When I think about Canada, I instantly think about snowmobiles, hockey, maple syrup, the amazing hospitality and, of course, the country I’m proud to call home. Contrary to popular belief, Canada is not covered in snow and ice 12 months out of the year. So getting to spend the Saturday of the Canada Day long weekend in Penetanguishene watching snowmobile races was about the last thing I expected to be doing, but certainly about as Canadian as you can get!
The Ontario Watercross Racing Association (OWRA) had their very first event on June 28th at Rotary Park in Penetanguishene. Founded by Kelly Hall, the OWRA is the only circuit of its kind in Ontario. Watercross racing is very popular in the United States with the International Watercross Racing Association being the premier circuit.
For those of you unfamiliar with watercross, it's essentially snowmobile oval races like the ones you’d find on ice but on water. I know what you're thinking: “did she really just say snowmobiles on water?” Yes, I assure you: it is, in fact, real and absolutely awesome! Watercross snowmobiles are not like your typical “winter” sled. These moded-out race sleds include tunnel extensions, watertight seals (sometimes just loads of the handyman favourite duct tape), crankcase drains, mod pipes, as well as race specific clutching and gearing. These beasts are designed to run on the water, but they also do often end up at the bottom of the lake as expected. But put your worries aside; the sleds are never underwater longer than 10 minutes, as specially-designed barges are on site to haul up the sleds between races.
The first event went off without a hitch. The beautiful hot sunny weather was the perfect setting for a day at the beach. With an ice cream truck and BBQ concession stand nearby, the almost 1,000 spectators throughout the day were well fed and kept cool even in the hot weather. They were also highly entertained! The races started at 9:30 and continued all afternoon. There were crashes, spectacular hole shots, and even a few last place-to-first place wins!
With close to 40 riders, there were all levels of abilities. For some this was their very first time at a watercross event, while others have been racing for many years in the United States (the closest watercross circuit). It was great to see many of these experienced pro riders helping the new riders out with everything from riding tips and tricks to lending a hand at getting the machines back running after sinking. The camaraderie between competitors was actually very touching. To see drivers standing on their sunken sleds, waving and cheering on the other riders still in the race, really made me wish other types of sports were like this. There was no “hate” for other teams, only helpful hands and well-wishes.
The OWRA owner Kelly Hall, Director Jason Bidan and their volunteers did a fantastic job with their very first event.