I believe that when you die, only three things will go with you: the relationships you made, the knowledge you learned, and the experience you gained. For all the time we spend slaving over work, fretting over nonsense and yelling at bad drivers on your commute home, the things that truly matter are not things at all. Because, when the day comes where we meet our maker, it’s very unlikely that his first question will be, “So, tell me about your job,” after all.
The annual Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore Championship (LB2CAT) – this year presented by Jettribe, Sea-Doo, Sea-Tow, Hot Products, Hydro-Turf, Oakley, Jet Re-Nu, Kawasaki, The Watercraft Journal, Pro Rider Magazine and PWCOffshore.com – is one of those experiences that will go with you throughout your life. Even if you only do it once, it’ll be something you’ll never forget. This year would mark my fourth bout with the 52-mile open ocean enduro, and possibly my most memorable.
The road to yesterday’s race – held on Sunday, July 20th – began six months earlier at Kawasaki’s 2014 model introduction in the Florida Keys.
As I raced Brand Manager Bret Snider across a field of emerald green sea, we were wowed as multi-world champion and Kawasaki product development guru Minuro Kanamori streaked past as if we were standing still. Bret and I had laughed that we would partner up for the LB2CAT, but I was the one who took it a bit more serious.
Although Bret had responsibilities that would keep him from participating, he made good on lending the use of a bone-stock 2014 Kawasaki Ultra 310R to use. Equally, he also provided me a riding partner, Kanamori. The two of us were entered in event promoter Ross Wallach‘s Manufacturer Stock class. Restricted to traction mats, seat covers and handlebar modifications, the pair of 310R’s required no such modifications and went to the water 100-percent showroom stock.
As the entries began to pour into Mark Gerner’s PWCOffshore.com email inbox, I sought about reached out to companies for support. Immediately, perennial lifestyle brand JetPilot provided an Apex Race John and Apex S/E vest, a pair of Immersed shorts, gloves and JetPilot’s Race Boots.
Western Power Sports, ponied up a Fly Racing F2 Carbon Trey Canard Replica helmet, Fly Racing Pro Lite Carbon Leatt neck brace and a pair of Dragon Alliance MDX Hydro goggles. Finally, Hurricane Industries created a custom wrap for our 310R’s hood.
The day before the green flag would drop, the Pacific was almost eerily flat. Smooth 1-to-2 foot rollers appealed to flat-bottom hulled riders and those less physically prepared for the hour-plus-workout (such as myself), while others riding deep-draft Kawasakis voiced concern.
As Lady Luck is a fickle mistress, reports of like water conditions were mistaken, providing cross-hatched 2-to-4 foot chop and errant rollers that surprised many.
A field of 32 total riders suited up and idled out to the staging area by 9am Sunday, having passed tech inspection and the rider’s meeting earlier. Gentle northbound winds blew the lingering marine layer inland, revealing Santa Catalina Island in almost unprecedented clarity. Navigation – at least southward to the island – would not be a problem.
The lineup of watercraft was impressive: Craig Warner returned from Georgia to battle for his fifth all-time win, as well as his third consecutive win to boot. Gerner wanted to oust his teammate with his much anticipated R&D Performance T1 Turbo-powered Ultra. Likewise, Canadian-by-way-of-Lake-Havasu Mike “Kliper” Klippenstein had his 90mph R&D turbo FX SVHO at the ready.
Yet, interestingly, the field of Pro Open skis was doubled by those entered in the Manufacturer Stock class. With a purse of $1,200 at stake, a dozen racers vied for the cash prize. Only a couple Sea-Doos were present, while Yamahas could be counted on a single hand. The rest were a field of Kawasaki Ultras, the deep-V rough water design having proved itself time and again.
With three helicopters swirling overhead, Wallach signaled the “go” and watched as dozens of skis boiled the saltwater. Directly out of the breakwater was a melee of cross vehicle traffic, rough water and racing watercraft. Almost immediately, several skis went down, including Jonathan Mangan and Mark Gerner, who noticed a drop in boost and wisely opted to bow out before permanently damaging his craft.
Klipper was next to drop out, as he was spotted pulling his seat off to examine his engine. Next was Queensland, Australia’s Christian D’Agostin who traveled all of the way to the States to compete on a brand-new Ultra 310X SE. At the head of the first pack, Warner led closely shadowed by Kanamori who rode his Manufacturer Stock 310R with unmatched ferocity. Core PWCOffshore rider KC Heidler followed like a man possessed.
In the second pack, husband-and-wife duo Brittany and Curtis Marker reeled in and passed half a dozen riders aboard a naturally aspirated FX HO and Ultra LX, respectively. Wounded Warrior Anthony Radetic impressed all aboard a current model RXP-X 260, refusing to let off the throttle despite the brutal water the Sea-Doo chewed through.
