Twenty-five riders descend on South Beach for what may become an annual event
Jet skis rocketed through the air from morning until evening Saturday and Sunday in the first-ever Crescent City Freeride. The unofficial event brought out 25 jet skis.
Many local riders joined professional and amateur riders on the waves, learning tips and tricks from some of the best around.
“There are guys from Washington, Idaho, California and all over Oregon that have come down for this,” said pro rider Pete McCafee, 31, of Medford.
Leaving river, lake behind
McCafee was one of the top riders at the event.
On the surf, he stood out with some of the biggest air, flips and rolls of the weekend. He was also intent on helping to teach tricks to anyone who wanted to learn — helping Stuart Allison land his first-ever backflip on Saturday.
The Odessa, Texas, native grew up riding dirt bikes and motorbikes, but never competitively. When he moved to Medford in 2009, he decided to try out jet skis.
“Hoping on a jet ski felt like the closest thing on the water to jumping on a dirt bike,” McCafee said. “That made it an easy transition into this sport.”
He learned to love jet skiing on the lakes and rivers of Oregon. After seeing the Surf Slam competition in Pacific City, Ore., however, McCafee knew he had to give it a shot in the ocean.
“I remember thinking that I was pretty good on the lake and thinking that I was in pretty good physical shape.,” McCafee recalls. “Then I came out here and within about five minutes I was on the beach throwing up. It absolutely kicked my butt.”
After McCafee recovered from the initial shock of ocean jet skiing, he quickly fell in love.
“I can’t ride the lake or river anymore because it is boring,” he said. “Out here, you have constant action, there is always a wave to hit, it is just a lot of fun.”
After a couple years riding in amateur competitions, McCafee is preparing to make the leap to professional jet ski riding with the International Freestyle Watercraft Association.
“I am just getting started,” McCafee said of his pro career. “This is really my pro debut this year. I just want to kind of see how it goes and where my sponsorship takes me. But I am thinking that you will probably see me at a couple stops on the World Tour this next season. It is looking pretty promising.”
McCafee is currently sponsored by Blowsion, Cold Fusion, Champion Timepieces, Salty Investments and Fiber lay.
Lost leg not an obstacle
“People always ask me if I ever see sharks out here. I always tell them, ‘Just the one that got my leg,’” McCafee said with a laugh, before clarifying that he was joking.
It was in fact genes, not a shark, that eventually claimed McCafee’s leg. Rather than viewing the situation as an obstacle that he has had to overcome, however, it has just become a part of who he is.
“It is something that I have dealt with for pretty much my whole life,” McCafee said. “I had a birth defect ... I had a built-up platform that I walked on, I had some injuries and I had an amputation. It is just something that I have learned to deal with. It is just a part of me. I wouldn’t even know what to do with a real leg anymore. It feels so natural out there.”
‘Laid back and cool’
It was the adrenaline-inducing nature of jet skiing on the ocean that got him hooked, but it was the nature of the people involved with the sport that kept McCafee coming back.
“Jet skiing is fun, but really, it is the people in the sport that make it great,” McCafee said. “Everyone is really laid back and cool with everyone.”
Not all sports are that way — especially motor sports.
Garrison Gregg, from Grants Pass, raced motorcycles until he was 17. Since making the switch to become an amateur jet ski rider, Gregg has been amazed at how helpful everyone in the sport has been.
“In motocross, everybody hides in their trailer,” Gregg said. “They hide their bikes and keep all these secrets. Out here everybody is accepting. They will just tell you what they have got. They will tell you what works best for what.”
Sharing space with surfers
There is a storied rivalry between jet skiers and surfers as both groups battle for the best waves along the coast, but in Crescent City that battle is less pronounced.
McCafee and Gregg both said that it is rare to see another jet ski on South Beach when they come down, though surfers are fairly common.
McCafee said that after three years of coming to South Beach, he has met and gets along with most of the local surfers.
“It is a great beach,” McCafee said. “The surfers are actually very accepting on this beach compared to other places. I just try to give them plenty of space. Obviously I have a motor so it is easier for me to find another break. It is more difficult for those guys. So I try to be very passive with them and let them hold wherever the break is.”
Over the weekend, there were a lot more jet skis on the beach than usual, but they were still able to share the waves with the surfers. The Freeride took place in front a 200-foot stretch of beach and was generally confined to two riders at a time.
“I think it is just kind of a shocking thing to see this many jet skis at one time on this beach,” McCafee said. “It is a little bit overwhelming, but I am hoping that we can be nice, get along with everybody, and see if we can make this thing happen once a year.”