Any athlete will tell you that winning a championship is the crowning achievement to a sports career. And successfully defending that championship is even harder. So when you consider that American speed ski racer Todd Haig has now won the world’s most challenging water ski race eleven times, you need to take a few extra minutes to properly reflect and appreciate what this means.
For 65 consecutive years, water skiers from around the world have gathered for the annual Catalina Water Ski Race in Long Beach, California, a 62-mile open-ocean dash from the fantail of the Queen Mary to Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island and return. This year the starting grid consisted of 60 teams with skiers ranging in age from 73 to just-turned teenagers. Overcast skies and lumpy water conditions in the always unpredictable channel awaited the well-conditioned contestants who came from as far away as Belgium, Australia, Spain, Denmark and England to challenge America’s best.
Pre-race speculation was focused on Haig and his major competition, Peter Procter of Australia. In the past four years, Haig and Proctor have dueled to a draw, each winning two overall Men’s Open Catalina titles. In order for Haig to win his 11th crown which would tie him for most Catalina wins with the legendary Chuck Stearns, he would have to get past Procter and a half dozen other world ranked skiers to make history.
Haig, towed by Randy Davis in the Team Nordic 47-foot vee-bottom with twin Mercury Racing 1200 engines made their intentions clear in the initial 2 miles of the race, leading the 60-boat field out of the inner Long Beach Harbor and through the Queens Gate breakwater opening with a 300 yard lead. At the island checkboat, Haig and Davis were the first to turn at the halfway mark with Team Warpath (47-foot Fountain with triple engines) driven by Mike Avila attempting to close the gap with Procter in tow. The battle for the win between the pre-race favorites continued for the next 22 miles on the return leg home until Team Nordic mounted a surge and began widening their lead. While trying to keep pace, Procter suffered an uncharacteristic tumble which left him slightly injured and dazed, unable to finish the race.
Although he was uncontested for the final five miles of the course, Haig crossed the finish line at the Queen Mary stern in the remarkable time of 49 minutes and 42 seconds, beating his old Catalina record of 50 minutes and 13 seconds set in 2011, an average speed of over 75 miles an hour.
When asked after the race about his exceptional performance in spite of less than ideal water conditions, Haig credited his rigorous training regime which included an extended June and July overseas visit to compete in some of Europe’s most prestigious races with Team Nordic. After dominating wins in Europe and at Catalina, Haig now sets his sights on winning the outright Men’s Open title at the World Water Ski Racing Championships this coming September in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Other noteworthy Catalina Ski Race victories were notched by Erin Saunders DeYager, winning the Women’s Open class for the third consecutive year, making her only the sixth woman in Catalina history to accomplish the ‘hat trick.’ And former Catalina overall winner, Martie Wells, won the Formula 1 class, finishing first among all boats under 21-feet, and in less than one hour.
The 2013 Catalina Water Ski Race was sponsored by GT Performance of Upland, California and was conducted by the Long Beach Boat and Ski Club. For complete race results, please visit http://www.catalinaskirace.net.