At Flight Worlds 2000 I was still the one to beat in Tricks, but Free Ride and Big Air were up for grabs.
For me, the year 2000 was the peak of my involvement with hydrofoiling. My Flight World Newsletter and mail order business was generating enough money to make it worthwhile, and I was riding better than ever. Other riders were too; notably Damon Moore and Geno Yauchler.
The showdown was at the Flight Worlds 2000 at Lake Elsinore, CA. My business partner Chuck Sacks and I decided to put on an extreme event that would feature the hydrofoiling worlds, freestyle motocross (FMX), an extreme stunt show, a wakeboarding invitational competition, and a sick trick contest. It was a massive undertaking.
Foiling’s biggest event to date, as seen on ESPN. (P Kingman, 2000)
Flight Worlds 2000 Intro on ESPN
More that 130 riders from 5 countries attended, lured by the sheer size of the event and the $20,000 in cash and prizes. Our idea was to place foiling side by side with other big extreme sports to give it an equal footing. Our biggest draw was the FMX demonstrations put on by Brian Deegan and his Metal Mulisha crew of riders. Hiring the Metal Mulisha helped us get a nice sponsorship with Fox motorsports. It was an unbelievable amount of work to get the track in shape for FMX. Dump trucks ran back and forth with dirt, and a bulldozer spent hours getting everything just right. It was the era just before the back flip, but nevertheless the boys impressed the crowd of nearly 20,000 over the weekend. Unfortunately Deegan had an altercation on Saturday night before the Sunday finals and was unavailable to ride the next day. The biggest disappointment was not having him for the ESPN coverage.
Brian Deegan at the Flight Worlds 200 site (P Kingman, 2000)
Chuck and I got a lesson in how to get an event on TV. Very simply, if you have an event that is “worthy” you just pay for the coverage. In our case that was the cool sum of 25 grand. For that fee a production crew came in to do the show, and we were guaranteed two half-hour time slots on ESPN2. With TV in our pocket it was a lot easier to get sponsors and generate interest in the event. But still, the $25,000 was a large amount of money to offset with sponsors.
The X-Show was one of the craziest events I have ever seen, and I was the one who masterminded the project! My basic idea was to pack the most extreme stuff we could find into one half hour show. I organized most of the main events, then passed the torch to my Aussie friend Peter Nelson to fine tune the details and run the show. It all started out with the Air Blades skydiving team and their undersized parachutes. Their show featured high-speed landings close to shore. The team set up a “runway” on the water with 20-foot tall flags on buoys. The guys came screaming down nearly straight down, then flared out their chutes at the last second. They skimmed for nearly a hundred feet at just inches over the water. It was pure adrenaline as each rider had his shot at the colorful course.
Another high-flying act was the Aero Events stunt hang gliding team. They used an ultralight powered “tug” to tow their gliders aloft. At just the right time they released into free flight a couple of thousand feet above the show site. The two pilots performed a series of death defying loops and spins. The sickest move of the day was performed by the world champ Mitch McCaller who completed his first back loop about twenty feet above the water. To the delight and disbelief of the crowd he went into another even tighter back loop and came out of it with his right wing just inches above the water. It was one of the wildest stunts of the weekend and the crowd went nuts.
Hang Glider Double Back Loop with Inches to Spare: Mitch McAller
Kenny Richards was our guy on fire, literally. He lit the crowd up by setting himself ablaze and launching his stand up Jet Ski off the jump ramp. He landed into a submarine to douse the flames. Another crazy Jet Skier, Chris Hagest, went for a distance record, jumping well over 80 feet off the ramp. The X-show lived up to every expectation and fully delivered on its promise of “30 minutes of pulse pounding action.”
The X-Show @ Flight Worlds 2000
Tommy Phillips came out from Denver to announce the show as a favor to Mike and me. What a great character to keep the crowd entertained and informed! In another unforgettable call from Tommy, Charlie Saunders went for a couple of speed ski passes at around 65-75 mph. In the end Tommy had him topping out his run at over 100 mph, and we all believed every second of it.
There were other exhibitions from hot dog slalom skier Roger Crocker, Jake Kinnison on his air board, and Billy Rossini charging it hard on a kneeboard. Even grandma Murphy at 83 years old, took an inspirational pass on her Sky Ski that wetted a few eyes. Ivan Honkala, at just four years old, represented the youth when he rode his mini Sky Ski for a memorable show pass. One of my favorite exhibitions was Banana George Blair at age 85. The Banana Man hung out on site, and passed out bunches of Chiquita bananas to his throng of fans. On the water Banana George did a flying start from the top of the six-foot ramp. He then made a complete circuit of the course including his amazing tooth-hold pass in front of the grandstand. What a performer! We even managed to fit in Eazor Sport Arm Wrestling competitions that were a surprising crowd favorite.
