Any athlete will tell you that winning a championship is the crowning achievement to a sports career. And successfully defending that championship is even sweeter. So when you consider that American speed ski racer Todd Haig has now won the world's most challenging water ski race 11 times, the achievement deserves a few extra minutes of reflection.
For 65 consecutive years, water skiers from around the world have gathered for the Catalina Ski Race in Long Beach, Calif—a 62-mile open-ocean dash from the fantail of the Queen Mary to Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island and back. This year the starting grid consisted of 60 teams with skiers ranging in age from 73 to just-turned teenagers. Overcast skies and lumpy water conditions in the unpredictable channel awaited the well-conditioned contestants who came from as far away as Belgium, Australia, Spain, Denmark and England to challenge America's best.
Pre-race speculation was focused on Haig and his major competition, Peter Proctor of Australia. In the past four years, Haig and Proctor have dueled to a draw, each winning two overall Men's Open titles. In order for Haig to win his 11th crown, which would tie him for the most Catalina wins with the legendary Chuck Stearns, he would have to get past Proctor and a half dozen more world-ranked skiers to make history.
Haig, towed by Randy Davis in the Team Nordic 47-foot V-bottom with twin Mercury Racing 1,200-hp engines made their intentions clear in the initial 2 miles of the race, leading the 60-boat field out of the inner Long Beach Harbor and through the Queens Gate breakwater opening with a 300 yard lead. Haig and Davis, who owns Nordic Boats in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., were the first team to the turn boat at the halfway mark with Team Warpath, a 47-foot Fountain with triple 1,000-hp BoostPowerUSA engines driven by Mike Avila, attempting to close the gap with Proctor in tow.
The battle for the win between the pre-race favorites continued for the next 22 miles on the return leg home until Team Nordic mounted a surge and began widening its lead. While trying to keep pace, Proctor suffered an uncharacteristic tumble, which left him slightly injured and dazed, unable to finish the race.
Although he was uncontested for the final five miles of the course, Haig crossed the finish line at the Queen Mary stern in the remarkable time of 49 minutes and 32 seconds, beating his old Catalina record of 50 minutes and 13 seconds set in 2011. That's an average speed of more than 75 mph.
When asked after the race about his exceptional performance in spite of less-than-ideal water conditions, Haig credited his rigorous training regime, which included an extended June and July overseas visit to compete in some of Europe's most prestigious races with Team Nordic. After dominating wins in Europe and at Catalina, Haig has his sights set on winning the outright Men's Open title at the World Water Ski Racing Championships in September in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Other noteworthy Catalina Ski Race victories were notched by Erin Saunders DeYager, winning the Women's Open class for the third consecutive year, making her only the sixth woman in Catalina history to accomplish the "hat trick." And former Catalina overall winner Martie Wells won the Formula 1 class, finishing first among all boats under 21 feet in less than one hour.