Panton cashes in on rookie form

Matthew Panton was not the fastest rider at Jet Around Cayman 2013, but he was the richest. 

The born and raised Newlands native earned $1,500 at the annual endurance Jet Ski race Saturday. Panton, racing for team Nuttin 2 Lose, was third overall in a time of one hour, 32 minutes and 54 seconds, but claimed the amateur and rookie class titles. 

Panton, 15, states the cash windfall means little to him. “The money is not that big of a deal; it’s more about the sport,” Panton said. “I definitely will be back next year. I hope to get through the race and get on the podium again.” 

Panton was one of just six riders at this year’s event, with only three competitors able to avoid mechanical issues and finish the race. Panton’s teammate, Gary “GJ” Whittaker, nabbed his second straight Jet Around Cayman title as he posted a time of 1:09:53 and took home $1,000. Corey Miller of team Naut Wukin would end up second in 1:11:25 and earned $500. 

The low numbers for the annual meet stemmed largely from inclement weather. Organisers nearly postponed the event due to rough sea conditions and ended up delaying the race start to use a shortened course. Riders essentially went halfway around Grand Cayman as they travelled from Surfside Beach Restaurant & Bar on Seven Mile Beach to North Side and came back. 

Panton said sea conditions were a problem on race day. 

“Every race you grow from the frustrations you get. The choppiness of the sea slightly affected me. It was choppy in some areas but, then again, that’s something I train with. But everything went pretty good and I’m happy with the outcome.” 

Weather was also a major factor in low crowd turnout as about 150 people made it out to Surfside for Jet Around’s 17th year. The timing of this year’s Jet Around was marketed as unique, taking place on the same weekend as another water sports spectacle, the Million Dollar Run. This year’s boat race was slated to launch at Surfside on Constitution Day on Monday, 1 July. 

Whittaker, 22, may have lacked fanfare, but his repeat title showed he maintains exceptional form on the water. The East End native got off to a fast start, was in the lead at the first checkpoint and never looked back. Whittaker said he’s aiming for more titles. 

“I’m looking forward to next year,” Whittaker said. “I want multiple championships. I’ll give it my best shot to repeat what I did on Saturday.” 

One of Whittaker’s biggest threats should be Miller, 23. The Savannah native is a Jet Ski veteran, whose form is improving with each major competition. Miller said a tactical error cost him a better showing. 

“It was a good course, a good change that made it interesting,” Miller said. “I would have liked it more with more riders, but everyone has their reasons why they pulled out. My race partner, Taylor Foster and I got less than we expected. Our strategy was to be conservative as it was supposed to be a two-lap race. The organisers changed it late and that was it. 

“I’m still proud of my performance. I came out to show support for the sport, I placed second overall and I can’t ask for any more.” 

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Gary “GJ” Whittaker had another dominant performance. – PHOTO: CHRIS COURT

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Corey Miller ended up in second place.

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Matthew Panton, centre, claimed many prizes as a rookie.

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Chris Thalasinos rose to the occasion on his jetpack. – PHOTOS: MATTHEW YATES
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