In personal watercraft racing, improvement is the hardest part. It’s easy to throw a ski together and go out to the races, smoke some beginners and think you’re the best racer around. It isn’t until you line up next to the guy who’s been racing a year longer than you that you get that hefty dose of reality. Maybe you aren’t the best racer in the whole world –yet. So, it’s time to work on it.
STEP ONE: RESEARCH
Now that you’ve been to a race or two, you’ve probably figured out who’s been at this for a while, and who hasn’t. Football players watch film – you need to break out YouTube. Time to scower the web for some videos of your favorite Pro racing, and take notes.
When I first started racing, I studied some of the stand-up PWC racing greats. Originally, I watched hours of old recordings of The Jammer – Jeff Jacobs. After I realized that riding a 550 and riding a new SX-R were much different, I started watching footage of riders like Chris MacCluggage and Kevin Reiterer. Little 16-year-old me wasn’t about to hit a turn pinned, so I paid close attention to their race form, and how they did starts.
After hours of watching GoPro videos on YouTube, I noticed a few key points, and began trying to apply them to my own riding – and it paid off.
STEP TWO: SWITCH UP YOUR FORM
All you have to remember is bent knees, and elbows up.
When your arms are straight, and locked, and your weight is far back in the tray, you increase your arm fatigue substantially. The combination of the yank from the torque of your engine, plus the potentially bumpy water conditions can wear on your arms, back and core. Keeping your elbows bent and your body forward allows you to minimize the wear on your arms and back. Think about touching your ears with your elbows – it seems silly but makes a world of difference.
The next most important piece of your race form is your knees. One of the biggest mistakes rookies make is riding with locked knees. While it seems more comfortable to stretch out the legs, one weird bump in the water and you can blow a knee out. Staying loose on your ski is crucial. You need to ride with the ski, don’t try to ride against it. By bending your knees, you can maintain your balance through rougher water, and lower your center of gravity through your turns. At no time should your knees be locked or your legs be straight – this runs a risk of injury, causes fatigue and does not provide any benefits to your racing.
Like I said, just remember bent knees and elbows up.
As you continue to develop as a racer, you may pick up on other tricks or little things that help you as a rider. Things like foot position, throttle control, wrist angle etc., can also contribute to a better ride; but the foundation for strong riding comes from the arms and legs – so start there.
As a personal watercraft rider who has been at it for several years, I can say that I have learned a lot from watching and listening to other athletes. When it gets down to it, you have to do what works best for you – no single rider is perfect, or knows everything there is to know about racing – especially not if they aren’t the same size as you, or if they ride a different ski. Not even those 10-time world champions can tell you exactly how you should ride.
STEP THREE: CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF
The most important thing about Jet Ski racing is to understand that you will never know everything there is to know about Jet Ski racing. Not even the best rider in the world knows everything there is to know.
So, you need to open your ears and mind.
If someone recommends you try dipping a little lower through a turn – give it a try. Make sure you take video of your riding and races so you can break down your form, and where you hit the throttle. Analyzing your riding gives you the opportunity to continue to improve. Even if you’re the Novice Ski champ at your local track, don’t let yourself plain out.
In my time in the industry I have seen too many athletes plateau in their racing careers because they refused to open up their minds to the idea of progress and improvement. It takes a humble athlete to understand that there are always areas to improve. If you want to get better, you have to accept the fact that you aren’t as good as you may think you are.
When you struggle, don’t ever take it out on the ski.
Sometimes when we struggle, our first response is to blame the equipment. Take a step back and think through everything you have done around the problem. Maybe your body position was a little off, maybe you were gassing it a little too early – be open to the idea that you need to improve.
STEP FOUR: PRACTICE LIKE A PROPractice, it’s important. No kidding, right? If you are serious about racing, you should aim to take your lake time a little more seriously. While it’s important to enjoy your time on the water, getting enough laps in in between races is extremely important. One of the dividing factors between a winner and second place is endurance. Spending more time on your ski will help give you an edge.
But practice isn’t just about laps.
It’s important that you practice in different conditions. Don’t be the rider who only wants to ride at 8am when the lake is glassy smooth. If it’s a little choppy on race day, you could get schooled. Make it a point to try railing through glassy water, choppy water, and a little bit of wind and rain if you can. Dealing with abnormal or different race conditions is often the downfall of a lot of riders on race day – be ready for anything.
Keep going. When you’ve done 28 laps at practice and can’t do number 29, make it 32. The final push in any race is where the leader gets comfortable and open themselves up for mistakes. It’s also where riders run out of gas and you can swoop in and steal their position.
And lastly, practice starts. If you don’t have a real starting line – that’s fine. Work on communication with your holder, what position is most comfortable for you, and reaction time. A great start can hand you a race win – don’t take that lightly!
By Anna Glennon | 2018