Behind the pack, Klipper’s teammate, Charles Anderson – aboard a inked-out FX SVHO – caught a cross-angled roller and was violently thrown from his runabout. The ejection injured the racer’s angle, but he reboarded and soldiered on, refusing to relent.
The clear skies encouraged boaters and fishermen to take to the channel, making for quite a bit of traffic and therefore rougher waters than what Mother Nature was already dishing out.
Although I was equipped with some of the very best gear available, I struggled to maintain a steady pace. Fatigue crept down my forearms and into my hands, making throttle control a herculean task. Lactic acid burned in my thighs and ever increasing exhaustion softened my resolve. By the half-way mark, I was nearing something like a groove when the “low fuel” chime began to sound.
My elation at the beginning had faded into determination half way through and now had mutated into desperation. I was a man passing through the 5 stages of grief.
Fooled by the obscured shoreline, I mistakenly started to rely on my dizzied vision rather than my Garmin GPS and soon found myself a couple of miles west of my destination. “You just wanted to take a quick look at the loading docks,” I told myself. The joke wasn’t funny then, either.
Drawing closer to the Queens Gate breakwater, the undulating seas began to smooth. I knew I was back in the pack, but didn’t care. Despite my weariness I was still happy to be out there, testing my mettle. With a solitary flashing bar on my fuel gauge, I leapt up, viced the throttle and burned through what fuel and energy the ski and pilot had left in their reserves.
Warner had passed the yellow Sea-Tow boat 25 minutes earlier, earning his record win and marking his place in offshore racing history. In dramatic fashion, Heidler bested Kanamori in the final seconds of the race, as Kanamori’s stock ski surged and coughed from its fuel lines running dry. A field of Kawasakis crossed the line, testifying to the ski’s offshore prowess.
Confusion at the turn boat led to a mix up between me and dynamo Tera Laho. We unknowingly shared the same race number, and had marked my pass around the turn boat as her and not me. Unfortunately, Laho’s built Yamaha FX suffered supercharger clutch issues forcing her to return back before reaching the island. Since the turn boat had called her, Tera was marked as the seventh ski to cross the finish line.
Thankfully, the swap was quickly resolved and many were happy to learn they had suddenly stepped up in ranking. As for me, I was never more happy to be floating idly at the mouth of the Los Angeles River, having crossed the checkered flag in 20th place – not too bad considering my woeful lack of training, an unexpected detour and waning fuel supply.
Again, even as I ache with sore muscles and what can only be a bruised tailbone (I came down pretty hard on the seat more than a couple times), I have to say that I couldn’t be happier. The Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore Championship is an accomplishment, a feat that many are too timid to dare. Unlike other rides, this race is more about the experience than the trophy (although winning is always nice), and that is why I implore you to schedule accordingly to join me next year – because I’m coming back for more.
All images courtesy of Justin Stannard.
2014 Jettribe Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore Championship
Overall Results: 1. Craig Warner, 2. KC Heidler, 3. Minoru Kanamori, 4. Michael Perry, 5. Jeff Lane, 6. Tony Hoa, 7. John Feeney, 8. Bill Scott, 9. Derek Newton, 10. Dave “Pirate” Tew, 11. Tom Cruz, 12. Tommy Kolleck, 13. Mike Klippenstein, 14. Brittany Marker, 15. Akira Tanaka, 16. Curtis Marker, 17. Anthony Radetic, 18. Scott McIntosh, 19. Chris Dobbins, 20. Kevin Shaw, 21. Brandi Price, 22. Evelyn Mangan, 23. Tibi Imbuzon, 24. Charles Anderson, 25. Kelsey Albert, 26. Terry Rowden, 27. Tammie “Ocean” Priselac; DNF: Jonathan Mangan, Mark Gerner, Paul Pham, Christian D’Agostin, Tera Laho
Pro/Am Open: 1. Craig Warner, 2. KC Heidler, 3. John Feeney, 4. Mike Klippenstein; 4-Stroke Stock: 1. Derek Newton, 2. Akira Tanaka, 3. Brandi Price, 4. Evelyn Mangan, 5. Tammie “Ocean” Priselac; Vet/Master Open: 1. Dave “Pirate” Tew, 2. Tom Cruz, 3. Scott McIntosh, 4. Chris Dobbins, 5. Tibi Imbuzon, 6. Charles Anderson; Mfg. Stock: 1. Minoru Kanamori,2. Michael Perry, 3. Jeff Lane, 4. Tony Hoa, 5. Bill Scott, 6. Tommy Kolleck, 7. Brittany Marker, 8. Curtis Marker, 9. Anthony Radetic, 10. Kevin Shaw, 11. Kelsey Albert, 12. Terry Rowden