How Tom Brantley developed his winning technique from free skiing.
Tom Brantley rarely skis in a slalom course. In fact, if he sees buoys more than a few times a month, he considers himself quite lucky. Tom spends the majority of his water time slashing open-water turns on the Pecos River near his home in Carlsbad, New Mexico, with his dad, George. Place Tom in a tournament setting, however, and his lack of course time does not seem to matter; he will run some serious buoys.
In 2001, only three years after making his first pass through a course, Brantley topped the entire Men’s 1 field at the U.S. National Championships in Bakersfield, California. Tom is an anomaly in this sport of tech wizards and overtrainers. He keeps it very simple; he just skis when he can. Thankfully, Tom reminds us of what slalom is really all about: being on the water — any stretch of water — and just having fun.
“I started out just skiing for fun with my family. We would go out and see how many turns we could make up and down the Pecos River. My dad and I still ski out there together every week; in fact, he probably gets more days on the water than I do.”
In Search of Buoys
“My initial introduction to the slalom course came in 1999. I enrolled at DFW Ski School in Dallas, Texas, to get some coaching from Alan Hendricks. After my first set there, I was hooked. Alan was my first and only coach, and I owe a lot of my success to him. After training with him that first summer, he gave me a job coaching at his school, and that’s when my scores started to really improve. Getting to ski in a course and get coaching every day made a huge difference in my skiing.”
“After a few months of skiing in a course, I qualified for the Nationals. I guess all that time spent free skiing really helped because I picked it up pretty quick. Two summers later I won my first of five regional titles and my first national title in California.”
No Course, No Problem
“I can’t install a course on the river here in Carlsbad. It is obviously a public waterway and home to way too many fishermen and jet skiers. It would be a constant battle trying to maintain it, and it would cause a bunch of grief for everyone. I usually try to get over to Dallas once a month to get some training in. It is about an eight-hour drive, so I try to make sure I can stay for a few days. Then I hit a local tournament at the end of the week on my way home.”
“I feel like I have already accomplished a fair bit, but my main goal is to stand on the podium at a pro event. Winning the Nationals was great, but I really want to succeed in the pro division. Apart from that, I want to be able to run 38 off in every tournament I enter. If I just keep getting cracks at 391/2, eventually I will get through the pass.”
Four Reasons Why You Should Free Ski
1. Preseason conditioning. Free skiing is a great way to get into ski shape or maintain your conditioning level.
2. Body position development. Free skiing allows you to work on your body position and technique without worrying about the buoys.
3. Better rhythm. Free skiing is a great way to develop rhythm, especially if you are moving up to another line length. I feel you should always spend time outside of the course while trying to adjust to the shorter lines.
4. It’s fun. When it all comes together, free skiing is a blast. The challenges are less obvious, but the rewards are just as satisfying as a good run in the course — TB