The eighth annual U.S. Open of Watercross recently finished stops in Florida and Louisiana on its coast-to-coast tour and officials of the tour say the Sparks Marina event was expected to draw “one of the largest gatherings of competitors in the country.” While riders from Australia, Kuwait and Indonesia will be making the trek to the Rail City, local riders were excited to see the event return to the Marina for another championship tour run.
"Last year was the first year so it was a struggle making sure people knew about it," Sparks Special Events Director Francine Burge said Monday afternoon. "This year we had twice as many riders and I think the audience grew two or three times the size of last year. Even with the heat, it was really well attended."
Sparks resident and jet ski racing veteran Ian Roberts said the Sparks Marina is a premier locale for competitive watercraft racing, which Roberts has spent 10 years doing on the West Coast.
“I think it is one of the top venues I have been to,” Roberts said. “It was really clean. It was easy to get in and out. There was a pretty good amount of parking and this time of year, the weather is usually pretty nice.”
Roberts, like all riders in the U.S. Open of Watercross tour, got his first taste of the venue last year. Roberts said, prior to the event, bigger crowds and more competitors were likely to bring an even bigger draw this year.
Veteran riders were not the only ones looking forward to shredding the Sparks course. Local rider Bibi Carmouche was inspired to join the tour circuit after her first Sparks race one year ago. She spent the past year traveling to various tour stops, while juggling courses at Truckee Meadows Community College, gaining even more experience in the sport.
“Saturday and Sunday kind of goes by really quickly,” she said. “You have to be on your toes and know exactly what is going on. I remember my very first Sparks race. I had no idea I was even up next and all of the sudden they are calling my name to the starting line and my jet ski wasn’t even in the water. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
“My favorite part is definitely having all the friends and family members around because the races in Louisiana and not knowing as many people it is not as fun, but here there will be a few fans to cheer me on so that will be fun.”
Carmouche said she was excited to bring a female presence to jet ski racing, saying “If (men) can do it, I can do it.” She said taking jet skiing from a leisurely lake activity to a competition atmosphere is something she plans to continue pursuing for years to come.
“I am really competitive and I love that adrenaline rush before the start of the race sitting on the line waiting,” Carmouche said. “I love the competition aspect of it. I still enjoy going to the lake, but there is no feeling like waiting on the starting line and waiting for the gun to snap.
“I definitely think that the Sparks race, out of all the tour stops right now, was the best event. The spot is really great and I know so many people enjoyed it. So I think it is going to draw the most crowd out of all the other tour stops lately and I am really excited to see how many people show up.”
Burge said the City of Sparks Parks and Recreation Department does not currently have a contract with the U.S. Open of Watercross because the event is largely funded through the Tourism and Marketing Committee, which disperses money on a yearly basis. Burge said she hopes the event will continue to return.
"We don't currently have a contract with them, but I know they would be interesting in signing one," she said. "We are happy to have them as long as they will come. This event has fit in wonderfully with what he had hoped for the Marina. It has become a nice venue for big events like this."
Burge said talks to continue improving the event have already begun. She said the event is likely to always be held on the weekend of the Reno Rodeo, which has launched some brainstorming within the department on how to cross promote the events, sending visitors out to the Sparks Marina during the day.
Roberts said those who haven’t experienced the sport in person have yet to understand the fun behind the competition.
“It’s not too crazy,” Roberts said of the event. “We are all out there just to have fun so there is a lot of kidding around and camaraderie. People don’t necessarily see each other all the time. So a lot of people catch up and a lot of people are out there getting ready because it is a lot of work.
“I think it is the people that makes it so enjoyable. It is very competitive but they are still your friends and it is not cut-throat. You can still go out there with somebody, and if they beat you, you are happy for them because it was a good race.”