Once the performance-boating season gets rolling, you could literally—if you could clone yourself and buy a second boat—participate in two worthwhile events every weekend. And even then, you’d be making hard choices because on some of those there weekends, especially in July and August there are four or more excellent events.
But in the real world, you have to make tough choices with how to spend your precious leisure time on the water. Not to worry, we’re here to help. What follows is a decidedly subjective list of the top 10 go-fast boating events of 2018. They’re all winners, and to help you plan we’ve listed them in chronological order. Beyond that, you’re on your own.
Miami International Boat Show—February 15-19
If you attend one consumer boat show a year, the Miami International Boat Show is—by far—your best choice. No exhibit on the planet boasts a greater variety of new high-performance V-bottoms, catamarans and center consoles at the docks—and engines and hardware in the air-conditioned display tents. And thanks to the event’s location at Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, plenty of demo rides are available for visitors.
Desert Storm Poker Run—April 17-22
It’s tough to say which is better, the Desert Storm Poker Run on Lake Havasu or the event’s Thursday street party and exhibit in downtown Lake Havasu City, Ariz., which presents the best display of go-fast boat hardware west of the Mississippi. Call it a draw. Fortunately, you can enjoy both facets of the event at a time when most of the country is too cold for boating.
Tickfaw 200 Poker Run—May 4-6
Thanks to organizer Casey Harrison and his dedicated crew, the good times continue to roll at this often-raucous event in Springfield, La. While most of the run is bayou and river bound, a portion of it actually takes participants for a waterside lunch in New Orleans. When it comes to Southern hospitality in the go-fast boating world, the Tickfaw 200 is unmatched.
Atlantic City Powerboat Rally—June 15-16
The New Jersey Powerboat Club dropped the word “performance” from its original name this year, and that speaks to the appeal of the relatively short annual run on Barnegat Bay—and into the Atlantic Ocean for those who dare—from Toms River to Atlantic City for the weekend. The event is just as welcoming to owners of pontoon boats as it is to high-performance V-bottoms and catamarans, and that makes it particularly attractive to newcomers, who will be welcome with open arms by longtime participants.
1,000 Island Charity Poker Run—July 19-22
That a second-year event could make this list is in and of itself an accomplishment. But by all accounts, the inaugural 1,000 Islands Charity Poker Run in Clayton, N.Y., was a spectacular success. Some of that might have to do with the breathtaking waterway. Some it of might have to do with the area’s ever-gracious performance boating community. Either way, this one is a winner.
Boyne Thunder Poker Run—July 13-14
More than a few people, including this reporter, believe that Boyne Thunder is the world’s best poker run. When it comes to summer scenery, Northern Michigan is hard to beat—same goes for Boyne City, which is home base for the event, went it comes to charming small-town Americana. The poker course includes Lake Charlevoix, Round Lake and Lake Michigan and Friday’s night’s street celebration is as fun and family-oriented as they come.
Lake of the Ozarks Shootout—August 22-26
With two days of top-speed shootouts on a three-quarter-mile course, multiple parties every night and an open-to-the-public street fair with jaw-dropping boat and car displays on Bagnell Dam, the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri celebrates the very best of the high-performance boating world. That it happens in conjunction with nearby Super Cat Fest makes it that much better.
Super Cat Fest—August 23-25
Headquartered at the Camden on the Lake Resort Docks in Lake Ozark, Mo., Super Cat Fest present the greatest collection of exotic go-fast catamarans—and even a few V-bottom sportboats and high-performance center consoles—in the world. The owners bring the boats so it lacks the formality of an official boat show, which makes it even more enjoyable for performance-boat enthusiasts looking to enjoy the show, which includes parties with live music and a bikini contest. And the spectator fleet at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout competition on Saturday and Sunday is just a short boat ride away.
Lake Powell Challenge—September 13-16
Last year, the Lake Powell Challenge raised $500,000—a record for any go-fast boating charity event—for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Equally impressive, the Lake Powell scenery in Utah and Arizona—and the houseboat village at Antelope Point Marina—dazzled participants in 2017 and had most swearing they would return this year.
Florida Powerboat Club Key West Poker Run—November 6-12
The granddaddy of all poker runs, the Florida Powerboat Club’s annual jaunt to Key West attracted 185 boats, which departed from Miami in Wednesday, Thursday and Friday waves. The run dovetails with the annual Super Boat International Offshore World Championships that week, which means participants so inclined can get their fill of offshore powerboat racing action. Speedonthewater.com hosts a Thursday night part and the Florida Powerboat Club has its awards ceremony and banquet a couple of nights later, but for those who need more the nightly celebration on Duval Street almost never stops.