and barefoot. That way I am still training but this makes it fun and I get to see them. I have been very lucky and haven’t missed out on much thanks to my mum and dad for giving me the opportunity to be able to balance my life. I am still a normal teenager and have learnt to drive and have had even more freedom since getting my license.
Will we see a lot more of Ashleigh Kate in the future? Having achieved so much already is there still a goal yet to be achieved?
There is a high chance that you will see a lot more of me. Although next year is going to be challenging, because school is finished and reality will set in, I still have a lot more I hope to achieve for myself. The only goal I’ve set for myself is to keep achieving personal bests, because if you do that and achieve them, then you know you have skied as good as you could have. You can’t ask for more than that.
Do you have any tips for the girls out there wishing to follow your footsteps?
The only tips I have is that if you want something really bad then you have to find it in yourself to put in the long hard hours to achieve it. Also dedication is a big thing, so you have to be really prepared to give up other things to train hard. Lastly, go out, have fun and enjoy yourself in whatever sport you have chosen, that way training won’t seem so bad.
Article by Gizella Halasz