The Fast And The Furious
story: Joshua Corbelli photos: Teri Ziemer
NATIONAL COMBINED OUTBOARD HYRDOPLANE CHAMPIONSHIPS
For many, thrills are a rarity, coming usually from activities like riding a rollercoaster, hitting an exciting downhill single track or even something as simple as buying a new outfit. Going 90 miles per hour on an 11-foot modified hydroplane boat, however, is a story in a different book.
That book features the National Combined Outboard Hydroplane Championships, which runs August 10-15 at South Thermalito Forebay in Oroville, and will draw the best stock and modified hydroplane boat racers in the nation.
“There’s a lot of anticipation. I think it’s going to be a bigger national championship than we’ve had in a while,” says Darrell Sorensen, an event organizer. Sorensen expects some 300 entries for the national championship, including about 50 Northern California racers. The last time the national race was held in California was in Copperopolis, east of Stockton, in 2003.
Held in Oroville June 19 and 20, the western divisional championship saw many West Coast racers who showed up to qualify for the nationals. According to Sorensen, racers who participated in June will be a step ahead in qualifying for the nationals by having already raced the championship course. As one might imagine, navigating through choppy water and wind adds difficulty to an already fast and fickle sport. Control of the boats, which range in size from about six feet to 13 feet and can travel at speeds from 40 mph to 90 mph, is crucial. “In all these boats you’re practically kneeling, you use your body weight to move around,” Sorensen says. A poorly managed lean could mean catching an edge. Add in the factors of wind and choppy water and going 80 mph on your knees sounds riskier by the moment. Historically, though, the sport is pretty safe.
Jean Mackay-Schwartz of San Leandro races a six-foot boat that weighs merely 95 pounds. “It can be very scary, very hairy, but that’s all part of the rush. To me, it’s the ultimate adrenaline rush,” she says. Mackay-Schwartz, 60, has been racing hydroplanes for 37 years, and though she took a spill in an April race she’s still going hard. “It wasn’t too bad. I hobbled around a few days,” mentioning her wound, a tear in her meniscus, “but the boat was OK.” She takes away from these events educational lessons. Of her April spill, Mackay-Schwartz said she didn’t read the water well enough. With that, she was back at it, and with a vengeance. Speaking of the divisional championships in June, she says, “I competed against a couple kids, one was 26, and another was 35. And I beat ‘em both!” Having traveled all over the country (New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and more), Mackay-Schwartz, like many West Coast racers, is happy to have the championship on her home turf.
Chico’s Daniel Wilde shares those sentiments. “Oh, I’m excited. I’ve been to several nationals all over the country, but I love being able to be the local guy,” says Wilde, who has been racing since 1985. Much like Mackay-Schwartz and countless others, he was introduced to the sport through his family. Wilde’s grandfather, father and little sister have all served as influences. Despite a rough start, he stuck with it and found a certain peace. “I’ve had a couple doozies in my life,” Wilde says, recalling a “gruesome” spill he took as a beginner. “But you live and learn. For me, though, it’s quite a solitary thing, being out there on the water, listening to the engine,” he says.
The national championship is governed by the American Power Boat Association. Sorensen, a member of Stockton’s East Bay Boat Club and Modesto’s Northern California Outboard Association, will be on site maintaining the track – roughly a mile long oval that racers must circle three times per heat. During the races, between six and 12 boats are allowed on the water. Sorensen, who started racing 50-mph boats in 1961, is still a racer at heart, and that passion carries through to today. “The first time I saw a race boat as a kid, I pretty much fell in love with it,” he says. •