If anybody ever deserved the title of ‘Mr. Water Ski,’ it would be Palm Beach County resident Zenon Bilas.
The 55-year-old, who works on his craft at Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach, not only displays his skills on a regular basis but also teaches, promotes, lectures and writes about the sport. He also takes photographs of other water skiers during their competitions.
Bilas’ specialty is barefoot water skiing, and his focus these days is on competing at the 2018 World Barefoot Waterski Championships in Napanee, Ontario, Canada.
“Right now, I love competing,” said Bilas. “I’m really focused (on worlds). At nationals in August, I skied smart. I feel better than I did in the 1980s.”
Bilas is a seven-time national champion in barefoot water skiing, having won in 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1998 and 1999. Bilas ‘turned back the clock’ this past August when he stood on the medal podium after two big national competitions. It was his first time back on the national stage after an 18-year break.
He won a silver medal in the tricks category at the USA Barefoot Nationals in Polk City. Two days later at the Southern Regional Barefoot Championships, also in Polk City, Bilas had two ‘blue-ribbon’ results as he finished in first place in tricks in the Men’s ‘B’ Division and in the slalom event for the Open Men’s Division.
Bilas’ skill set in water skiing is not limited to barefoot water skiing.
“Besides barefooting, I do train and coach in slalom skiing, trick skiing and wakeboarding,” added Bilas. “In fact I have competed many times in slalom and trick skiing. Presently, my training is focused on barefooting.”
One of the keys to his success in water skiing over the years has been Bilas’ ability to travel to more than 20 countries to share his knowledge about the sport. In 1996, he traveled around the world during a global coaching tour. His three-continent journey included Europe and Asia.
One of his more unusual water ski stops was in northern Sweden, just outside the Arctic Circle. Did he wear a wet suit that day?
“Yes,” replied Bilas.
As a part of his overseas experiences over the years, Bilas enjoyed a stint as coach of the Chinese National Water Ski Team from 1997-2002.
One of the most frequently asked questions Bilas hears is: “How do you actually water ski in bare feet?”
“It’s all about body positioning, your feet are more under your knees, and you must relax,” he said.
As a photographer, his water skiing pictures have appeared in numerous publications, including Joseph Meehan’s Capturing Time and Motion, published by Lark Books.
One of Bilas’ more unusual and memorable water skiing experiences was when he played a barefoot water-skiing Tony the Tiger for a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes national television commercial in 1997.
Bilas is showing no interest in slowing down in competitive water skiing.
For more information, visit zenonbilas.com