BRADENTON -- The surfing was never really good off the beaches of Manatee and Sarasota counties, so Kirk Britto needed a different way to blend his extreme sports and aquatic fixations. On land, he had ridden motocross since he was 13. At sea, surfing was popular among his friends in Sarasota.
In 1989, Britto had graduated from Booker and was ready to join the U.S. Navy when he bought his first personal watercraft. Competitive racing was young then and Britto had a knack for it. The next five years he spent on the professional tour.
"Most of us were surfers and when the surf was flat we Jet Skied," Britto said. "All the old-school guys were surfers."
Britto is old school and still winning. He hasn't, though, won in his hometown, but he can end that Saturday at the Bradenton Area River Regatta. Britto, who now lives in Bradenton, finished third in the pro am ski race at the inaugural regatta last year.
With another big crowd
watching and a year of experience on the Manatee River track, Britto is one of the top contenders to win gold this year.
"I want to win it," Britto said. "I wanted to win it last year. I had one race that didn't go my way."
Britto began his career as a trick rider. From 1991-96, he put together a successful freestyle career and success came quickly.
During his first year on tour, Britto was named the International Jet Sports Boating Association (IJSBA) National Freestyle Champion. The next year, he finished second and tied for the IJSBA National 650/750 Limited Close Course overall championship. By 1993, he was a professional.
"I was having way too much fun," Britto said. "I went from almost being in the Navy to being on the Jet Ski tour. It was a totally different direction."
He logged top-five freestyle finishes in 1994 and 1995 before temporarily retiring in 1996. It was time for a new direction. This time he was drawn to music, forming the band Stuk with a handful of friends and performing throughout Florida.
But the Jet Ski was always a draw and by 2012 he was back on tour, where he still remains while also running Britts Repair in Sarasota. Two years later, his success was back and he was the 2014 National AquaX Ski Champion.
Last year, Britto finished third in AquaX and was the Pro Watercross World Masters Ski GP champion while experiencing with the larger runabout skis. A long-time standup racer, he rode a runabout for the first time July 4 in Sarasota.
This Saturday will be more familiar when he's back to standup racing in Manatee County. With almost three decades of experience, Britto is one of the senior members of the tight-knit professional tour, which will come back to his stomping grounds Saturday.
"It's still kind of a small family, the Jet Skiing thing," Britto said. "The thing that's changed is that the skis we're riding now are all $20,000 stand-ups. It used to be a lot less -- $2,000 was about all you had to put into it. Not anymore."