Making waves in watercross: Q&A with McClairin Garmon and Valentina Lezcano
In a sport dominated by males, McClairin Garmon (age 14) and Valentina Lezcano (age 23) are making waves when it comes to claiming the checkered flag in the adrenaline-driven, male-dominated sport of watercross. Watercross is similar to motocross, yet unlike motocross where riders race motor bikes on traditional tracks, watercross riders race personal watercrafts (PWCs or jet skis) and compete on unpredictable liquid tracks, including lakes, rivers, and oceans. These PWCs are capable of speeds of over 85 mph, require highly skilled driving techniques, along with unwavering nerves of steel.
Just off the Pro Watercross National Championship on Lake Charles in Louisiana, Garmon and Lezcano slowed down just long enough to share their thoughts on the sport, girl power, and what it takes to win on and off the water.
McClairin Garmon | Age 14 | Gainesville, GA
How long have you been racing and what piqued your interest in watercross?
I have grown up on Lake Sidney Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia and have been riding jet skis most of my life. When I was much younger, I was somewhat afraid of the water, but at some point, decided to dive headfirst into that fear, and now I crave being on the water as much as possible. In fact, when I’m not on a jet ski and weather permits, you can find me surfing behind a boat or wakeboarding.
I became interested in watercross after attending a Pro Watercross event as a spectator. It was such a well-put-together event, exciting to watch, and the people were very friendly. After that, I became a huge fan of Pro Watercross, the riders, and the sport itself.
What have you enjoyed most about the Pro Watercross National Tour?
This one is easy. Pro Watercross is truly a community of some amazing people who share the same passion. I’m fairly new to the sport and have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I have received from other riders. Everyone pulls for one another in Pro Watercross and talks others up to potential sponsors, and even though we like to say, “When the band pops, the friendship stops,” the reality is we celebrate one another’s victories and are there for support when things don’t go well. As an example, we lost one of the sport’s finest very suddenly last year: Shaun Compton. In response, Pro Watercross held the Shaun Compton Memorial Race in Orange, Texas in August of this year to raise funds to support Mr. Compton’s family. I feel like we are all a family, and I’m very grateful to be a part of it.
Who are your role models in the sport?
This is another easy one for me. Valentina Lezcano is one of the top female riders out there. She is beautiful, funny, and fearless, but what I appreciate most about her is that she is a role model for other girls. From the beginning, she has encouraged me and cheered me on, and she even had a “girl power” jacket made for me. I aspire to be more like her, and I hope to continue to improve and ultimately return all the favors she has shown me by encouraging girls starting out in watercross. I would also say that early on Brian O’Rourke, who rides with Team Faith, provided me with invaluable technical advice, and riders Kenny Compton and Hailey Compton of Texas have become some of my best friends and make these races twice the fun.
How do you balance being on the Pro Watercross National Tour with school and other responsibilities?
I don’t always have perfect balance. I have missed a race or two because of school since my grades are really important to me. Otherwise, I have been fortunate that my school, Lakeview Academy, gives me enough flexibility to run the vast majority of the tour. There are sacrifices that we all have to make to do the things we are passionate about. For example, I want to try out for my school’s play but will miss critical practices because I will be participating in the World Championship in Naples, Florida. I’ve already learned that I can’t do it all, so I have to prioritize and get good advice from others.
What are the best and most difficult parts of being part of the Pro Watercross Tour?
The best part is the people who put on and participate in the tour and the opportunity to ride and improve and overcome challenges. The tour also takes place at some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers, and oceans in the country. The most difficult part is that I didn’t get to see my local friends much this summer and also, after racing in Louisiana and then Texas back to back, I’m a little beaten up; I started my first day of high school with massive bandages on my hands to cover blisters—not exactly a fashion statement.
What’s next for you?
I will be at the Pro Watercross World Championship in Naples, Florida, in late October. Other than that, I plan to practice a lot, tune my ski up, and keep improving.
Valentina Lezcano | Age 23 | Miami, FL
How long have you been racing, and how did you first become interested in the sport?
I’ve been racing for about two years now; I would have started earlier but school came first! I just graduated as a paramedic about a year ago, which has opened time up for me to travel the world and race almost every weekend. I became interested probably before I could even spell jet ski. My parents put me on my first jet ski when I was about five years old, and I haven’t been able to get off of one since!
What’s been your greatest challenge as a young female in the sport?
My greatest challenge as a young female has been trying to prove to everyone that this sport isn’t just for men. I love racing amongst male riders because it’s a dose of motivation to push harder every lap—especially when you’re in the lead and the boys are chasing you!
What are you most proud of in your career as one of the top female watercross racers?
I’d have to say my proudest moment was being invited to race in South Korea with Jettribe Racing this past year! It was my first time racing in a Pro Runabout Open class against some of the best riders in Korea, China, and Russia. I finished in the top five out of 11 riders, and it was pretty cool to be on the podium, especially when I was the only female racer in the entire competition!
What advice would you give to others when it comes to pursuing his or her passion?
Life is too short. If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, the moment is now!
What do you love most about racing?
Most people will say they love winning, but for me I love making new friends who become race family! McClairin, for example, is someone who has impacted me so much. Her father came up to me during a race telling me that his daughter is my biggest fan and she was dying to meet me. Little did I know that once we became friends, the roles would reverse. Now I’m her biggest fan, and I couldn’t be more proud to call her my friend. In only one year, McClairin has become such an inspiring and amazing racer, and I cannot wait to see what else she will bring to the racing world!
What’s next for you?
Next race is next weekend! Haha, just kidding! What’s next for me is waiting to get hired as a firefighter/paramedic. But in the meantime, I’ll be giving my parents a hand working at their jet ski business, Miami Jetski Shop, and traveling the world to get as much racing as I can get under my belt!