Jessica Pearse will become the first woman to compete in the ‘Superclass’ division at the Southern 80 water skiing race this weekend in Echuca, Victoria.
The Southern 80 in water skiing is likened to the Bathurst 1000 for motorsport fans, the State of Origin in rugby league or Tour de France in road cycling. It’s a big deal and it’s Australia’s biggest race.
Teams are made up of a driver, observer and two skiers who race an 80km course on the Murray River at full-speed from Torrumbarry Weir to Victoria Park Boat Ramp in country Victoria.
Pearse, 27, will make history to become the first woman to compete in the Open ‘Superclass’ division, which is the fastest class.
Pearse and her ‘99 Psycho Clowns’ team eye an historic victory and she straps into the driver’s seat aim to beat a cohort of competitors down the Murray.
Rewind the clock three and a half years and the chance to join the world’s water skiing elite in this iconic race was no more than a pipe dream, but boat owner Daniel McMahon helped her make a dream a reality.
“The first time I drove one of these Superclass boats I was in tears, and I quit and told our boat owner Daniel McMahon that I had no idea what he was thinking when he asked me to drive,” Pearse said.
“I used to be a skier, then I started doing some racing as a driver in smaller outboard boats, but when I stepped into this big boat it was a battle. It’s 1350 horsepower, and if you drive at less than 70 miles per hour it hops around a lot and is unstable, you need to be going quicker than that.
“Daniel didn’t quit on me though, he took me to a lake and taught me the basics of this boat. I learnt how to get up to speed, adjust all the settings and he and the team did whatever they could do to make me comfortable and were very patient.”
While ski racing provides a dedicated women’s class, the very reason that Pearse finds herself preparing to race for overall honours this weekend against the men, is because the women didn’t want to ski with her when she was starting out as a driver.
“Originally the plan was for me to be the driver for an under 16’s or women’s team, but no one wanted to ski with me. I was a novice, and to be fair I totally understood that,” she said.
“At the time I was lucky that Daniel got in touch with Wayne Mawer, who was at that point a world champion and also Mick Kelly, who had won the Southern 80 before and they both agreed to ski with me.
“Those guys taught me so much early on, everything from throttle control to choosing the right racing line on the river. They all fell into line with the belief that Daniel had in me and helped refine my driving style.
“Now I am going to be competing in a class that I always thought was reserved for royalty, as I was growing up these guys were the best of the best, the Hollywood stars of the sport and I would watch in awe as these big boats thundered down the river.
“Echuca is my home town, and I am relaxed coming into the event. Our team is working so well together, and I would love to help Daniel win this race. He and our current skiers Codie Rigg and Steven Berry have all put in so much work.
“A win would be validation for the faith they have put in me, and for all the hours we have put into preparing for the event.”
The Southern 80 water skiing race takes place this weekend, with the ‘Beechworth Bakery Bakers Blitz’ taking place on Saturday February 13, the result from that event determining the starting order for the main event on Sunday February 14.