Paul Del Rosario is among the athletes putting the Filipinos on the map of competitive Jet Ski and motorsports racing
For most people, riding a jet ski is a recreational activity. But unbeknownst to many, Jet Ski racing is a thing. And Filipino athletes are making waves in this niche—but awesome unique motorsport.
Jet Ski racing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a water sport similar to motorbike or powerboat racing, in which riders use Jet Skis to compete in open water. It’s a popular sport in the United States, Japan, Australia, and Europe. But in the Philippines, it does not have the exposure that, say, basketball or volleyball does. Other extreme sports gets more press than Jet Ski racing.
One of the world-class athletes bringing more attention to the sport—and putting the Philippines on the map of competitive Jet Ski racing—is Paul del Rosario.
Most recently, Del Rosario took home the gold medal at the International Jet Sports Boating Association (IJSBA) World Finals (Ski Modlites) held in October in Arizona, USA. IJSBA is the governing body of the sports, similar to how the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) oversees soccer in the world.
Bagging the top prize in categories offered in the World Finals is a big deal. In the world of Jet Ski racing, this league is like its Olympics, with respective national champions from other countries sent to compete. Last October, Del Rosario beat racers from countries such as Brazil, South America, France, and America.
Aside from bragging rights and taking home an awesome trophy, the prestige of winning at the World Finals comes from moving up the world rankings. This also makes it easier for athletes to land sponsorships from brands. With his recent win, Del Rosario is now ranked #1 in his category (Ski Modlites), which is part of the ski/stand up type class, the hardest category of all Jet Ski races.
Del Rosario had also become World Champion at the IJSBA World Finals Runabout (Amateur Runabout Open Class) in 2010, as well as being the 2007 Thailand Pro Am Runabout Super Stock, national champion, among many other awards.
“Jet Ski races have been happening in the country since the ‘80s. And while there’s still a long way to go before the sport becomes more mainstream, Filipino Jet Ski racers are slowly being respected and seen as a powerhouse in the international scene,” said Del Rosario.
It’s all about cultivating athletes and designating them in the right categories. For the sport to become more popular, it’s going to take more than just one person, but rather a group of athletes and advocates dedicated to the movement.
Government support is crucial, too, in the form of tax benefits, incentives and athlete recognition, if Jet Ski racers hope to further make a killing in the sport.
Barrier to entry
Perhaps one of the reasons why Jet Ski racing hasn’t cultivated a bigger following is because of the high cost it takes to get into the sport. In fact, some had called the sport “elitist.”
Del Rosario said these observations are not entirely baseless. It does, in fact, cost a lot to take up the sport, including the cost of buying the actual Jet Ski (it’s virtually impossible to train competitively without owning one), as well gear like helmets, wetsuits, floatation aids, and other forms of safety equipment.
“More than the cost of getting into the sports, competing in a Jet Ski race takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to put your time, body, and mind. We practice and physically train—a lot,” Del Rosario said.
A lot of people have the misconception that Jet Ski is the safest sport, just because it’s done in the water. In reality, the dangers are serious and they are real.
Over the years, Del Rosario had encountered athletes who had broken their bones, or those who needed brain surgery because a fellow racer ran over them when they fell from their Jet Skis. Del Rosario himself had endured injuries such as herniated lumbar discs, advanced tendinitis of both kneecaps, and an impinged shoulder, among others.
All of the injuries were worth it, though, Del Rosario said. “Jet Ski racing makes me feel alive,” he said. “When I’m riding one, it feels like I’m in a different world.”
A 7-year hiatus, comeback
Before bagging his latest IJSBA World Finals title in October, Del Rosario took a seven-year break from the sport. It was a combination of a lot of factors, mainly because he wanted to focus on raising his three children, recovering from past injuries, and finally getting his college degree, as well as giving more attention to his work.
This underscores the fact that aside from being at the peak of their physical fitness, athletes like Del Rosario have to be in the right state of mind to compete, too. After all, when you’re racing on a Jet Ski with up to 300 horsepower in open water, focus is key.
It was a challenge to get back into shape so he could compete once more, especially against younger athletes. He trains religiously, doing cross fit, swimming, weightlifting, and cycling, among others.
“At 43 now, I’m a dinosaur in the sport,” Del Rosario said in jest. In the competition he joins, it’s not unusual to go against athletes in their teens. Del Rosario himself started Jet Ski racing when he was 13.
This is why he thinks he’s on for his last stretch of competitive Jet Ski racing within the next year. The goal for next year is to qualify for the SouthEast Asian Games which will be held in Cambodia in the summer of 2023, and at least place top 3, defend his Philippine title, and win another world title in the 2023 IJSBA world championship.
“I’ll still be riding Jet Skis recreationally after that, and focus on my wife’s racing, who by the way is also a contender in the women’s events locally. But in terms of competitive sports, I’m preparing for one last ride,” he said.
Hanging up the mantle is never easy for any athlete, but something that all athletes have to go through eventually. That doesn’t matter. Del Rosario had already achieved a lot in his sporting career, including getting the Philippine Rider of the Year award from the JSAP a record eight times.
As for whether he wants any of his three children to take up Jet Ski racing, he said he won’t be forcing any of them to do so. He is aware of the dangers, so he’d rather they not. But should they want to take up the sport of their own volition, he won’t be one to object. There are stage fathers and mothers who live vicariously through their children. He wishes not to be one of them.
Del Rosario said: “The future is bright for Jet Ski racing. We, Filipinos, have an advantage in that we relatively live close to the water, which works to our advantage. We’ve come a long way. From being laughed at before to being respected in the game. I look forward to the day that more Filipinos get into Jet Ski racing, with our own superstar athletes.”