On June 3-4, dozens of amateur and professional Jet Ski racers gathered at the Sparks Marina for an action-packed weekend of racing on the water. As one of the stops on The Bud Light JetJam Racing series, the family-friendly and free event at the Sparks Marina showcased riders who combined incredible speed and technical abilities to vie for cash prizes.
“We started this race series 100 percent of passion,” says JetJam Race Promoter and Owner Kary Austin, whose son also competes. Becoming friends with fellow jet skiers Pete Zernik and Sparks resident Ian Roberts, together the three travelled all over the US racing against each other.
Keeping an eye on his granddaughter while his son Ian competes and helps other racers, John Roberts says that Ian started riding jet skis when he was 6 years old. Ian learned how to ride on a 1987 300 hp Kawasaki before making friends in high school who raced, joining the circuit in 2003. Before using buoys as race markers, the two set a course with tumbleweeds so that Ian could practice.
“It’s a pretty safe sport, great for kids, very physical,” John says. He added that he is surprised that Ian made it to a professional level, and regarded as one of the world’s best Jet Ski racers when he’s on his game.
On this Sunday afternoon, jet ski racers are at a starting line, revving up their engines. Pit crews are at their waterfront tents with their trailers in the water and their quad runners behind them.
The racers do anywhere from 4-10 laps depending on their skill level. Thirty buoys are placed on a track that takes about a minute to go through with this being a bit bigger of a track. It has gotten breezy on the lake, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on which direction the wind is going. Wind can supplement a racer’s speed if it can help a ski skip over the water in the long shots, yet can make a rider slip out in the turns.
In this particular race, Ian is up against his buddies and a few other Sparks residents in the semi-finals. This is Ian’s second to last race of the day. In this class, jet skiers can put any kind of motor in any boat hull that may give them an advantage. Soon the flag comes down, the starting line snaps, and the racers go full speed ahead.
“On #658 is our very own Ski’n Ian Roberts!” says the announcer.
However, before they make it to the first buoy, the announcer blows a whistle and waves a red flag.
John throws his hands up in frustration and exclaims, “Ian finally got the lead!” At first it seems like someone jumped the gate for the false start, but it could’ve been a malfunction. Fortunately when the riders line up again and the starting line snaps, Ian gets the full shot in a legitimate start. He completes his first lap with a substantial lead over the others using moves that appear calculated and controlled as he speeds through the buoys.
“Local Sparks Nevada boy making it look good out there today,” the announcer says.
About five buoys ahead and the wind picking up, Ian whips around a buoy and goes down on the left side of the track. He falls behind into last place without enough time to regain the lead.
“The Sparks curse comes back,” John says about the world-class racer’s ability to win at his hometown lake. “He charged the turn too hard with the wind.”
The race lasted about 10 minutes long and afterwards Ian says, “I was full throttle and spun out. I had a good lead and got overconfident”. However, he looks at this race as training for the end of the year championships, so he isn’t too hard on himself.
Since it’s such a physical sport, he has to train every day to stay in race shape at that on a track, Ian says he goes about 55 mph. At a certain point the ski is hard to hold on to when it’s going too fast. Ian competes in about 10 races per year and has done about 150 events.
His main sponsors that make it all possible in keeping him at the top of his game include Kommander Industries, Liquid Militia, and Fly Racing.
“Without a motor builder I wouldn’t be able to win the hull shot,” he says about his support from Kommander. “We go camping with the Liquid Militia family and they always make it fun. With Fly Racing I always liked their gear and bought it before I even started racing.”
Although Ian has had trouble clinching first place at the Sparks Marina, he does regard it as one of the best venues for Jet Ski racing.
“The beach is super clean, it has easy access, good spectator views from anywhere, and it’s a big, nice lake. The only bad part is the elevation because it requires tuning your boat to optimize performance at 4800 feet,” he says.
In the final race, Ian took first in the JetJam, putting him in second place overall. David Redinger from Washington State took first and Pete Zurnick was in third. The racers will be back at the Sparks Marina for a Jet Ski watercross, a pro national tour stop, in a couple of weeks.