RPís first-ever jet ski pro rider

By Arman Armero

BILLIE Joseph “BJ” Ang, one of a select few who excel in the difficult but exciting sport of jet ski racing, looks back to 2006 with fondness and a tinge of pride.

After all, the year that has just passed gave BJ a chance to assert himself as the country’s first-ever professional ski rider when he joined the pro division of the 2006 World Jet Ski Championship in Lake Havasu, Arizona last December—and finished 11th out of 20 finalists on his very first try

It was by no means a simple feat, since the pro division of the Lake Havasu event is considered as the most elite group in jet ski racing. Think National Basketball Association of pro basketball, or the World Pool of 9-Ball, where only the cream of the crop gather and compete.

“I was really thankful that I got the chance to join the pro division. It was really overwhelming. At first, I felt nervous because there was a big crowd, but I forced myself to relax and just run my race,” said the 22-year-old BJ, a BS Management graduate from San Beda College.

Aboard his Sea-Doo boat, BJ focused on the race and got off to a flying start as he took ninth position in the first race of the finals, but his usually trusty jet ski developed engine trouble, forcing him to fall back into 10th at the end of the race.

The same thing happened in the second race, where he even got far as eighth place, but his jet ski sputtered anew and he ended up 11th, his final position overall. A rider from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates eventually topped the race.

BJ felt so frustrated after the race because he knew he could have done better, but took consolation from the fact that he indeed did well as a rookie in the pro division, even better than some veterans in the race. Later, people who saw him race congratulated him and acknowledged his feat.

“I felt so frustrated after the race kasi alam ko na kaya ko pang lampasan ‘yung nagawa ko kungdi lang dahil sa problema ko sa jet ski. Pero noong huli, I realized that I should be thankful because I had a safe race and I wasn’t hurt,” BJ said.

Despite the respectable finish, BJ vows to race again in the same division of the race late this year, and hopefully, finish even better.

“At least, I learned something from that race. This year, babalikan ko ‘yan, kasi kahit na anong mangyari, this will be my final year as an expert rider. Sa tingin ko, kaya naman ‘talaga ‘yung pro,” BJ said.

To the water born

As far back as he can remember, BJ loves to be in the water. Summers were spent in beaches with dad Willie, mom Elsie and younger siblings Bryan and Charlene. When BJ was 10, the family goes to Subic to rent jet skis and ride the boats around the crystal-clear waters inside the former US base.

Little did BJ know that the leisure rides in the rented skis in Subic would prove to be a harbinger of his soon-to-be sport that will satisfy his need for speed.

It was several years later sometime in 1997, when his father sent him in an errand to buy a spare parts from Networx that BJ learned for the first time that jet ski racing is not merely a leisure sport, but one that some people take seriously.

That errand introduced BJ to Networx owner Dong Arcilla, who, in turn, introduced him to the world of jet ski racing.

“At that time, talagang hindi ko pa alam na may karera pala sa jet ski. I didn’t even know kung ano ibig sabihin ‘nung ‘stock racing.’ Akala ko kasi ‘yung stock, sa bodega lang ‘yun,” BJ said.

In time, BJ slowly learned the intricacies of the sport, while his dad Willie, a former drag-racer, also got into a business partnership with Dong.

Practice makes perfect

BJ’s first brush with jet ski racing was as a keen observer. He watched the races at Subic and in no time at all, he started practicing with the entire Ang family in tow—never mind that he was all alone at sea perfecting his craft while his dad, mom and two siblings were enjoying swimming at the beach.

Soon he was joining races, and finally won his first trophy—as a third-placer in the 760cc back in 1999.

A year later, BJ posted a clean sweep of all the stock races in his category in the local front, while also in the same year, he got his first taste of international competitions in the King’s Cup in Thailand. He placed eighth.

In Thailand, he experienced first-hand all kinds of dirty tricks his opponents resort to in the race, something that he never experienced in local races.

“Marami talagang magugulang kumarera sa international races. Dito didikitan ka lang, doon babanggain ka talaga, kaya you have to adjust your riding style,” said BJ.

From 2002 to 2006, BJ’s skills as a jet ski driver grew by leaps and bounds. Last year, he was named Rider of the Year for the expert 1200 and 800 category, installing him as one of the country’s top five ski riders.

In 2005, he raced as a novice in the World Jet Ski Championship in Lake Havasu, and experienced for the first time what it’s like to race against the best jet ski riders in the world.

After another eighth-place finish in Thailand, he was back in Lake Havasu with idol and friend Paul del Rosario late last year, and although his boat wasn’t still in top form, he managed to place fifth in the expert class, making him eligible to run in the pro division.

“Gusto ko talagang sumali sa pro. Sabi ko, susubukan ko, wala naman sigurong mawawala. I just prayed hard na sana maging safe ‘yung karera,” said BJ.

The result convinced BJ that Filipino ski riders have what it takes to be world-class riders, although there is always a lack of support and resources.

“Sa tingin ko, kaya nating mga Pinoy na mag-excel sa jet ski. Kasi skills-wise, ‘di tayo pahuhuli sa ibang riders. Kulang lang talaga tayo ng suporta. Kasi doon, pera-pera talaga. Kailangan, may pera kang pambayad sa mekaniko, sa mga parts at sa iba pang kailangan mo. Kung wala, pati ‘yun pressure na rin sa iyo,” said BJ, who nevertheless counts Networx Jet Sports, Pacific Armoring & Glass Corp., Hat Products USA and Lyn Vick Products USA as major supporters for his race.

A deeply religious man, BJ says he always prays for a safe race, and will always be thankful every time he wins a race.

“As much as possible, I go to church every Sunday and I pray before every race. I pray for a safe race, not only for me, but for everybody na rin. But if I win, bonus na ‘yun. But of course, you have to work for it. Kailangan, buo ang loob mo. Pagdating talaga sa world championship, ibang karera na ‘yan. Kailangan mo na ng tapang. At sa tingin ko, kung sa tapang lang, hindi pahuhuli ang mga Pinoy riders,” BJ said.

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