Banana George’s Exhibition at Flight Worlds: Event Videos
Banana George’s Exhibition at Flight Worlds: ESPN, with Interview
Between all the events, exhibitions, and vendors, the weekend was a mix mash of just about anything that we thought would help draw a crowd and be entertaining. Ricky Gonzales took the Hyperlite SoCal wakeboarding event. Geno Yauchler scored first place in the Sick Trick contest with a wakeboard Air Raley off the jump ramp. Australia rider David Hedley had a couple of serious attempts at double front flips on the foil.
Flight Worlds 2000 Big Air / Sick Trick Contest
A friend of mine from Cleveland Chiropractic College, Dr. Terry Weyman, D.C. acted as our athletic director. His healing hands were just the thing needed for our athletes in need of a tune up or overhaul. In exchange for his hard work at Flight Worlds, we sponsored Terry in his climb to the top of Aconcagua, the tallest peak of South America, to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
The pressure to produce the event and somehow also compete was overwhelming. The stress was never higher than the morning of our televised Sunday finals.
Peter Nelson’s Amphibian Stunt Team, including Mark Vanselow, Matt Minich, and others, kicked off the big day with a red white and blue human water skiing pyramid, replete with Old Glory up top and the National Anthem sung by Jennifer Diamond from a boat just out from center stage.
Team Texas presented the shore side American Flag during the anthem as the best group of the weekend. The team was headed up by Albert Pruitt, one of the four competitors in the disabled division. We had this division at Flight Worlds several times as homage to Mike’s work with physically challenged riders. Through the years Mike has taught numerous riders with physical challenges to excel on the water. One of his first students was Ron Gilstrap, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. Mike taught him how to barefoot. When the sit down foil came around, it was the perfect toy for skiers with paraplegia. Mike designed a custom seat with a backrest and chest strap for these special students including Steve DeJong, Bob Whiteside, and Dale Hull.
The women’s field was stronger than ever with Cheryl Roberts leading the way. Sandy Bertha and Teresa Wilborn were in hot pursuit, and all three ladies were landing flips.
Teresa Wilborn was one of the top female competitors. (P Kingman, 1999)
To reduce my personal workload I assigned people to key positions. This time is was Blaine Sholinder as the chief judge with Carolyn Haley as chief scorer. All the guys from the crew at California Skier pitched in and we had over 40 volunteers to help keep things running. You just can’t appreciate how much work it is to put up a single large tent until you actually have to do it yourself.
I was training hard to maintain my top position, but riders like Damon Moore, Todd Kyser, Geno Yauchler and Thomas Freeman were coming on strong with both new tricks and big air. I knew that I needed a new trick to have a chance in Free Ride, and it came to me in a partial sleep one night while I was dreaming about the event. My breakthrough had to do with combos, I was thinking about how all of the inverted combos were a repetition of the same trick. What if I mixed it up? I was awake in a flash and started running through the possibilities. When I came to the gainer to helicopter combo I knew that I had found my new trick.
In the weeks before the event I prepared for my new move by practicing gainer to jump combos in the position I would use for the eventual hand-to-hand helicopter as the second part. When it came time to finally throw the move I made the first one perfectly as if it was one of my standard moves. As an old hand at learning new tricks, I knew it really couldn’t be that easy, and unfortunately that was the case. Even at the peak of my riding I was about 75% on the move.
Somehow I managed to keep my new move completely secret until my ride at the event. People knew I had something big up my sleeve, they just didn’t know what. I planned to go for it during Free Ride. I was having a great run in Free Ride and only had to land my new trick to have a serious shot at another World Title. When I threw it everything felt perfect. It may have been too good of an attempt because I was relaxed when the ski hit the water. The handle just slipped out of my hands as I slowly lost speed and sunk in the water. Even with that trick it would have been close because Damon Moore had a big new move of his own that he called the “Moorbius”; a wake back roll with a handle pass heli. He stuck it perfectly after my failed run, and took his spot as the new Free Ride World Champ.
Damon Moore took top honors in Free Ride. (P Kingman, 1999)
MasterCraft Flight Worlds 2000 Pro Hydrofoiling Finals
In Tricks, my favorite event, I missed the title by one simple trick. I made all nine of my first tricks, but fell on an air front flip. I just found myself in the water once again, surprised that I had fallen on a move I could make in my sleep. That trick would have put me on top, but Damon prevailed once again. There was some small consolation in knowing that I had beaten myself in Tricks, and that I did manage to win one event: the Free Ride behind the Sea-Doo.
The “King” Klarich had been decisively dethroned, and it was tough. When you are perceived by others as the one to beat, people tend to put you up on a pedestal. It often felt like I had a target on my back, and there were plenty of people aiming to knock me down. People love to see favorites fall and underdogs win. I was the man to beat before the event, and now Damon had taken my spot. That is the nature of sports, but when it happens to you it is still a bitter pill to swallow. But perhaps the toughest thing to take was the reports that got back to me from the beach during my runs. People clapped and celebrated when I fell. It was hard enough to lose, but hearing this added insult to injury.
