Lapsley goes from fairway to fast lane

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Classy Queens­town golfer Jim Lapsley (left) is swapping tranquil fairways and greens for the thunderous roar of jetboat engines. 

The 59-year-old will compete in the New Zealand Jet Boat River Racing Marathon 2012 during the next week. 

The 750km race winds its way along Otago and Southland waterways – including Dart River – from Sunday and features boats travelling at 200kmh. 

It is a precursor to the world championships due to be held on the same rivers in 2013. 

Lapsley, who famously qualified for the European Seniors Tour of golf aged 53, has yearned for the chance to compete at his favourite pastime. 

“I’ve watched the jetboats from the banks for 30 years do their marathons and world championships,” he says. 

“It has been part of my life since I was 16. I grew up in Timaru boating the Opihi and Temuka rivers and boated the Shotover and Dart regularly for the last 20 years. 

“Next year I’ll be 60 and they have the world championships in New Zealand – so I’m building up to that. This will be a practice run.” 

Lapsley took top honours in the Australasian 2011 PGA Legends Tour, claiming eight of the 49 titles and finishing second on the overall money list. But he cut back on his playing commitments this year. 

“You can’t compete in both at the same time so now that I’m pretty well retired from my professional golfing I can jetboat instead. 

“They’re totally different sports. I fit very easy into the driver’s seat of a jetboat, I feel very relaxed. Golf’s quite a different kettle of fish.” 

Lapsley will run a six-metre KwikKraft Tunnel Hull powered by a turbo-charged Nissan engine – which produces 400 horsepower and is capable of 130kmh. 

His navigator will be Justin Hill, son of 1997 world champion Michael Hill. 

“We’re racing in the smallest class – I tell my wife I’m racing slowly.” 

The dangers of the sport are not lost on Lapsley, who rolled a family jetboat in 2005. 

“It changed my perspective and I have a lot more respect for driving safely in a boat now. 

“It was a whole series of errors, mainly because the boat in front had run aground. I ended up rolling it out on the gravel and six of us were trapped underneath it – my wife, my friend and his wife, my daughter and her husband.

“It was quite a bad situation but you have those situations through your lifetime and that was one of them. There were broken ribs and minor injuries, but we all survived.” 

Lapsley says racing is in a way safer, as his boat has a full roll cage, safety harnesses and he’s wearing a crash helmet. 

“You’re safer doing 100mph in a race boat than you are doing 50mph in a family boat.”