Jet-fuelled adrenalin and whitewater

World jet boat champion Gord Humphrey of Fort St. John, B.C., is looking to defend his title in July


Gord Humphrey and Chris Zapesocki with Unnatural Disaster

Driver Gord Humphrey and navigator Chris Zapesocki have competed in the World Jet Boat Championship in New Zealand, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. — Rick Phillips photo

Zipping across whitewater at 160-plus kilometres per hour is second nature to Gord Humphrey.

Humphrey is a river jet boat racer and a good one, too. Four times he’s won the Canadian national championship and right now, he’s looking to secure his third title as world champion.

But that’s not the only reason why he does it.

“There’s so much camaraderie,” said Humphrey, who’s been racing now for 13 years. “A lot of our competitors have become good friends.”

A former dirt bike racer, Humphrey has always had an affinity for speed, so when he discovered jet boat racing, he jumped in with both feet.

“There were five of us from Canada,” he said. “We shipped our boats to New Zealand and went pleasure boating over there for a month. Some of the guys we were boating with had raced so when I came home, I decided to race with a small, entry-level boat.”

Soon, Humphrey had built his own jet boat and was racing in the more competitive B class. But as his passion for the sport grew, so did his need for a faster boat.

After tracking down another boat, Humphrey moved up to the elite Unlimited class. His boat, which was powered by a V8, still wasn’t fast enough to beat the winners. So in 2009, he built Unnatural Disaster, a 23-foot Eagle jet boat powered by a turbine helicopter engine. With 1,350 horsepower, this boat is capable of reaching speeds of 233 kilometres per hour. In 2011, it became the first turbine-powered jet boat to win the world championship.

Gord Humphrey and Chris Zapesocki with Unnatural Disaster

According to Gord Humphrey, the Unlimited class is one of the fastest growing classes in the World Jet Boat Championship. — photo courtesy Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing

Since then, Humphrey, and his on-board navigator Chris Zapesocki (from Gibbons, Alberta), have been around the world, racing Unnatural Disaster in New Zealand, Mexico and the United States. It’s not a cheap hobby (the boat burns 90 gallons of jet fuel per hour), but Humphrey is addicted.

“It gets so addicting because it’s more than just getting out there and going fast,” he said. “It’s putting all the pieces together at the beginning of the race to the end of the race and having a perfect race and coming out with a championship.”

Likening it to a game of chess, Humphrey said drivers have to play smart and know which moves to take at the right time, especially when it comes to the world championship.

“In the course of a week, you have to start and you just need to square up your competition throughout the race,” he said. “You gotta’ hang with them and put your boat where you start and finish strong every leg, every race.”

You can’t miss this

This year, the World Jet Boat Championship returns to Western Canada. It’s a week-long marathon and the first race begins on July 17, 2015, in Grande Prairie, Alberta. With teams coming from around the world, Humphrey will have some stiff competition.

Gord Humphrey and Chris Zapesocki with Unnatural Disaster

Gord Humphrey and Chris Zapesocki will be competing with other jet boat teams from around the world at the upcoming World Jet Boat Championships. — Rick Phillips photo (

“The deck is stacked,” he said. “We have aggressive teams with great drivers and great competitors.”

But he’s confident another world championship or at the very least a podium finish is in the cards.

So if you’ve never seen a river jet boat race, the World Jet Boat Championship is the one you won’t want to miss. For the full race itinerary, visit the webpage and Facebook page.

You can also check out this video of Humphrey and his boat, Unnatural Disaster: 


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