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Langston's lust for speed causes waves

Eyes Oct. 10-17 world jet ski finals in Arizona

Dan Langston lives on the edge.

From age 4, when Langston jumped on his first cow at his parents' Rogue Valley ranch, the 33-year-old Medford resident has continued the pattern of riding something.

He's jumped from the cow to motor sports to snow skiing to pro rodeoing and now his latest passion -- jet ski racing.

Along the way, he's broken just about every bone in his body -- some more than once.

At my age I should be looking to slow down, says Langston, but I'm looking at things to go faster.

In 1995, he broke his neck bullriding during a PRCA rodeo in Arizona. That injury forced him to retire from the sport. Soon afterward his girlfriend Terrisa Peterson introduced him to jet skis.

What began as a recreational endeavor, fueled Langston's appetite for speed.

I really love the water and sun, says Langston. It just kind of came together. After playing with and modifying the jet ski, the next step was racing.

In only his second year competing in International Jet Sports Boating Association events, the 1983 Medford High graduate has qualified for the 18th annual Skat-Trak World Finals Oct. 10-17 in Lake Havasu, Ariz.

Langston races a Sea Doo HX jet ski in the pro sport limited classification. He qualified for the world championships by finishing third in Region 2, which comprises Northern California, Nevada and Utah.

The top five racers in each division from eight regions in the Unites States qualify for the world championships along with competitors from more than 30 other countries.

Peterson will also participate in the world finals. The 29-year-old Central Point woman enters the championships as the No. — qualifier from Region 2 in the beginner class for men and women.

We both enjoy a challenge, says Peterson, and we both like to win. We had one (jet ski) but it was too much fun. We would both fight over who would drive, so we got two.

Langston qualified in two events for the world finals -- the closed course and the slalom.

In the closed course, as many as 15 jet skiers start near shore and race down a straightaway, which varies in length from 150 to 250 feet, before splitting into two loop slalom courses. The heat races are five laps, while the main events cover eight to 10 laps of boat-to-boat competition.

The slalom is a straight up-and-back timed course of approximately 150 feet with buoys positioned 25-feet off set from the center.

It's basically motocross on the water, says Langston. When I first started I was pretty much out of control. My first couple of races I spun out and crashed. With maturity you learn about better boat control.

In closed course racing, getting a fast start is paramount. But it's also the most hazardous portion of the race. As the group of boats accelerate to the split slalom courses, drivers jockey for the top spot. If a boat goes out of control, it can be run over by the pack.

Boats travel from 0 to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds.

It's an adrenaline rush, says Langston. If you get to the first buoy first, then everybody is playing catchup. When you try to pass you're passing blind most of the time.

Racing the 360-pound water craft is demanding. With an engine displacement of 385cc and an estimated 110 horsepower, drivers have to maneuver their speeding boats in tight confines as spray from choppy water burns their face.

Sometimes it hard for your fingers to control the throttle because you're hanging on, explains Langston. Your forearms are aching and you can hardly open your hands. My boat is so quick it takes a ton of physical effort to stay with it.

Langston estimates he has $30,000 invested in boats and other equipment. Additionally, there's expenses associated with traveling and entry fees. In this sport, the purses barely cover the costs.

Langston credits much of his success to mechanic Rick Rapp of Rapp Racing in Central Point.

Rapp modifies the boat's engines to get the maximum performance within strict guidelines laid out by the IJSBA.

You've got to think of different ways to make horsepower, says Rapp. It's hard to get a mile-an-hour on the water because of the drag.

Rapp is impressed with Langston's success against more experienced racers. Rapp attributes Langston's dedication as a primary reason.

You've got to put out so much practicing and working on the boats, says Rapp. A guy has to want to do it. When you're racing you're not going to be competitive if you're just out there running circles.

Running in circles is not Dan Langston's style. He has been on a quick track most of his life. For him, there is only one speed -- FAST.

Medford's Dan Langston puts his Sea Doo HX jet ski through its paces during a practice run Sunday at Emigrant Lake. - Photo by Drew Fleming