Learning from Legends: Finding the Vintage Jetski Riding Style that Works for You
By Michael LaBattaglia
Let’s talk jetski riding styles... Modern riders of vintage jetskis have available to them a variety of aftermarket handling components to mimic the performance of modern hulls. In the early days of the sport, however, few parts existed to improve the handling of these squirrely machines.
Vintage racers developed riding techniques to achieve the handling necessary to maneuver a slalom track or a closed course. Fortunately for new school vintage purists and stock-hull beginners, classic race footage is available on social media to help us learn from these legends. This article discusses some of those classic techniques and the racing legends that made them famous.
Leg Drag Turn
The leg drag involves stepping one foot out of the tray and dragging it through the water on the inside of the turn. The leg in the water acts as a brake and helps to turn the jet ski. David Gordon leg-dragged his way to the hole shot in the pro superstock race at the 1986 World Finals. Scott Watkins famously introduced the leg-drag on both his right and left turns to upset Gordon in the World Finals slalom competition that same year. In fact, many vintage racers used this move. But it is Victor Sheldon that perfected this style throughout his career, and can even be seen using this vintage move as a stunt rider in Larry Rippenkroeger’s Hot Water movie. The leg drag is great for sweeping turns at wide-open throttle.
The body turn involves throwing the backside of the jetski rider's body into the water on the inside of the turn. The body acts as a pivot point and allows the jet ski to turn sharply around it. Centrifugal force sends the rider upright back into the tray when exiting the turn. Pioneers of the body turn include Larry Rippenkroeger, Harry Goatcher, and of course, Jeff Jacobs. The body turn is quick to set up and offers the advantage of allowing the rider to keep both feet in the tray.
Switch Stance Turn
Switching foot position while setting up for a turn is now common in modern day stand up racing. Most modern riders set up with their forward foot the same as the direction of the turn. Wider trays and modern hulls accommodate this technique and allow riders to lean hard into turns without dipping into the water. This style is less intuitive on the skinny hulls and narrow trays of vintage jet skis. However, Australian champion Todd Ross placed third in the 1991 World Finals slalom using this style, besting Sheldon, Goatcher, and Watkins. This technique is great for riders already comfortable switching their stance from riding larger hulls.
Wide Open Straightaways
Much of this article discusses turning, but anyone who has ridden a stock vintage jet ski knows they can be tricky even on wide open straightaways. On starts, vintage racers would first get their weight forward to plane out quickly, then shift weight back slightly to get the nose out of the water for more top-end speed. From that point, it’s all about finding the sweet spot in the tray—and that will differ based on each rider’s body size and engine horsepower. Most riders find that shifting weight forward in the tray keeps the nose from bouncing up and down on straight line runs.
Jetski Riding Conclusion
Vintage racers didn’t limit themselves to a single technique, and neither should you. For example, Sheldon and Chris Fischetti commonly leg dragged one direction and body turned the other. Importantly, this article is not knocking the modern handling add-ons. But there is something to be said about building good fundamentals on a stock hull before adding a ton of aftermarket handling components. And, experimenting and finding the style that works for you is half the fun.
About the author:
Michael LaBattaglia is an avid stand up jet ski rider, enthusiast, and historian of all things vintage jet ski. Follow him on Instagram @mikelabjetskier.
Photo credits: VJS Originals