By Jane Peel
As the 2022 Waterski Pro Tour nears its end game, the MasterCraft Pro held at Ski Fluid in Florida for a third consecutive year gave us what we have come to expect: big scores, personal and season’s bests, and some outstandingly spectacular crashes.
The Canadians almost swept the board, winning three of the four events – including both men’s and women’s jump - and taking second place in two.
The format for the competition was slightly different from previous competitions. In slalom there was one preliminary round, a semi-final and a final.
In the men’s event, with 18 starters, 15 went through to the semi and from there 9 to the final, including the under-17 world record holder, Canada’s Charlie Ross, competing in his first pro final. Nate Smith was a notable absence. The American, who has won every competition he’s contested this year, had to settle for a role as expert pundit on the TWBC webcast. He’s been sidelined by an ankle injury which means he’ll also miss the next two Waterski Pro Tour competitions.
Great Britain had the biggest representation in the final with slalom specialists Freddie Winter and Will Asher joined by the Overall World Champion and record holder, Joel Poland. Freddie had just scraped through as 8th seed but pulled it out of the bag to take the win by a quarter buoy with 3.25 @ 10.25m (41’ off), hanging on in true Freddie-style to get round buoy 4 before crashing out dramatically and ripping his favourite shorts in the process. Both Canada’s Cole McCormick and Will Asher were just behind with 3 @ 10.25m but Cole took second ahead of Will as a result of his higher score in the semi-final.
In the women’s slalom, 14 skiers were reduced to 10 for the semi-final and then 6 for the final with family faces as the top 3 seeds. The defending champion, Regina Jaquess (USA), unencumbered by the knee brace she’d been wearing since rupturing her ACL, looked to be the odds-on favourite to defend her title, going into the final as top seed with a big score of 2 @ 10.25m while neither of her two closest rivals, Whitney McClintock Rini and Jaimee Bull could get through the 10.75m (39.5’ off) line. The Canadian pair, however, set the standard in the final, both getting 1 @ 10.25m. Out last, Regina crashed big attempting to run 10.75m, scoring 5.25 buoys to finish third. Jaimee and Whitney faced a run-off to decide the winner with Jaimee coping better with the tailwind, scoring 3 @ 10.75m to Whitney’s 1.5.
The MasterCraft Pro was the third and penultimate jump competition of the 2022 Waterski Pro Tour and it lived up to its reputation for producing big scores.
In the women’s event, there were only five competitors so all went through to the final. Canada’s Taryn Grant followed up her personal best distance of 54.1 metres (177ft) in the preliminary round with three consistent jumps in the final, the longest of which - 53.6m (176ft) - guaranteed her at least second place with the top seed, Hanna Straltsova (IWWF) left to jump. Hanna had gone 55.7m (183ft) in the first round but couldn’t match that and her best jump of 51.9m (170ft) was only enough for third, handing a delighted Taryn her first pro win. Sasha Danisheuskaya (IWWF) was second, just 10cm ahead of Hanna with 52m (171ft).
In the men’s jump, the top four of the nine starters went straight to the 6-man final while the rest went through a last chance qualifying round to decide who would take the last two spots. It was no surprise to see jump legends, Canada’s Ryan Dodd and the USA’s Freddy Krueger, go straight through as the top two seeds, both launching themselves beyond 70 metres. The other automatic qualifiers were Dorien Llewellyn (CAN) and Jack Critchley (GBR). Joel Poland (GBR) and Emile Ritter (Chile) came through the LCQ.
In pretty much perfect jumping conditions, the final was a masterclass, with no one landing less than 65m (213ft). The Masters Champion, Joel Poland equalled his season’s best with 68.7m (225ft) but that was only good enough to finish third. Second seed and defending champion Freddy Krueger again flew over 70m in his first attempt at the ramp, upping that to 71.1m (233ft) with his second. Could the World Champion and world record holder beat it? Oh yes, he could, and Ryan Dodd needed just one jump to do it – a massive 73.2m (240ft). It was his biggest of the year and equalled the course record. What a way to end the 2022 MasterCraft Pro!