The 71st annual Catalina Ski Race, a 62-mile-long race to Avalon and back, returns this weekend.

And, as has been the case for decades, the race starts and finishes near the Queen Mary, offering plenty of space for spectators to watch from the shore or from aboard the Queen.

Contestants arrive in Long Beach from all over the world, from different backgrounds, ages and skill-sets to participate in one of the 20 categories competing on race day.

Two of those competing in the Junior class — the category for racers 15 years and younger — are Millikan High School students Sophia Rivera and Jason Davison.

Rivera (14) and Davison (14) met three years ago after Rivera's family moved to Long Beach from Michigan. Davison's family often took their boat along the water to ski for fun, he said, and later when the two families met, the Riveras were introduced to the sport.

"I enjoyed skiing, so the idea to compete came easy," Rivera said. "And I'm good at it; I qualified for worlds too." 

Rivera, along with Davison, is heading to Vichy, France, in September to represent the United States in the World Waterskiing Racing Championships.

To prepare for the races, the pair use the help of a personal trainer, where they both are learning to maximize their cardio and how to safely lift weights to build muscle and increase stamina.

"You have to train outside of the water to help your legs stay strong so they don't give out," Rivera said. "Usually when you're racing, your legs cramp up first and start hurting really bad, so you fall."

"Later on I’ll be able to train by myself," Davison said. "But I just need someone to help me learn first."

Each teen said that they practice anywhere between two to five times a week, and so far their efforts have paid off, Rivera said.

"I'm pretty confident I'll win," Rivera said. "I'm really excited for the after party because I'm hoping to be a part of that trophy ceremony."

But the two are still teens, and find plenty of time to hang out with friends and do other things that don't revolve around skiing, like riding bikes at the beach or spending time around Belmont Shore.

"I'm pretty comfortable with competing, but I do regular things too that aren't racing," Davison said.

Skier check in begins between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow, July 19, at the Hotel Maya's Luna Solstice Room. Skiers must have their helmets, wet suits and skis with them to sign in.

Also from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday are the mandatory boat inspections happening at the South Shore Launch Ramp, near the Hotel Maya.

Then on Saturday, the festivities begin.

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, the teams will first celebrate with a ski parade and be in formation for the start of the race at 9 a.m. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m. at the Hotel Maya.

The race start can be seen from Junipero Beach between oil islands Grissom and White, or from the decks of the Queen Mary, according to organizers, but the best viewing is done from the water on a boat (but steer clear from the race areas separated by orange buoys).

The 71st annual Catalina Ski Race is happening at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, with the starting point between Oil Island White and Island Grissom inside Long Beach Harbor.

For more information, go to catalinaskirace.net.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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