Putting on five Hydrofoiling World Championships was a lesson in human nature. You learn who your real friends are. A lot of people complain about how things should be, but don’t do anything about it. Fortunately there are also the few who defy the norm and freely offer their time and talent. We could never have done it without them. It has given me a whole new understanding and compassion for anyone who ever put their head on the chopping block to lead a group of people.
The $100,000 event, Flight Worlds 2000, was winding down and Chuck and I were in a deep financial hole. Word got out around the site as we prepared to tear down. Dozens of sympathetic people stuffed cash in our pockets. It was very emotional. Later that night I ran naked in front of the water truck as it doused the dusty site. I felt all washed up, literally. The next week I bleached my hair alongside Mike Mack at the River to try and counteract my depression, both from loosing, and being in a money pit.
Fortunately for Chuck and I, a pair of miracles was on the way. Scott Honkala and his ever-growing family was a huge fan of the event. Scott gave me a spiel about how money was like manure. He said, “You have to spread it around to make things grow.” Well he spread it on thick and it smelled like roses to Chuck and me. Our other benefactor was Dick Marriot, father of top pro female rider Sandy Bertha. Between the sizeable contributions from Scott and Mr. Marriott, we found ourselves exactly even. Putting on the event cost us time and was extremely stressful, but the experience and knowledge we gained was priceless.
Sandy Bertha’s father, Dick Marriott, and Scott Honkala saved the day! (P Lauder, 2000)
I was always a fierce competitor. It was just something that I was just born with. Simply put, I did not like to lose, whether it was in water skiing or Scrabble. Throughout my career I tried not to be a sore loser, although I there were a couple of times I fought the result based on what I thought were unfair circumstances. I also have my dear father to thank for some of my success. The biggest motivation in the world for me was to be told I couldn’t do something, and dad was perfect for that roll. He later claimed it was just reverse psychology, and that he knew it would get me fired up to do something.
Memorable quips from dad included, “you’ll never score three goals in one game,” and “no Klarich is musical, don’t bother with that guitar.” Well, I scored three goals in the next soccer game, and I have written and recorded dozens of original songs. Thanks dad, it worked.
In competition it was always helpful for me to have a single person to serve as an adversary. It was never personal, although I am sure it came off that way to the few guys through the years who were in my sites as the challenger to beat. I went to the gym and wondered if that guy was working as hard. I rode six days a week and wondered if the other guy was pushing that hard. In show skiing it was Ralph Byrne. In kneeboarding it was Ted Bevelacqua and Mike Reinman. In hydrofoiling it was Damon Moore.
I would like to offer a former apology to any guys out there who came under my single-minded desire for victory in competition. I needed it to reach my own goals. I am sorry for any hard feelings or unfriendliness that came with those competitive times. Looking back now the memories have mellowed into a band of brotherhood; at least they have for me. We all came up at the same time and experienced many of the same highs and lows that our particular sports had to offer. Peace to you all.
END OF THE WORLDS
Chuck and I held three more Flight Worlds at Bluewater in Parker, AZ. I did not ride in any of them. It seems fitting that my last foiling event as a producer was on the same waters that birthed the sport.
Flight Worlds event videos produced by Osta (′02, ′03) and Dan Pohl (′04).
I announced my retirement from competition in 2002 at the Great Canadian Fly-In 2. In the competitive arena Damon Moore battled with Todd Kyser, Jake Bradley, and Geno Yauchler for top honors. Geno lead the way in the creation of new tricks with his “Yin-Yang” combo (gainer to front flip) and two variations of wrapped mobes (full twisting flips) called the “Ball and Chain” and “KGB.”
I was happy to be on the sidelines watching the big guns shoot it out. The pressure to learn new moves was completely off, and my skiing took on a completely new style. It was fun. While driving to my job as a crane operator in the Port of Los Angeles one day, I saw a sign that summed it all up nicely. It said, “You only climb as high as the ladder you choose”. I pondered the meaning for a long while and thought about how it applied to me. For more than 20 years I climbed up and down my water skiing ladder. The next goal on my list waited at the top of my ladder, whether it was a world title or inventing a new trick. Through the years I successfully made it to the top of that ladder numerous times. But in my later years the climbing became more and more difficult, and I already knew exactly what awaited me up there. It was truly time for me to find another ladder.
Images (used with permission)
“Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 3, Hydrofoiling – Cover,” photo: Ian Lauder, 1999.
P Flight Worlds 2000 Video Cover – Brian Deegan, Ron Stack, Ricky Gonzales,” photos: Kelly Kingman, 2000.
P “Brian Deegan,” photo: Kelly Kingman, 2000.
P “Teresa Wilborn,” photo: Kelly Kingman, 1999.
P “Damon Moore – gainer,” photo: Kelly Kingman, 1999.
P “Flight World Covers: Sandy Bertha & Scott Honkala,” photos: Ian Lauder, 2000.
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