Sound of jet boats racing like music to fans ears

Sep. 3—Spectators gathered at Hells Gate Marina on Saturday perked up as soon as they heard a jet boat roar down the Snake River.

The telltale rumble signaled a racing team headed to the finish line. As it got louder and a boat came into view, there was a flash of color, cheers from fans and the swish of a checkered flag.

Adrenaline-fueled drivers and navigators pumped their fists in the air as friends and families celebrated on the shoreline and breathed sighs of relief.

"I was very nervous, and now I'm very proud," said a smiling Jocelyn Ringer, of Gold Beach, Ore. "My husband, Ryan Ringer, drives No. 309. We have three boys, and they're all proud of their dad, too."

The Thunder on the Snake Marathon Jet Boat Race continues today with 15 teams competing. The first leg of a round trip between Hells Gate and Bear Bar begins at 9:15 a.m., followed by the second at 11:15 a.m. An award ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. at the Hells Canyon Grand Hotel in Lewiston.

Mike Lindsey, director of the event, said the jet boat races are popular with the public and businesses in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. "It's a free community event that brings a lot of money into the valley. We have a lot of great volunteers and support here."

The people associated with the sport are top-notch, said driver Ryan Hudson. The 38-year-old Lewiston resident started as a navigator in 2011 and is now in his 10th year of racing his own boat.

"It's one of the most extreme and funnest sports I've ever done," Hudson said. "I've met a lot of good people doing this. That's one of the coolest things about this sport — the people."

Hudson's neon green-and-blue boat is named the "Sneaky Snake," and navigated by Jason Locke, 50, of Pasco.

"We named it after my grandma and grandpa's boat, just to dedicate it to them," Hudson said. "We lost Granny this spring, so that means a lot."

The fan base along the river was a mix of folks who have been following jet boat races for years, and newcomers who wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Carl Hopper, 39, brought his 4-year-old son, Zayden, to Hells Gate Marina to check out the action. "This is my first time coming to this," the Lewiston resident said. "It's pretty fun."

His boy was impressed with the lightning speed of the flashy boats zipping across the water.

"They're super fast," Zayden Hopper said. "I thought it was cool."

Don Gardner, of Orofino, was one of the volunteers working the radios along the 32-mile route. Communication is a vital safety component, and radio operators are stationed at checkpoints to report on the racers' whereabouts.

"I've been in ham radio forever and radio is part of my life," Gardner said. "I've helped with other races, mainly on the Clearwater River, but this is my first time at Thunder on the Snake."

Glenna McClure, of Riggins, handled the timer, and the official referee, Tonya Kaschmitter, dropped the flag when each boat finished.

Kaschmitter, 55, grew up in Cottonwood and got involved with jet boat racing while living in Riggins for 15 years. Now a resident of Puyallup, Kaschmitter happily returns to Idaho for the Thunder on the Snake races.

"It's going very well," she said Saturday afternoon, "but I don't want to jinx it. We've had a great turnout and appreciate all of the support."

Results will be posted online tonight at

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