Kelowna jet ski kid back-flipping to success
When the Center of Gravity hosted freestyle jet skiers at its 2010 event in Kelowna, there was one person in attendance who was perhaps more interested in the event than most.
Okanagan Mission student Owen Kuipers was so enthralled by the jet skiers that he went home that day and started to research the sport checking out the stand-up jet-skis online and liking what he saw.
Fast forward a couple of years and Kuipers, now 14 and heading into Grade 10 at OKM, is being touted by some as a rising star in the world of freestyle jet skiing.
Last month Kuipers landed his first ever backflip in the Big Air competition during the Apple Pie Jamboree in Pateros, Washington, prompting organizer Roger Harnack to say "I witnessed the birth of a new jet ski star. It's rare to see a teenager compete at that level."
After getting the itch while watching the Center of Gravity (this year's COG is this weekend), Kuipers travelled to Pacific City, Oregon last year to watch a freestyle jet ski event, hosted by the Northwest Jet Sports Association.
"We went down to watch all the best freestylers in the world and there were guys doing double back flips," said Kuipers. "Thats when I decided I wanted to be a freestyle jet skier. I started meeting the guys down there and worked my way up. Three competitions ago was my first competition and in my fourth one I landed the backflip."
Landing the backflip at just 14 was something special, according to Harnack.
"We only have a handful of jet ski freestylers that can do backflips from Oregon, Washington and Idaho so Owen is definitely ahead of the curve. Watching him do his first back-flip was phenomenal. You could just see the excitement not only from him but from the crowd."
Kuipers is a member of a rather small contingent of stand up jet ski riders that travel to the USA for competitions. Kelowna's Doug Derrickson is one of the top novice riders in the association while other competitors come from Nelson and Vancouver. In the past there used to be events in Canada, during COG and during Peachfest, but currently competitors are forced to travel to Washington to compete.
It's something that could change in the future.
"We are definitely looking to have more races in B.C., Oregon and Idaho," said Harnack. "Osoyoos, Penticton and Kelowna are among the best places to race."
Competing locally would be music to Kuipers' ears. In the meantime he is continuing to work on his own jet ski and improve his skills while having fun in a sport that he has come to love.
"It's not the biggest sport or something that is going to pay the bills, it's jut a recreational thing," he said. "But I will always be competing. It's a lot of fun. You get out there and meet people. It's such an adrenaline rush."