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The 80 turns 50

The tranquillity of the Murray River will give way to the roar of boats hitting speeds of up to 200km/h as the Vic/NSW border towns of Echuca and Moama prepare for an historic running of the Club Marine Southern 80 Ski Race. The two-up waterski racing classic, to be held on February 6 to 8, is celebrating 50 years of racing on the Murray.

While the waterskiing extravaganza involves hundreds of boats, drivers, observers and skiers, the Club Marine Southern 80 is a far cry from the race’s humble beginnings in 1965. Back then, five boats took part in the Shell Ski Marathon over a 506m (814km) course, while another nine boats competed in the Echuca Ski Cup held over a shorter, 100m (161km) course that took competitors from Echuca to Torrumbarry and back again. In more recent years, the Southern 80 was half the distance of the Echuca Ski Cup, with racing starting at Torrumbarry Weir and finishing 80km later at the Victoria Park boat ramp in Echuca.

While racing has been held over the full 80km course on both Saturday and Sunday, Moama Water Sports Club has this year decided to run the Saturday races on the 20km short course, traditionally used for the Bakers’ Blitz qualifying event and the Under 10s, Over 40s and Disabled classes. It’s hoped the move will boost entries, which last year numbered 599 for the two days of racing, making the Club Marine Southern 80 the most popular water-ski race in the world, according to the club.

Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to line both banks of the river, their main focus probably being the ‘big bangers’ in the Super Class. Last year’s race-winner Wild Thing will be back to prove the surprise victory was no flash in the pan, while the dominant Hellrazor crew will be hell-bent on making up for last year’s disappointment when they missed out on a fifth successive win.

To help celebrate the 50-year event, a display of some of the best-known boats that have made the Southern 80 one of the greatest waterski races in the world, preserved in all their former glory, will be on display at the finish line. Other highlights of the weekend will include the Breakfast with the Stars event in Moama on Friday morning, the static display in Echuca’s main street on Saturday morning and plenty of children’s entertainment and trade displays at the finish line.

By James Minchin

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