A year and a half ago, Manny Valdes invited his buddy Joey Mastrapa to ride his water bike. That one ride was all it took —Mastrapa was hooked.
Little by little, Valdes and Mastrapa saved their money from their full-time day jobs for parts, buying them when they could.
When the pair showed up to the RIVA Racing Hydro Drag Event in Polk City in Central Florida two weeks ago to race the 660-foot course, no one knew who they were.
In Hydro Drag competition, seniority from previous events rules, and the rookie from Palmetto Bay rode first. When he posted a world-record breaking speed of 101.7 mph, everyone was in disbelief — even the duo that created the winning vessel.
“When we put the number down, I’ll never forget, the announcer was like, ‘What shop are you guys with?’ and we said, ‘Oh, no shop. We work out of a garage’ ,” Mastrapa said.
“I told him, ‘You don’t understand, it’s a two-car garage in front of a house.’ ”
Mike Young is the owner and promoter of the Pro Hydro-X tour. Now a storied announcer, he has been involved in watersports since moving to Florida from Ohio in 1993.
“I have never seen anything like what I saw (in Polk City),” he said. “It seemed like the personal watercraft was hitting the water every 20 feet. It was ridiculous.”
Hydro Drag is in its infancy. The launch pads to send the jet-skis flying exist in two places — Polk City, and the original one in Oman. Young describes it as drag racing on the water. The sport has been sanctioned by the International Jet Sports Boating Association for the last three years.
“This is one of the cheapest forms of motorsports that you can actually get in the gate, and you’re going to see professional athletes,” he said of the event.
“Not only are you going to see them, but you’re actually going to be able to talk to them. It’s not like being in a NASCAR crowd, or a Formula 1 crowd where it takes an act of God to get down into the pits.”
Young hopes to have the national tour planned out for next season, with the World Championships remaining in Polk City. He says that there are already athletes claiming speeds of up to 105 mph, considerably more than the previous mark set at 100.3 mph before Mastrapa took the course.
“On the ski, you have to be so focused. You’re not thinking about anything else but the pass you’re about to make,” Mastrapa said of his record-breaking run. “Once you hit the throttle, there’s nothing else you can do. You have to hold on and hope nothing goes wrong.”
For the 29-year old, the experience was surreal. It’s one that he’s not sure he’ll revisit despite the confidence he and Valdes have in the craft.
“I’m not scared of the ski, but I’d never seen myself on it. I’m always driving it, and Manny’s helping me tune it and holding the radar gun,” Mastrapa said.
“When I got home and saw the videos people were sending me and saw how fast I was going, it was just like ‘wow!’ ”
Young stands by the growth of the sport, noting there were nearly 4,000 people in attendance for the championships.
“It was so awesome. You’ve got guys that race the national tour who have factory support, and there’s a guy that just spends his own wrenches in the garage,” the veteran promoter said. “He came out and made a statement. He’s going to have a bullseye on his back next year.”
“I’d love to go next year,” Mastrapa said. “But if I’m talking to you from a wheelchair, it wouldn’t be very fun.”