When you run a race for sixty-six consecutive years you come to expect an occasional close finish, but none quite like this. According to the official scoring team, the separation between winner and runner-up was a mere .01 seconds after sixty-two miles of intense side-by-side racing at continuous speeds in excess of eighty miles an hour…..and this was on a water ski in the open ocean.
The duel wasn’t unexpected however, not when you match the eleven-time Catalina Ski Race winner, Todd Haig from the U.S.A., and current reigning world men’s open champion Wayne Mawer from Australia. Haig was gunning to become the all-time winningest overall ski racer in Catalina’s long history, hoping for a tie-breaking twelfth victory to move him one notch up on water ski hall of famer, Chuck Stearns.
It was definitely a day made for records in Long Beach Harbor, a little bit of cloud cover, no wind or fog and Catalina Island was visible 31 miles from the start line. For safety concerns, Catalina has become a two-start affair, the 21’ and under boats got a thirteen minute head start on the rest of the field (that thirteen minute handicap is then later adjusted when calculating the final overall results).
First out of the breakwater for the second wave of racers was Mike Avila’s 47-foot Fountain with triple big-block supercharged Chevys pulling co-race favorite Wayne Mawer. Avila won the race in 2010 and 2012 with the same boat pulling Aussie Peter Procter. Haig, towed by Randy Davis in a 47’ Nordic/Cyclone with a pair of 1350 Mercs, was close on Avila’s transom, less than one-hundred feet behind.
Mawer and Haig dueled across the relatively flat channel leaving the rest of the field far behind. At the turn boat in Avalon Harbor, Mawer still had a slight lead. The race back across the channel continued to heat-up as Haig and Davis relentlessly applied pressure to each other.
With a helicopter escort overhead signaling their return inside the Queensgate breakwater, it was still gunnel-to-gunnel with Avila/Mawer holding the inside position as the boats approached the all-important marker buoy designating the ninety-degree left hand turn and the final quarter mile dash to the finish line. With over hundred spectator boats and more than a thousand fans watching from the fantail of the Queen Mary, it was a 100 mph drag race to the checkered flag. Eye witness accounts agreed that Avila’s boat crossed the finish line first by about a half a boat length, but that’s not the deciding factor since it’s the skier that counts. When the spray settled, all three finish line judges saw it the same way, it was Haig who crossed first by less than three feet thanks to a shorter ski line.
Not only did Haig notch his much coveted twelfth overall title, but he also set another new Catalina record for the second year in a row. As implausible as it may seem, Haig completed the 6record for the second year in a row. As impla usible as it may seem, Haig completed the 62 miles in only 46 minutes and 36 seconds for an average speed just a fraction under 80 miles an hour, a full three minutes and six seconds faster than his old mark set in 2013.
Catalina 2014 will be remembered as a year where records tumbled (a total of six new class marks were established) and a couple of memorable firsts. Besides Haig’s blistering overall record, new names into the Catalina ‘fastest-ever’ book now includes: Intermediate Men’s, Jake Tegart (Australia) 52 minutes 44 seconds; Veteran Men’s, Daniel Cotton (Australia) 54 minutes 14 seconds; Junior Boys, Jack Harrison (Australia) 54 minutes 39 minutes; Over & Back, Luke Harrison/Scott Brooks (Australia) 1 hour 8 minutes 49 seconds; and Junior Girls, Ellen Jones (Australia) 1 hour 59 seconds. An interesting side note about the Jones’ win is she also becomes the first Junior Girl (age 15 and under) to finish as the first overall female skier.
Other noteworthy efforts were turned in by former Catalina Men’s Open champion, Martie Wells who was the first skier to finish behind a 21-foot and under boat (and winner of the F2 outboard class) in 1 hour 1 minute and 20 seconds. Nick Schorr also skied to victory in the newly created “Sportsman Class” (for factory stock outboards or sterndrives under 24 feet in length) and Ken Schmidt tied the record as the oldest skier (age 76) to complete the Catalina course, 1 hour 41 minutes 40 seconds.
The 2014 Catalina Water Ski Race was sponsored by S&S Hardware Company and was conducted by the Long Beach Boat and Ski Club, John “JP” Kreiger, race director. For complete race results, please visit http://www.catalinaskirace.net