For the first 19 years of its existence the California Pro-Am, the longest running stop on the Tour, was a slalom tournament. Over the years the event showcased slalom skiing in all its forms: pro men’s, pro women’s, senior men’s (under the banner of the now defunct “Big Dawg” series) and even, for a year or two, a ‘Legends’ division at the interim speed of 35mph. Happily however, for last years 20th edition of the California Pro-Am the door was opened to a new discipline of waterskiing: jump. And thank goodness: this year the jumping had a strong argument for eclipsing the long-standing slalom event.
For the first time in living memory three skiers went over 230ft (70.1m) in one round as young gun Joel Poland’s personal best of 235ft was eclipsed by uber veteran Freddy Krueger’s 237ft in the preliminary round. Ryan Dodd, the dominant force in men’s jump for the last few years, joined the party with 230ft. Incredibly scenes that demonstrated that the inarguable top three in men’s jump could really end up in any order. The final proved this point as Freddy Krueger fell less than a foot short of Ryan Dodd’s 234ft with Poland not quite reaching his qualifying heights with a still respectable 229ft. Dodd took his first win on the Tour for the year with his first entry but Krueger remains at the summit of the John K Philips Leaderboard by virtue of his wins at LA Night Jam and King of Darkness earlier this season. With two jump events still to come before the Tour wraps up for 2023 and a field of such highly competitive jumpers, it’s anyone’s guess who will end up on top.
Despite an injury ravaged field, the women’s jump side managed to produce a big spectacle. Hanna Straltsova, rectified her season after some uncharacteristically poor showings at two Tour events earlier this year with pure dominance throughout. She finished with a 188ft (57.3m) jump in the final, beating the next best competitor by 21 feet. She will be the one to beat later this year. All bets are on her leaving her early season wobbles well behind her as the season concludes.
Amongst all the excitement for the jump event, the slalom didn’t disappoint. Regina Jaquess dominated throughout, qualifying as the only woman to make it through 39.5ft off (10.75m). Indeed as she beat Jaimee Bull in the final it looked like she would go deep at 41off, even behind a boat she is not endorsed by. Her starts at that line length are back, as seems to be her hunger to get to the hard end of 41off in pro events. Whitney McClintock-Rini was perhaps the biggest upset of the event as she lost to Allie Nicholson in the quarter-final round, finishing 5th. This was her first finish below 2nd in six events in a year in which she has shows incredible consistency. With her 2nd place Jaimee Bull moved back above Whitney to top spot on the Klipsch Audio Leaderboard. Jaquess though, having missed the point rich european segment of the Tour, will be charging back up across the next three events.
Once again the men’s event produced the increasingly frequent occurrence of a skier missing the final with 3@41ft off (10.25m), something that was unprecedented even two years ago. Joel Poland was the unlucky fellow on this occasion, losing a run off after scoring 3 and 2.5 across the qualifying rounds. Eventually Nate Smith regained his title from last year in a win against Freddie Winter in the final. Smith increases his fairly slender lead atop the Klipsch Audio Leaderboard but Winter managed to claw two points back by taking best score of the event.
So the dominant skiers in each division took the titles at the 2023 California Pro-Am but as we saw, this was not the whole story. The next event is the Mastercraft Pro at the end of next week, followed closely by Malibu Open and then the slalom only Travers Grand Prix the following two weeks. It really is all to play for as the Waterski Pro Tour reaches its conclusion for 2023.