Professional jet ski racers, freestyle acrobats set to put on a show at Clinton Lake this weekend

photo by: Submitted/Nathan Haig

Gabe Jukish flips his jet ski as part of a freestyle event at the World Finals at Lake Havasu, Arizona. Gabe and his brother Nolan will be doing a freestyle exhibition at Clinton Lake July 16-17, 2022.

It is like dirt bike racing without the dirt. And it is working on becoming an annual spectacle at Clinton Lake just outside of Lawrence.

It is jet ski racing, and upward of 30 professional racers from as far away as Australia are scheduled to be at Clinton Lake this weekend to compete. More than twice that many amateur racers also are expected to be competing.

“It is an extreme adrenaline rush,” said Nathan Haig, a Lawrence resident and amateur racer who also is serving as the lead organizer for the event, which is part of the Jettribe Mid-America Watercross Championship series.

Haig said the racing really is similar to Motocross racing, except on jet skis. A group of 16 riders, separated by skill level and the horsepower of their machines, run laps around a course. That means there is side-by-side racing and the occasional bumping, with speeds sometimes reaching 90 mph.

“We all start at the same time and we are all going towards the same area,” Haig said of the beginning of a race. “When you get into that first turning area at 70 miles per hour, you have to have a lot of faith that the person next to you can hold their jet ski as well as you can.”

This isn’t the first year the jet ski competition has come to Clinton. Since 2018, the racing series has tried to make Clinton a regular stop on the circuit, but a flood in 2019 canceled the event and COVID in 2020 derailed the racing.

This year, Haig has worked to make the event more spectator friendly. For the first time, the event is setting aside a two-hour period where only the professional racers will be competing. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, the professional racers will take the course. Haig is encouraging area residents to come out during that time to see the top racers in the sport.

The course is near Boat Ramp No. 1 at Clinton Lake State Park. If you know where Clinton Lake Marina is, Boat Ramp No. 1 is the first boat ramp you come to as you travel down the road to the marina. There is no admission fee to attend the race, but motorists will need a permit to enter the state park. Day permits are $5 per vehicle.

Parking won’t be available at Boat Ramp No. 1 — those spaces will serve as the pit area for the race teams — but visitors can park at the marina parking lots or elsewhere in the state park.

The event also will have a food truck, and Boulevard Brewery will be on hand giving out free merchandise.

In addition to the professional racing during the 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. period on Saturday and Sunday, there will be a brief exhibition of freestyle jet ski tricks. That involves a couple of freestyle professionals from Minnesota doing multiple backflips, rolls and other maneuvers, often soaring about 10 feet above the water.

photo by: Submitted /Nathan Haig

Nathan Haig races on his 00 jet ski at the World Finals in Naples, Florida. Haig, a Lawrence resident, is the organizer of jet ski races that will be held at Clinton Lake July 16-17, 2022.

Haig also encourages spectators to walk through the parking lot area and visit with racers and their teams in their pit stalls. It is a chance to see some pretty expensive jet skis. At the upper levels, many of the jet skis cost $35,000 or more, Haig said.

As for Haig, he’s been around the sport for a long time. His father, Richard Haig — the owner of the full-service Westside 66 gas station on Sixth Street — has been a racer in the sport for a few years, but has been a mechanic in the sport for decades. He even was the builder of a jet ski that won a world championship several years ago, Nathan said.

Nathan said he’s personally not a world championship caliber racer, but he’s near the top of the standings in having fun at every race. He said going through the work to host the event at Clinton Lake is another way to show off the lake to Lawrence residents who sometimes forget about the approximately 7,000-acre body of water that is just minutes west of Lawrence.

But he sees signs of that changing.

“I have seen a huge increase in lake traffic ever since COVID hit,” said Nathan, who noted that he’s at Clinton pretty much every summer weekend, unless he’s racing on the circuit in places such as Texas and Tennessee. “It has been a lot busier out here since COVID. People want to be outdoors.”

As we reported back in January, the lake also gained a couple of new promoters. Peter Meiusi and Erin Carbrey bought the marina from longtime owner/operator Megan Hiebert, who is Carbrey’s aunt.

In that article, I mentioned how the new owners hoped to start hosting community events at the marina. That indeed has started happening. The marina hosted a “Float Local Friday” event shoreside at the marina on July 1. That event featured live music, a food truck, a beer garden and even a portable miniature golf course. I was out at the event and can attest that there was a big crowd, both on shore and a fair number of boaters who anchored offshore as well. (I can also attest that even in mini-golf I’m prone to lose a ball in the water.)

I checked in briefly with the marina, and a staff member there told me two more events are scheduled for this summer, one on Aug. 5 and another on Sept. 2. So, keep an eye out for those events, and also for signs that Clinton Lake is trying to take its place as a more prominent Lawrence attraction.


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