Smith brothers making waves in competitive jet ski racing

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By Keith Sparks

While most of us are anxiously awaiting cooler fall weather, two Liberty Hill residents are squeezing out the last remaining bits of lake-friendly weather by competing in jet ski races on the country’s largest stage.

15-year-old Haigen Smith and his 10-year-old brother, Hendrix, just returned from Arizona’s Lake Havasu, where both competed in the IJSBA International Jet Ski World Finals that included riders from 36 different countries.

After dominating local races over the summer, the Smith brothers walked away as regional champions before heading to Kansas, where they each took first-place finishes once again. Haigen competed in four different classes, taking first in the junior class, stock class, amateur class, and pro class, while Hendrix finished first in the 10-12 division.

Riding amongst the best amateur riders in the world in Lake Havasu over the weekend, Haigen took 10th in the amateur ski lites class and fifth in the junior ski stock class, while Hendrix took 13th in the younger junior ski lites class as the only 10-year old to qualify.

Many Central Texans have had the opportunity to ride a jet ski, but for the Smith brothers, jet skiing quickly became more of a passion than a weekend hobby.

“I used to race BMX for a really long time, and my dad used to race stand-ups (jet skis), so I grew up around them,” Haigen said. “I think I was 13 when I begged my dad to buy me a stand-up, an older one, so we bought one and found out they had racing here in Texas again.”

Given the age and condition of his first stand-up jet ski, Haigen’s first racing experience didn’t go particularly well. Shortly thereafter, however, Haigen had an opportunity to borrow a higher-quality jet ski, allowing him to compete amongst the best. From there, the rest was history.

Hendrix took a similar route, following in his brother and their father, Justin’s, footsteps. At just eight years old, Hendrix began to race stand-up jet skis with his brother, albeit recreationally until he reached the age limit.

“I always rode jet skis with my dad, but when I turned eight, my dad taught me to ride stand-up by myself,” Hendrix said. “For a while, I just rode with my brother on the lake with the older stand-up that my brother told you about. When my brother started racing, I wasn’t old enough at the time, because you have to be 10 to race, but I started just riding after the races and thought, ‘Wow, this is a lot of fun.’ This year, I was able to start racing.”

Both Haigen and Hendrix spend a lot of time training, during which they’ll set up a makeshift course with buoys to work on taking turns and dealing with rough water conditions on Lake Travis, Lake Buchanan, or their favorite private pond in Conroe.

“Usually, we’ll go to this private pond out in Conroe and we’ll set up buoys,” Haigen said. “A lot of times, we’ll go out to Lake Travis with our mechanic and set up buoys and just ride. We’ll do things like riding behind him, because it’s always harder to ride behind somebody when you have wash coming from the other jet ski that you have to ride in. Then we’ll run our own motos for 10-12 minutes, just riding as hard as we can, because one of the most important things in jet ski racing is your endurance.”

Hendrix said he owes a lot of his racing abilities to his older brother, who helps him train as often as possible.

“I train a lot with my brother, who helps me out a lot,” Hendrix said. “When I’m watching my brother’s races, I’m mostly videoing him, because I love to go back and watch his videos to see how he takes a buoy, see when he lets off and when he gets back on the gas again. I love to watch him.”

In the World Finals, Hendrix was the only 10-year old to qualify for his division. Although it was a valuable experience for him, Hendrix admitted that racing against a bunch of 12-year olds was tough.

“It’s a pretty big disadvantage, because a lot of them have more experience, more riding time than me, but it was also fun being the youngest kid out there competing with the older kids and getting that experience,” Hendrix said.

In order to compete at the highest level, Haigen said his focus will be on getting stronger, improving his endurance, and becoming more comfortable on rough water.

“Training is really just the big one, building my body better,” Haigen said. “There’s always somewhere where I can improve. My endurance is pretty good, but I can always get a little bit more, and really just riding in rough water, which, unfortunately there’s no way I can train for that besides being out on the jet ski in rough water. That’s one of the big ones, because a lot of the races in Texas have smooth water, but when you get to the World Finals, it’s super rough. If you can’t handle rough water, you’ll never do well there.”

The Smith brothers may compete one more time in November before taking a break for the winter, after which they’ll continue to train until the season picks back up in the spring.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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