The United States is the most financially prosperous nation in the world, and that allows us a lot of luxuries when it comes to our toys. Here, if we want to drag race on water, we build 8,000 horsepower, all-billet supercharged Hemi’s on nitro, stuff them into a boat the size of a large car, and have at it. The money exists for consumers and manufacturers to both engineer and buy what’s needed to develop almost anything one can imagine. Other countries, however, don’t enjoy those same resources, leading their people to more inventive methods of competition as they make do with whatever parts and pieces they can come up with. And oftentimes, the low-buck, ingenious creations are every bit as entertaining as our over-the-top machines.
A couple of weeks back, we shared a story and some accompanying video with you about the “small-tire” motorcycle racing that goes on over in Thailand, and as it turns out, that’s not the only unique from of side-by-side competition that the Thai people have devised. Like us, they figure “why not race on water?”
The result is what is known in Thai provinces as Long Tail Boat racing.
Long Tail Boats, as you can see in the clips shown here, are small crafts no bigger than your typical kayak and made from wood, often by the owners and workers of small engineering shops located throughout the country who also race them. There is no seat or steering wheel, just a pilot either sitting or kneeling as they guide the tiny boat across the water. Motivation comes from small 150cc single cylinders on up to unlimited cc twin-cylinder motorcycle engines, providing more than enough power to haul ass and really get someone hurt in the process.
The reason they’re called Long Tails, you ask? Because, as you can clearly see in the videos, the prop shaft and prop from the engine protrude out from the back of the boat and are run partially submerged. The rider can adjust the trim by altering the angle of the tail and the prop in the water, while using his or her weight to guide the boat, like a motorcycle. Because the boats are so lightweight, even with the rider, weight constantly has to be shifted to the left to counteract the torque of the prop that’s trying to track the boat to the right at speed.
Of course, with the prop shaft and prop hanging out there, the last thing you’d want to do is accidentally step out in some shallow water behind one of these things, as the prop would surely take your leg off.
This sport is, as we’ve come to learn through our research, quite popular in certain parts of the country, with a large number of owners and teams traveling around the country to compete. While there’s little way in the prize money — which is said to more or less cover the cost of travel — the status that comes with victory is what drives these fearless racers.
There are no safety measures taken — no helmets, no life vests, not even a wet suit. It’s shirts, pants, and maybe a ballcap. And when the faster boats can easily top 100 MPH, that’s a dicey proposition, because, as any physics major will tell you, at that kind of speed, water is about as unyielding as concrete. A headfirst dive off the boat in a crash at that speed could easily cause life threatening or life-changing injuries. Add in that there’s nothing to keep you afloat if you’re unconscious and, well, you get the point.
Safety aside, this is a pretty ingenious form of racing, and we’ve got to hand it to the Thai people for making the most of what they have to satisfy their competitive urges. Because insurance companies probably wouldn’t let us get away with doing it ourselves, we’ll just have to stick with our 260 MPH boats.