Gallery: 2019 Thai Airways IJSBA World Finals

The dust has settled (so to speak) and IJSBA has released the much-awaited full results from the World Finals in Lake Havasu City, AZ. With champions crowned, podium finishers announced, and titles claimed for another 12 months, there can be little doubt that high winds weren’t all that was shaking things up at the 2019 Thai Airways IJSBA World Finals.

Those high winds, however, played a significant role in the 2019 World Finals. When Thursday dawned over the wreckage left by overnight sustained winds of 30+ mph, and 50-60 mph gusts, IJSBA officials surveyed the shredded tents in the pits and vendor row, the toppled signs, and – most importantly – a course that resided now, for the most part, along the shoreline of Lake Havasu below Crazy Horse Campground.

The decision was a tough one, undoubtedly, but was one based on safety, consultation with local officials, and logistics, and Thursday became one of the extremely rare – if not only – time in the history of the Havasu World Finals, that a full day of racing was cancelled. IJSBA staff, crew and officials pulled off an amazing feat, packing that day’s motos into the next few days of racing.

Although there were certainly disappointments and inconveniences – racers that planned to race on Thursday, and could not stay to race on Friday, for example – this writer was impressed with IJSBAs efforts to overcome Mother Nature’s interruption, and with the cooperation and understanding of the race community as a whole.

It was the shake-ups on the (quickly re-constructed) racecourse, however, that made the 2019 World Finals one to remember. Even more than 2018, this year’s championship week seemed to be a pivotal year, as new faces, new machines, new technologies and new talent claimed the checkered flag time and again.

That doesn’t mean that the master and legends, the prior champions and names we all know, yielded easily, nor did they walk away without their fair share of championship titles. Baldwin, Stone, Maurin, Burbayea, Ruis… the masters are still at the top of their game – and the top of the podium. But it is the proliferation of lesser-known names and younger faces that made its mark on this year’s Havasu memories.

Cramer, Wildebouer, Harris, Chambers, Finlinson Jukish – these are the names – the faces and talents – that will move this sport into the next decade, and many of them have one thing in common – a cowbell wielded by one of the sport’s biggest personalities, Nedra Atwood. As the guiding force behind the Junior Stars program, Atwood had much to be proud of at this year’s World Finals.

“Never before in the history of the World Finals have so many Juniors become World Champions in classes outside of the Junior class,” she told The Watercraft Journal earlier this week. “Out of the 13 eligible classes, seven were won by Juniors from four different countries. History was also made in Freestyle with Gabe Jukish, at age 13, becoming the youngest Amateur Freestyle World Champion ever. The work ethic of these kids is only surpassed by the camaraderie they had with each other. This year saw an extraordinary group of kids who are truly Junior Stars! It has been an honor and a privilege to me personally to have been given the gift of living in their lifetime and witnessing these amazing accomplishments.”

And beyond that camaraderie that the juniors share among themselves, there is an overwhelming and humbling amount of support for these young athletes from the long-time participants of the sport – from the pit crews to the old timers to the reigning champions. A Facebook post by multi-time world champion freestyler Mark Gomez highlighted this exemplary attitude toward the new generation of competitors and athletes.

“I had a few people asking about the helmet this year … Most important is watching our [Junior] freestyle class grow and to set the best example by holding ourselves accountable regarding safety. It’s not mandatory, but this year with influence from my boys, I’m going to be rocking the lid for competitions…” Gomez posted a few days after the championship races ended (and a few days after his Havasu wedding – congrats, Mark and Kaley!)

The lure of Havasu has not just attracted new junior racers, though, and there racers of all ages nosing up to the band for their first time at Havasu.

“Tuesday Morning, after multiple days of test and tune it was race time! Competitors from numerous countries filled the lines making for very competitive racing. For my first time being at World Finals I was excited for the competition,” said Graham Hunt. “The water was cold which was great for the machines, also perfectly blue.  The Havasu back drop is unlike any other race site I have raced at and having seen the sunrise and sunset most days I really enjoyed it.

“We had some fun having a day to mess around with winds gusting at 60mph and racing canceled Thursday, which turned into me and Brian Baldwin doing our own special weather report at Crazy Horse Campground (was as comedically ridiculous as it sounds)!

“Races were very aggressive with everyone eager to become a world champion. We had some bumping and trading of gelcoat for sure during motos. I was pleased coming away with a third overall despite some mechanical gremlins and a hole in my boat from a reckless Thai rider.

“The town, accommodations, food, and locals were awesome everyone seemed to be excited to have IJSBA world final racers in town. My team, myself and my girlfriend had a great time and can’t wait to return for 2020 World Finals!” Graham added.

Bret Underwood, also competing this year for the first time at Havasu, is also already looking forward to the 2020 IJSBA World Finals:

“World Finals this year was a really impactful life experience for me. Even though it was my first one I feel like I got years worth of success and heartbreak all in one week,” he told The Watercraft Journal. “From walking away from the competition, to engine troubles, to competing on a level I never had before, to getting T-boned on  my new Pro Force 2.0, it was definitely an experience that I could never forget.”

For complete results from the 2019 IJSBA World Finals, visit HERE. Photos from the 2019 IJSBA World Finals by Waters Edge Photography will be available HERE.

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Jessica Waters

A working photojournalist and reporter living in Florida, Jessica Waters has covered competition stock car racing, downhill skiing, motocross, horse racing and hydroplane races for more than 30 years, and added jet ski races and freestyle competitions in 2010, covering many competitions for local media outlets.

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