International Water Ski Racing Online Since 1996

Darren Kirkland Retires as European Champion after 33 Years of Racing

A PDF of the magazine version of this article is available for download here

It will be unusual to watch international water ski racing without Darren Kirkland competing at the very highest level. When he started racing behind boat number 33 as a young boy, his destiny was perhaps written on the side of his boat in the form of #33, for him to compete for another 33 years. This is something that very few racers ever have and ever will do. People come and go, enjoying short glimpses of the limelight on a ski, but ‘Kirky’ has enjoyed over three decades in the spotlight on an international stage.

Darren K - Union Jack

Photo by Wim Lamot

In what he had planned as being his final year of serious international racing, with his Belgian crew of Philip Lamot and Werner van Espen, Darren has achieved his pre-season goals of winning the European Championships, and The Diamond Race in Belgium. He has also tied up the British Championship with his British crews of Steve Cox & Steve Bird, and Lenny & Brett Croxson. Previously he had teamed up with Robbie Wright and Martin Brooks for a number of years, there was also Walter Kees, Alan & Jeremy Symmonds, Matthew Northover and many others.

British Waterskier Mag - 1982 Extract

Whilst Darren expects to continue to race, he has made the decision to do so at a less competitive level. No doubt he will still be picking up medals, but the 43 year old husband and father of two will race as a past-time, rather than as a serious sport – the way it started for him when he entered his very first race at the age of 10 in 1977 behind the infamous boat number 33.

Born on the Queen’s birthday, 4th of August 1967 in Norwood, when Darren reached the age of 10, his mum and dad, Shirley and Keith, bought a caravan at Seasalter where he entered his first race behind a 14’ Shakespeare. With encouragement from Michael Teague and early ski racing legend Bill Rixon, it wasn’t long before the team progressed to a 16’6” Ring.

Rixon, one of Britain’s greats in ski racing said; “as my ski legs started to tell me it was time to retire, I realised that the young Darren Kirkland was giving me a ‘run for my money’. Having followed his progress since he started competing as a dauphin for the Seasalter ski club, it was great to see someone with such determination. For him to win the Diamond race and the Europeans this summer aged 43, was just reward for his efforts over the years. Well done Darren”.

Darren’s father often gave him a few words of wisdom and the words which he still knows off by heart that were framed on his childhood bedroom wall are by Rudyard Kipling and they read …

If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Into the 80’s, his uncle and aunty Vic and Sandy Austin crewed for him, before Don Carter stepped into the observer’s seat and Vic and Don became Darren’s team for many years to come. Through the 80’s and 90’s Darren won the British Championships in Dauphines (under 14), Juniors (under 16) Men’s F4, F2 and F1; and at the age of 18, with just a Formula 2 boat, he was representing the British Men’s Team at the 1985 World Championships in Spain.

Late 80s European Race

Late 80s European Race

With the World Championships held every other year, Darren has represented Great Britain in Formula 1 eleven times, during which he has secured one silver and two bronze medals, with the World Title escaping him in 1995 after a boat breakdown and a 10% penalty.

Darren Kirkland

Photo by Wim Lamot

When I asked Wayne Mawer, the current two-time World Water Ski Racing Champion and former World Wakeboard Champion about Darren, he said; “Darren is a world class skier & has been for more than 20 years. He has his own unique style, and is one of the toughest competitors I have seen in action. For anyone who knows the sport of ski racing, to compete at such a level for so long, is one huge accomplishment, both in body and mind. Kirky is a TRUE Legend of the sport in my books.”

Darren has also won a number of European Championships and you need more than two hands to count the British Championships he has secured over the years.

Photo by Wim Lamot

As far as International Classic races go, Darren has notched up seven Diamond Race wins in Belgium, and at Catalina USA he has racked up one win, five x 2nds and just for memory lane’s sake, he was disqualified once for punching an observer at the finish line, but that’s another story. He has won Italy’s Giro del Lario twice and in 1996 he teamed up with Carlo Cassa to take 4th at Sydney Bridge to Bridge in Australia.

Darren respects the likes of Wayne Mawer, Carlo Cassa and former World Champions Stephen and Paul Robertson. He recalled a late 90’s World Championships when Mr Robbo (Robertson); father of Stephen and Paul, helped Darren’s No Mercy crew repair their engine. After Darren thanked Mr Robbo, he replied; “we don’t mind working on your engine because if my son beats you, I want to know that he did it fair and square”.

Photo by Rob Harks (after Darren's 2010 Diamond Race win)

Former two-time World silver medalist Carlo Cassa of Italy said; “in 1996 at the Catalina Water Ski Race, as we floated in the water after the finish line, Darren told me; ‘Carlo I’m so happy my best friend won the race’. This is Darren – not only a great competitor, but a real true friend.”

When I spoke to Britain’s current and two-time Women’s World Water Ski Racing Champion Kim Lumley about Darren, she said; “my first ever memories of ski racing have Darren in them. He has always been someone to aspire to, a fighter to the very end of every race. Not only is Darren a great skier who any athlete would be proud to be in the same team as, he is also the life and soul of The British Water Ski Racing Team! When Darren is about there is never a dull moment, he has a personality to match his skiing ability. This would explain why he has so many great friends around the world, who respect him so much. As a junior skier making my way through the ranks it was important to have role model, and Darren was always there to show us how Brits can be just as good as everyone else in the world and I thank him endlessly for his continuous dedication – he has been a fantastic role model. Showing us all how to be serious about our skiing and how to have a laugh on the bank”.

A lot happens in 33 years of racing but two of the most memorable moments for Darren were Stephen Robertson’s speech at the end of the 1999 World Championships, when the newly crowned World Champion said some very touching and admirable words about his British competitor. And in 1996 at Catalina when Darren beat the fastest recorded race time, but Carlo Cassa still finished just in front of him.

There are countless people that Darren is grateful to for being part of his enviable career as a long-term international water ski racer. Without their support, many of his achievements and experiences would not have been possible.

So as the sun sets on a truly inspirational 33 year old water ski racing career at the top, it is time for other British hopefuls to step up to the mark and do what it takes to establish themselves as one of the next most well respected water ski racers in the world. Darren’s words of wisdom to such skiers are; “relax and enjoy the sport and always remember that no matter how hard you train, there is usually someone somewhere doing that little bit more than you”.

Darren Kirkland

Photo by Wim Lamot

Congratulations Darren Kirkland – Enough said.

Read another article about Darren Kirkland written in 1996

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