March 29, 2017
Pro Watercross is proud to announce that Jason Burns has joined the Pro Watercross family, and will serve as the Managing Director of Pro Watercross’ Hydroflight division.
We are extremely excited to Jason on board; I have gotten to know Jason really well over the past year and he a natural fit to Pro Watercross. What stood out to me the most was the amount of respect he treats everyone with. Jason knows the sports inside and out and will be a great advocate for both hydroflight and Pro Watercross, I see a bright future with him, remarked AJ Handler, president of Pro Watercross.
Burns, who was a jet ski freestyle competitor for more than 20 years, has been involved in the growth of the Hydroflight sport for the past five years, working with industry innovator Franky Zapata.
“Working with Franky (Zapata) is wonderful, and working with AJ and Franky is like a dream come true,” Burns said. “These are two outstanding guys that are trying to make something special happen here with this 2017 tour, and I feel privileged to be a part of it all.”
Burns has already had a hand in the behind-the-scenes efforts needed to bring the Hydroflight tour into the Pro Watercross family, helping to refresh competition rules, scoring and procedures as well as working with sponsors, venues and athletes to prepare for the opening round for Hydroflight in Pensacola, Florida on April 29-30.
But Burns’ involvement in watercraft sports in general, and Hydroflight specifically, goes far beyond his recent work with Pro Watercross’ new expansion into the Hydroflight arena.
Burns grew up in a family immersed in watersports - his father was a barefoot water-skier, and his aunts and uncles also were involved in the sport. Burns started waterskiing at the age of 5, competitively skiing until the age of 14, when he saw Larry Rippenkroeger barefoot waterskiing off the side of a jet ski.
“Wow, I don’t need a driver anymore if I get a jet ski,” Burns remembers thinking - and that is exactly what he did. For the next 20 years, Burns was a top-level freestyle competitor and closed-course slalom racer, and also was heavily involved in judging freestyle competitions.
“My last freestyle competition was in 2008, in Harbor Springs, where I took second place and retire from competition and the natural progression was to become a judge. Fast-forward to 2014, this was the first year of the North American Flyboard Championship. It was in Toronto and I had just left an event that I was judging and I went to meet Franky (Zapata) and to see the top pros in person. I sat next to the judges and watched what they were doing and how difficult their job was, because these athletes do more tricks per minute and add in the height variable.’ Burns recalled. “I sent an unsolicited letter to Franky telling him what I recommended regarding judging, and the next year when the championships came to the U.S., he demanded I take his place as judge; he wanted me to be head judge and implement the things I had recommended.”
Working with Zapata, and coming in at the base level of an explosive new sport such as Hydroflight was both an honor and a huge privilege, Burns said.
Burns, who also has several years of experience as a promoter in the watersport industry and involvement in snow ski competitions and coaching, as well a professional sales and business background, has taken the wealth of experience, knowledge and hands-on interaction with the Hydroflight sport and brought his understanding of the sport to the organization of Pro Watercross to guide its expansion in this whole new arena of the power watersports.
In addition to handling the details of sponsorships, venue arrangements and logistics, Burns has directed the creation of a new set of rules for the coming tour, and guidelines for consistency, accuracy and fairness in judging.
With Hydroflight being a relatively new, and quickly growing sport, Burns said input from the athletes themselves, as well as sponsors, organizers, venues, former judges and fans have all played a part in formulating the framework for the Pro Watercross Hydroflight Tour.
“There has been a lot of input from the athletes in the last five years, and they have great things to say. I think that is one of the reasons I’m here (in this new position) is that I listen to the athletes and we have those important conversations and we’ve been able to make some really good rules and scoring (guidelines) from it,” he said.
“My main philosophy, in what I’ve done before, and what we’re doing with the Pro Watercross Hydroflight Tour, is that the competitors put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears - it’s no joke to them. They spend a lot of money, and a lot of time and they deserve judges that take their job seriously - as seriously as the athlete take it...”
A.J. Handler holds the same level of expectation of Burns and for the Hydroflight tour, its organization and the judging, Burns said.
“A.J. has been adamant about having consistent judges - qualified judges - and eventually we’d like to have it where it’s like the U.S. Ski Team - they have certified judges who understand exactly what they are looking at and judging. It’s not about a popularity contest.