BY GENE NARDI
Forty professional water skiers from all over the world gathered Saturday, June 11 at Okeeheelee Park for the Nautique Big Dawg World Tour. The host park is in its 12th year of providing the venue for the first stop in a series of four events, with the other three being hosted in Spain and California.
The Ski Nautique Big Dawg World Tour is presented by O’Brien, a water sports equipment manufacturer, which contributes to the event annually. The tour consists of four qualifying events and a series championship final. Slalom skiers 35 or older who have not placed in the top 10 in a professional water ski tournament in the past three years are eligible to compete.
The series finale includes two rounds where skiers travel at speeds up to 34 miles per hour on the water as they slalom through buoy markers, which is followed by a bracketed sweet 16 round. The top 16 skiers compete head-to-head in the finals to determine the champion.
Several skiers from Florida competed in the first stop, with six from the Palm Beach County area: Robert Marking, Gene Levines, John Shealy, Jeff Kepchia, Darin Montgomery and Harald Hintringer. Marking, Kepchia, Montgomery and Hintringer all scored high enough to earn a position in the final round of 16 to compete for the title.
Kepchia, of Wellington, held the top position for a while with his performance in the preliminaries. He made it to the sweet 16, where he defeated Greg Sund to advance to the round of eight, but was eliminated.
Jeff Rogers plowed his way through the competition as the tournament champion in the first stop. Rogers’ credits are 2001 U.S. National Men’s Open Champion and 2003 gold medalist in the world championships.
To learn more about the Nautique Big Dawg World Tour, visit www.nautiquebigdawg.com.
ABOVE: Jeff Kepchia of Wellington skis the slalom in the preliminary round.