David Hein said he can only think of one reason why his childhood dream was to participate in the 62-mile Catalina Ski Race.
“Because it’s the most challenging, grueling ski race in the world,” Hein said.
Hein won the water ski sprint from Long Beach to Avalon and back at the Novice level six years ago. On Saturday, he took the Veteran Men’s Class checkered flag with a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 14.8 seconds. Hein, who finished 10th overall, has had podium finishes in every race since 2013, but broke through this year after surviving rough seas.
“Every year is different,” Hein said. “This year was the hardest for me because I was expecting it to get smooth between eight and two miles from (Catalina) island. This year got rougher. There was a lot of wind and boat chop, so it was not a typical race.”
Hein, 44, is a Huntington Beach native who grew up around aquatic sports, but water skiing has always been his passion. After moving to Long Beach, he started training specifically for the Catalina Ski Race in 2010.
“My training is 100-mile bike rides, 10-mile runs and as much skiing as I can do,” Hein said. “Just about anything that destroys your legs and makes them hurt as much as they can.”
Hein was named the Commodore of the Long Beach Boat & Ski Club last year, but he didn’t change anything about his preparation for the race or his crew of driver John Stewart, observer Jared Cooper and navigator Debbie Hein, his wife.
“(John Stewart’s) boat is named Ragged Edge,” Hein said. “Because that’s where you have to be if you want to win.”
There is also a bit of strategy to the 70-year-old ski race, and it’s something Hein had to learn on the job.
“Because it’s such a long race you can’t just go out too hard, and you also can’t take it easy,” Hein said. “There’s a balance. Rather than trying to be still, you’re trying to be loose. The skill that takes years to develop is the ability to just sort of ride with the swells and the bumps as opposed to fighting against them.”
Hein, who is a local Realtor, wasn’t able to ride the swells this year because of the choppy waters, and he said that played to his disadvantage.
“I was completely spent with 10 miles to go,” Hein said. “At that point you have three choices. You can quit and give up. You can throw the handles and think you’re going to take a break, but then it’s just going to be harder for you to get back up out of the water. Or you can just push through.”
“I mentally trained for that,” he added. “When I’m training and destroying my legs, if I set a goal to work out for 30 minutes or six hours, I don’t ever quit. So mentally, when you’re put into a position where you know you’re not done yet, you take the option out of your mind.”
Hein said he plans to continue racing every year, and wants other aspiring skiers to do the same.
“I want to encourage people to try because anybody can do this,” Hein said. “You just really have to want to do it.”