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Formula 1 racecar, barefoot skier tackle Big Cypress Reservation canal

Parks Bonifay is pulled by a Red Bull racecar as he skis barefoot on a Big Cypress Reservation canal Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — It isn’t every day you see a barefoot water skier on a Big Cypress Reservation canal. It is even rarer to see one being pulled by a Formula 1 racecar speeding down a dirt road next to the canal.


But that is exactly what happened Dec. 10, 2021, on the Big Cypress Reservation, thanks to Red Bull – which has a Formula 1 team – and professional wakeboarder Parks Bonifay.


Red Bull, the international brand of energy drinks and home to extreme sports videos, wanted to film the stunt, so it approached Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie.


“They said they wanted an authentically Florida location, they wanted the Everglades,” Councilwoman Billie said. “So they reached out to me. It was easier for them to come here instead of some other location, they didn’t have to go through the state for approval.”

Parks Bonifay leaves a wall of water behind him as he skis barefoot on a Big Cypress canal on Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)


The set was closed but Councilwoman Billie and her executive assistant Marlin Miller-Covarrubias stayed off to the side at the site to watch as the dangerous stunt was filmed.


“This is the first time anyone has barefoot skied behind a Formula 1 racecar going 50 or 60 miles per hour,” Bonifay said. “I’ve always been a fan of Formula 1 and I love barefoot skiing in unique situations. This is one of the coolest Red Bull projects.”


Bonifay, 41, has been with Red Bull since 2001. One of his recent adventures was a four-day wakeboarding trip up the Gulf Coast from the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers to Blue Lake, north of Clearwater. During the trip, he wakeboarded off the shore of Egmont Key in the Tampa area.’


Being a Red Bull-sponsored athlete has given Bonifay the chance to live out his dream extreme sport scenarios. Over the years, he has skied on icebergs in Greenland, surfed the best waves in Tahiti, wakeboarded in an underground cave in Missouri and behind a helicopter where he skydived down from 1,000 feet.


“We like to push the boundaries in ways that have never been done,” he said. “I’ve been able to do so much cool stuff.”

A Red Bull racecar travels next to a canal in Big Cypress on Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)


Bonifay said he invented a few tricks and was the first person to do a 1080 over a wake. He has been on skis since he was a baby; his parents were skiers in the Cypress Gardens water ski show. Wakeboarding became popular when he was a young teen and he believes the sport was made for him. Bonifay won the inaugural wakeboarding competition at the 1996 X Games at age 14. After five seasons of the X Games he had two gold and numerous other medals in the sport.


He is a member of the Wakeboarding Hall of Fame and, according to his Red Bull biography, is considered the most influential rider of all time.


Barefoot skiing brings the skier’s feet into direct contact with the water. Bonifay said the smoother the water is, the more it hurts.


“It feels like a burn,” he said. “When there is a little chop, it gives your feet some relief.”


The first run down the Big Cypress canal was interrupted when the 100-foot ski rope became entangled in weeds and Bonifay wiped out. After that, he walked up and down the canal looking for a good straightaway without weeds. Since the car would remain on land, he needed no obstruction to hamper his stunt.


He found it and did four successful runs as the late afternoon light was fading.


Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez will drive the Red Bull racecar at the Miami Grand Prix May 6-8 at Hard Rock Stadium.

Parks Bonifay skims the water as he skis barefoot on a Big Cypress canal on Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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