Rough seas make Long Beach-to-Catalina ski race a gnarly ride; two Australians finish on top
By Louis Casiano, Contributing Writer
Grappling with choppy waters that made the 62-mile route of open ocean a rough ride for competitors, a pair of Australians took the top men’s and women’s spots in a water ski race from Long Beach to Catalina Island and back Saturday.
Australian Ben Gulley and American Todd Haig were neck-and-neck heading into the finish near the Queen Mary before Gulley was able to push forward for his first Catalina Ski Race with a time of 54 minutes, 31 seconds.
“From the 40-minute mark all the way in, he was in front, and then we pulled side-by-side and it was just intense,” said Gulley, who’s competed in every Catalina Ski Race since 2006. “I’ve never skied so hard and so long in my life. If that finish line was an extra mile away, I wouldn’t have made it.”
The 28-year-old from Brisbane the consistently rough waters for a slower time than expected. Haig, who won last year’s contest in just over 52 minutes, placed second at 54 minutes, 32 seconds.
The course record was set by Jake Tegart in 2015 with a time of 45 minutes, 31.39 seconds.
The rough seas caused issues for some skiers and led to slower finishing times across the board, said J.P. Krieger, who spent 30 years competing in the race before moving over to run the event.
“It was very challenging,” Krieger said. “We get our normal westerly swells, you know we get these southerly swells and you never know what’s coming at you next.”
No one was injured, though one boat decided to call it a day at Avalon Harbor, Krieger said.
Saturday marked the 70th edition of the race, which featured 48 teams across 20 competition classes as skiers raced 62 miles across the ocean.
The day started with a 7 a.m. boat parade before drivers lined up at Junipero Beach, between White and Grissom oil islands for the start for the race.
The first wave of boats, all less than 24 feet long, sped from the start line just before 9 a.m. A second wave of larger vessels departed soon after, with most eventually overtaking their smaller cousins.
Ken Schmidt, the oldest competitor at age 79, was unable to finish the race.
Rachael Stapleton, 21, went three-for-three at the race, taking first place for the third time in three years. Stapleton finished nineteenth overall in her Fountain boat at 1 hour, 30 minutes and 36 seconds.
The Sydney resident embraced the churning seas. “I like that kind of water,” she said after her win. “The ocean waves, the roughness…. It’s really what I like doing.”
Stapleton said she plans on defending her next year.
“I have skied around the world in different countries, but this is definitely my favorite,” she said.