Outdoors

Meridian jetboat racer continues lifelong passion for boats

Onboard a jetboat going 80 mph on the Snake River

Shay White of Meridian took us for a ride on the Snake River from Celebration Park to Swan Falls Dam in his racing jetboat.
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Shay White of Meridian took us for a ride on the Snake River from Celebration Park to Swan Falls Dam in his racing jetboat.

Shay White’s dream and his mother’s caveat clashed in 2012.

The dream won.

White, of Meridian, wanted to race a jetboat in a marathon world championship staged solely in Idaho. That happened in 2012 for the first time in 20 years — and the event wasn’t due to return to the U.S. until 2016.

But Jayne’s message to her sons, Shay and his navigator, Grady, was that she wouldn’t allow them to put a race engine in their boat until they earned their college degrees.

“It was a bucket list (item),” Shay said.

So Jayne relented, the president of Eastern Oregon granted her sons athletic leave from class and they finished fourth overall (and third in their class) in the 2012 event. That was the beginning of their racing careers.

“It was a huge feat that we finished the way we did,” Grady said. “I wouldn’t ever take it back. That was a lifetime experience in that one week. That was just amazing for me.”

Shay White of Meridian explains how his jetboat works.

The World Championship Marathon Jet Boat Race returns to North Idaho later this month (May 20-29). Shay is entered again, but he’ll have to race without Grady this time. Grady will be in Alaska working on a construction project.

Grady’s friend, Andy Boyer, will navigate. Grady, 30, and Boyer shared the job at the annual race last month in Riggins, and Shay’s boat won its class easily.

“I’m pretty sure (Shay) is one of the best in the world,” said Grady, who would like to drive but knows he has a better chance to win with his younger brother in that seat. “He’s done everything he physically can to learn about it. He can read water as fast as anybody I know. He loves it. It’s a passion.”

Shay is president of the Western Whitewater Association — a group of jetboat enthusiasts that advocates for shared use of the rivers. His dad, Rick, is a longtime jetboater and boat mechanic. The family spent much of their vacation time on the Snake River when Shay and Grady were boys.

Shay built a 12-inch boat with a jet pump at 11 years old. He built a 40-inch version with a weed-whacker engine in college.

“My first word was actually ‘boat,’ ” Shay said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do.”

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