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Catalina or Bust

Todd Haig takes his 14th Overall win behind Nordic Boats in the 71st Annual Catalina Ski Race. PHOTOS: Scott Shanklin STORY: Erick Bryner
  1. FastLoudPhoto
    DSC_1847-3_OR.jpg Todd Haig wins first in Men's Open and first overall behind the 43' Nordic with Randy Davis driving, Steve Davis as Navigator and Dennis Hall as Observer.

    The 71st running of the world famous Catalina Ski Race took place this weekend in Long Beach, CA with all of the hype and fanfare you would expect. There were 45 entries in 19 different classes with participants coming from USA, Australia and Austria.


    And I didn’t get ONE…. DAMN… PICTURE.


    I would love to report on all the exciting action that occurred in each class and show you the pictures that Dave sent me to get. But I can’t, because I missed it… the whole entire race. From the Catalina Ski Race official results, I can tell you statistical things like the fact that Todd Haig took first in Men’s Open class and First overall with an elapsed time of 51 minutes, 41.04 seconds behind the illustrious Nordic Racing Super Vee, with Randy Davis and Steve Davis at the helm. And I can tell you that Ben Gulley – with a last minute surprise announcement that he would be defending his title after an injury sidelined him for most of the year – took second place overall for an impressive 50m, 55.09s finish. But that’s all I can offer, because I simply wasn’t there.

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    So how did I get into this predicament? It was going to be a particularly exciting day for me (@fastloudphotography), as it was to be my very first Catalina Ski Race. Typically at this time of year, I am in NorCal visiting family or shooting one of the various V-drive regattas up there. But this year I decided it was time to stick around and see what all of the fuss was about. After all, my two good friends, Daren Van Ryte (@OCphotographics) and Scott Shanklin (@stryderphoto) have been shooting Waterski Racing for years and always come back with killer photos and great stories. What’s more is that I had two other good friends and several more acquaintances in the race, so I had good reasons to be there. This year, when Dave asked me to cover it for him, it was just icing on the cake. I would shoot the start and finish from my friend, Chris Maddalone’s 35’ Fountain, write my story and then bask in the accolades.

    DSC_1869-3_OR.jpg DSC_1881-3_OR.jpg Ben Gulley coming in hot to the Catalina turn behind the 38' GAC, "See Spot Run", driven by Sean Clancy, with Tom Whitham as Navigator and Justin Pick, Observer.

    It all started a few weeks ago, right after the Catalina Fun Run. Corey Vodvarka and I (the CFR Organizers) decided to put together a tie-up at the finish line to watch the race. With several boats confirmed, we were looking forward to a fun day on the ocean, with a lunch run to Newport Beach immediately following the race.

    About a week after the Catalina Fun Run, one of our participants, Maury Loomis, decided he wanted to try his hand in the race. He would be towing a skier from Austria with his beautiful 43’ NorTech V-bottom. Lacking a team, our own Corey Vodvarka offered to step in as Navigator. For two weeks they toiled on the boat getting it ready for the race and making practice runs to the island. The boat in its current setup couldn’t be used as is, since the drive placement and clever props produced too much roost to tow a skier. So they frantically searched the internet for drive spacers to lower the drives 3 inches, reducing the roost and calming the water for their international skier.

    DSC_1910-3_OR.jpg Sean Moore pulling Australia's Cameron Osborne to a 3rd place overall finish in 54m 49.01s

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    Jack Lynch, Senior Men's Class

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    Dana Thorson, Veteran Men

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    Cameron King, Formula II Outboard

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    John Kompanez, Superclass. Driver, Freddy Brennan. Observer, Ken Kramer.

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    CJ Ferguson, Veteran Men. Driver, Corey Ferguson. Brian Wilson, Observer. Tim Dubois, Nav.

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    Mathew Klee, Junior Boy. Driver, Darrell Nottke. Observer, Andy Klee. Keefe Nottke, Nav.

    While at the shop to install the spacers just 3 days before the race, the mechanic noticed a tick in one of the Mercury 750’s. Upon closer inspection they found a bad lifter. With no time left for an overhaul, and not wanting to risk his motors, Maury reluctantly pulled out of the race leaving his Austrian skier, Sabine Ortlieb, without a ride.

    Later that afternoon I got a call from Corey. Chris Maddalone, the owner of my photo boat, was now going to step in for Maury and tow Sabine in the race, with Corey remaining as Navigator for the team. This made sense, since both Chris and Corey have raced this prestigious event in the recent past. The problem was, however, that now I was without a boat to shoot from.

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    DSC_2314-3_OR.jpg Chris Maddalone and Corey Vodvarka approaching the turn at the island with Sabine Ortlieb in tow.


    In hindsight, I should have just accepted one of the other offers I got to get out on the water. But Corey had another solution. He would lend us his boat – a 30’ Eliminator Eagle – to shoot from at the raft up, and then he would have it for a lunch run after the race. So with everything set, we met at the ramp that morning and prepared for the day.

    Corey and Chris set off in Chris’ boat for the race, and we waited for the rest of the teams to clear the ramp before lunching Corey’s boat. This was the beginning of the end for me. As we launched the boat and prepared to leave the ramp dock, our friend, Gerard, noticed a mechanical issue. The boat smelled hot. We searched the engine bay, and noticed smoke so we immediately shut it down. Borrowing someone else’s boat is a scary and risky enough proposition as it is, for either party. But running it when there appears to be a problem is downright foolish. So, with an abundance of caution, and with the realization that we were about to miss the race, we opted to trailer the boat and call it a day. As disappointing as that was, it was better than the alternative – having to explain to Corey how we blew up his motors, or sank his boat at the ramp.

    DSC_2326-3_OR.jpg Rachael Stapleton, 1st Place, Women's Open.

    DSC_2647-3_OR.jpg Tim Turley, Open Day Cruiser

    DSC_2745-3_OR.jpg Erica Leonard, Senior Women

    DSC_2776-3_OR.jpg Amy Threlfall, 1st Place, Senior Women.

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    Thankfully, Scott Shanklin had already made his way out to the island where he was shooting from the patrol boat. The day wasn’t a total loss for River Dave because Scott brought back these amazing shots from the turn. It wasn’t a total loss for Sabine, either. The second grade school teacher from Austria took Second place in the Women’s Open class behind Chris’ Fountain with a formidable time of 1 hour, 07 minutes, placing 15thoverall. Rachael Stapleton took first.

    DSC_2922-3_OR.jpg Julia Williams, Winner, Intermediate Women

    DSC_2960-3_OR.jpg Colin Morris, Driver, and Mike Hedges, Observer, Sportsman Class.

    DSC_2973-3_OR.jpg Mark Wagner, Winner, Sportsman.

    DSC_3140-3_OR.jpg Jail Walsh and Jason Walsh, Double-up Class

    Thanks to Scott, it wasn’t a total loss for me, either. With some leniency from Dave, and great images from Scott, I still came back with a fairly entertaining story, albeit not the one I had in mind. I also came back with a few important lessons under my belt – none of which I am going to rehash here.

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    Chris Maddalone, Enjoying his close second place finish.

    But I will end with this. There were both winners and losers that day. That’s how it goes in racing. And sometimes that’s how it goes in life, too. That day, for a brief moment, I felt like I had lost. But with good judgment and the support of good friends, I realized later that I walked away with friendships in tact. And that makes you a winner every time.

    Congrats to all racers for finishing the 71stAnnual Catalina Water Ski Race, 2019. I hope to see you at the finish line in 2020.

    Erick Bryner
    Fast Loud Photography
    @FastLoudPhoto

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