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Everyone can enjoy personal watercraft races at Llano Rock’n Riverfest

Jet Ski races at Llano Rock'n Riverfest

The Llano Rock’n Riverfest includes personal watercraft races for the enjoyment of spectators and beginner to professional racers. Courtesy photo

You don’t have to know much about personal watercraft racing to enjoy it, either as a spectator or a participant, but a racer education class is a good idea before getting your feet wet, said Justin Smith, director of the Jet Ski races taking place during the Llano Rock’n Riverfest over the Fourth of July weekend.

“It’s a very action-packed and family-friendly sport,” he said. “As for spectators, you don’t really have to understand racing to enjoy it, just come out and watch it.”

For racers and fans old and new, the Jettribe Texas WaterX tour will stop at Badu Park for the second leg of its series during Llano’s Independence Day celebration, which is Friday-Sunday, July 2-4. Nautiwater Racing is the race organizer. 

Races will be on a closed course on the Llano River at the park, 300 Legion Drive. Racers will compete in classes based on several criteria, including age, experience, and type of watercraft.

Smith quickly explained the event: Participants start out in a group within their class and race to a “decision-making buoy,” where they choose the left or right slalom sections, which are near the shore of spectators. The slalom sections then merge as the racers continue to the finish line.

Depending on class, a personal watercraft can reach up to 80 mph for runabout, or “sit-down,” races or up to 70 mph for “standup” races, but speed isn’t always an advantage.

“This course is a tight course with lots of hard turns to it,” Smith said. “So, it’s really about how well the racers can handle the turns.”

The Llano Rock’n Riverfest races are drawing personal watercraft riders from around the world. Smith said five or six of the top pro-level racers and another five or six of the top amateur-level racers in the world should be at the event along with a number of regionally and nationally ranked competitors.

“It will be an extremely strong field,” he said.

But you don’t need years of experience to compete, Smith said, just a factory-equipped watercraft, a little knowledge, and safety equipment. 

“Basically, all they need is a (U.S. Department of Transportation-certified) helmet, a (U.S. Coast Guard-approved) life jacket, and a lanyard (kill cord),” Smith said. 

Nautiwater Racing is holding a series of free racing clinics at the course on Friday for those new to the sport. A junior riding clinic for youths is at 3 p.m. followed by a runabout clinic and racer orientation at 4:30 p.m. The course opens for training and practice at 6 p.m.

New racers won’t be placed in classes with the pros but among their own age groups and skill levels. Once they gain success and experience, Smith can adjust their classification.

“I’ll find a place for anyone who wants to give this a shot,” he said. “Age really isn’t a factor, either. I have racers all the way up to 74.”

Racing starts at noon Saturday after rider check-in, orientation, and a racer meeting. The competition resumes at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Fees are $65 for all amateur classes, $100 for pro-am classes, and $65 for juniors (10-15 years) and beginners. The city of Llano and Rock’n Riverfest organizers will collect a one-time $10 ramp fee from each racer.

Spectators can watch for free.

The Fourth of July festival offers a number of other activities, including fireworks shows on Saturday and Sunday nights. Visit the event’s website for a full schedule.

For more racing information, visit Jettribe Texas WaterX’s Rock’n Riverfest webpage or email Smith at justinsmith3h@gmail.com.

And for other patriotic events across the HighlandLakes, visit the Fourth of July Guide at 101HighlandLakes.com.

daniel@thepicayune.com