Small continued his winning ways with another world over- all title in 2004. Defeated, St. Onge returned home and made some major changes to his training and eating regimen. The hard work paid of. He not only won his first world overall title in 2006, but set three trick records in the process. St. Onge finally got the monkey of his back, and, with that, his negative view of Small changed. “I discovered he was a pretty decent guy after all,” he says.
St. Onge backed up his world-title win with another overall gold at the next world championships, in 2008. The two men began to talk to each other more at various tournaments, and they had a lot of respect for one another. But then Small made a bold move: He left his hometown and moved to Florida to open his own ski school. Suddenly, the state was home to two rivals who were also battling for the same pool of customers.
At that point, St. Onge’s coach, Gary “Swampy” Bouchard, came up with an idea: The two guys should combine their ski schools. Small consented to a meeting, and after several discussions, they outlined a business plan. “It was a win-win situation — two heads are better than one,” Small says. “In the middle of it all, the World Barefoot Center materialized.”
In the last three years, business at the ski school has really taken off. On some days at their lake in Winter Haven, Florida, the crew runs three boats all day and into the evening. “We’re not just providing a service — we want our students to have a fun learning experience in a safe environment,” St. Onge says. “The more we grow our school, the more we contribute back to the sport.”
Every spring, Small and St. Onge train together five morn- ings a week before beginning their day pulling students. “It was weird in the beginning, and it changed the game at first,” St. Onge explains. “In the past, we didn’t know what tricks the other would do in a tournament, and now we coach each other.”
“It’s no problem working together, because I’m not competi- tive,” Small says jokingly. “Training together has made us both better skiers. Then it all comes down to the day of the tournament and how we ski on that day.”
The two men still maintain their competitiveness and rivalry on the water. They both have an intense desire to win. In 2010 and 2012, Small won the world overall title, with St. Onge right behind him in second place. “Now, when one of us wins, we truly celebrate together, because it’s a win for the World Barefoot Center,” St. Onge says.