So you’ve done it. You’ve lined up at your first race, you felt the thrill – you’re hooked. You either took the win, or came up short – and now you’re hungry for domination. You may not be a complete beginner anymore, but pump the brakes for a sec.
Before you drop serious money on that big engine package you saw the Pros racing with -- start with the basics. Here are 3 easy upgrades to get you ready for your novice racing career:
1. HANDLE BARS AND GRIPS
It seems simple, maybe a little silly – but PWC handle bars can up your game. OEM handle bars can be bulky, or come at an uncomfortable angle. Depending on your size and race-form, a different pair of handle bars can increase comfort and decrease arm fatigue while you are keeping that throttle pinned.
Handle bars come at various degrees, and widths. If you’re a ninety-pound racer like me, a narrow set of bars with a straighter angle makes it easier to hang on to your rocket ship. While I can’t recommend the perfect angle and width, I highly recommend giving different sets a try, until you find something that is comfortable for your riding style.
A new set of aftermarket handle bars also leaves room for additional goodies like cooler grips. OEM grips will last, but they don’t always have the necessary grip for when you’re hanging it all out there on the track.
Handlebar grips also come in various patterns and thicknesses. I myself prefer a thin grip for my tiny hands, but someone with bigger hands may prefer a waffle cut – a thicker, more rigid pattern. Like handle bars, grips sometimes are trial and error. Once you find your favorite, you’ll never go back to OEM grips. When purchasing grips, be sure to check the size of the grip and compare it to your handle bars – otherwise they might not fit!
2. MATS AND SEATS
A fresh pwc traction mat kit or brand-new watercraft seat cover will not only make your ski look cooler – it’ll improve your ride. For runabout riders, a seat with a built-in hump will help you stay locked in, and reduce the likelihood of water samples mid race. In other words, it’ll help keep you from falling off. Companies like Jet-Trim, Hydro Turf or Black Tip can help you build custom seats, or get better, more gripping upholstery.
For stand-up riders, tray mat material and design is a game changer. Depending on your riding style, you can have custom mats made to help you leverage better turns. I personally prefer mats with a small camel hump in the front dash, and a kick wedge in the back. A camel hump keeps your feet from slipping out from under you when you are railing a turn, and a rear kick wedge allows you to use your feet more effectively – letting you control turns with your toes and heels.
While mats are typically more crucial to a stand-up rider’s performance, a runabout rider can still improve their grip by replacing their OEM mats.
3. HANDLING COMPONENTS
Before you start busting into the engine bay, I highly recommend starting at level zero. If you build up your engine too quick, you may not be able to handle the horsepower. Handling components can drastically improve your riding, and prepare you for bigger, badder engines in the future.
For runabout racers, rear sponsons, intake grates and ride plates are a great place to start. Rear sponsons attach to the rear of the runabout, just under the bond flange, and will help your ski maintain stability in turns, and give you extra grip. The combination of rear sponsons and a great ride plate will help keep your runabout from breaking loose in the turns. This will allow you to carry as much speed as possible through your turns, while the competition is letting off the gas. An intake grate attaches to the bottom of the ski, near the drive shaft and intake. An aftermarket intake grate will pull more water into your pump housing and help keep your ski hooked up – eliminating air time and keeping your ski driving hard and fast in various conditions.
For stand-up riders, ride plates and sponsons are the most important handling components. Front sponsons improve the stability and cornering of your ski, allowing the nose to drop into corners easier, so that you can power through your turns.
The biggest struggle a stand-up racer will ever face is keeping the back end of the ski from breaking loose in a turn. Ride plates are a great place to start. There are lots of different kinds of ride plates on the market, and no single one is perfect for everyone. Depending on your height and weight, you might need to experiment a bit before you commit to a ride plate. Generally, they are all designed to do the same thing, keep the rear end of your ski in the water.
The most important thing to understand about handling components are testing conditions. You may love your brand new ride plate at 6am when the water is glassy clean, but hate it a 4pm on a Friday when the lake is a bathtub. It’s important to evaluate what conditions you will be racing in, and base your decisions on the conditions. You may need a different ride plate for racing offshore P1Aqua X than racing at the World Finals in Lake Havasu.
The best thing you can do is try lots of set ups and combinations, and find one that works best for you. What works for someone else, may not be for you. Take it from me, as a ninety-pound Jet Ski World Champion, I can tell you my set ups are a little different than my 150-200lb competitors. Learning more about what other riders maybe running is great, but you won’t know for sure if it will work for you unless you give it a try.
By Anna Glennon | 2018