Most boaters, especially those with a penchant for high performance and racing, are at least somewhat aware of the annual Grand National Catalina Water Ski Race held in Long Beach, CA. Afterall, a 71-year history tends to make people pay attention.

And although the 60+ mile ski race in the open ocean isn’t quite as large or grand as it used to be in its heyday several decades ago, it is still the most respected and coveted event the sport has to offer.

Over the many years, the race has changed. In the beginning, it was a bunch of hard core enthusiasts who became less enchanted with an annual aquaplane race out of Redondo Beach to Catalina and thought it would be more fun and challenging to do a race over and back on water skis. Since then, winning times to complete the race have plummeted from just over two hours to as little as 45 minutes for the first skier to cross the finish line.

Not only have the skiers improved but the tow boats themselves have drastically changed from sub 20-foot runabouts to over 35-foot deep vee ocean racers with over 2000 horsepower.

That’s all well and good, but since 1970 when the first 31-foot Bertram offshore deep-vee with twin supercharged engines came in first, boats under 30-feet in length have seldom been in the overall winner’s circle. Big boats unquestionably afford a definite advantage (smoother wake) for the skier.


In 2014, the National Water Ski Racing Association (NWSRA) decided to offer an alternative to keep the “little guys” interested in the sport. The traditional Catalina Water Ski Race still continues to this day organized by the Long Beach Boat & Ski Club (accommodating boats of all sizes) and is scheduled to resume on July 24 after a year off due to Covid restrictions. But a month earlier (June 26) the “small boat” Catalina Water Ski Race hits the Long Beach south launch ramp and Queen Mary starting line with equal intensity. Just the tow boat sizes are significantly different today compared to yesteryear.

Basically the “small boat” race is divided into two categories, boats 21-foot and under and a second division for boats under 27-feet. The limiting factory is skiers entered in open, intermediate and senior classes must ski behind boats no more than 21 feet in overall length. All other classes may be towed by boats up to 27 feet.

And there are no shortage of classes since the idea behind the “small boat” race is to encourage participation from new or returning ski racers. There are no less than fifteen classes to accommodate everyone: Junior ages 15 & under (boys and girls); Intermediate (women 16 to 35 and men 16-24); Senior (women 36 & over and men 25 to 35); Veterans (men 36 to 44); Expert (men 45 & over); a Novice skier class; Men’s Open, Women’s Open; Outboard; Stock Boat; Double Up (2 skiers); and Over & Back (2 skiers, each skiing on leg of the race).

Here is a sampling of some the boats and teams who have competed in the past.

The entry fee for a team is $200.00 if everybody is already a member of NWSRA/USAWS. If not, the entry fee goes to $250.00 per team which includes membership and insurance.

Very much ‘old school’, the driver/skier meeting is held on the Long Beach south launch ramp the morning of the race at 7:00am sharp. The race starts at 9:00am with awards back at the launch ramp at approximately 11:30am.

If you, or know of somebody who thinks they are a skiing stud, contact the nwsra,net website for pre-registration. It is a once in a lifetime adventure, and who knows, you might be hooked on the sport for life?