Seeing their children’s interest in water sports and a desire to get away from work on summer weekends, Gene and Bonnie Malone purchased a houseboat which the Malones parked at Lake Raystown.
What happened captured the attention of a future world champion who revolutionized the sport of jet ski racing.
From the days of tearing up Lake Raystown to his first competition at Lakemont Park to become a multiple-time World and National Champion, Eric Malone’s impact on the sport of jet skiing will be honored with his induction into the Hall of Blair County sports fame.
Michael Ratti, editor of Pro Rider Watercraft magazine, shared, “When I started in the sport Eric was in prime time, on TV, in movies winning surfing and flat water championships, pushing the sport especially freestyle, constantly creating new tricks , posting videos and shows with World Freestyle Watercraft Alliance (WFWA). Freestylers idolized him, studied his gear and maneuvers. His mentorship helped me develop skills that allowed me to travel the world as he did it through the sport of jet skiing.
“You talk around the jet ski world, and everyone knows Eric Malone,” said childhood friend Jason Ritchey, who trained and competed with Malone on tour the year Malone won his first US National Amateur Freestyle Championships. “He is the man for the sport and for what he has done. He is definitely the icon of the sport.
“We would go on tour, and Gene and Eric would work together, and they would come up with great, crazy ideas to figure out how to make things work or make them better,” Ritchey added. “It was tribal knowledge.”
Indeed, Malone has carved out a place for himself in the world of jet skiing. His fearless ways, unparalleled ingenuity and relentless pursuit of innovation transformed the sport not just as a competitor, but as the maker of its freestyle machines under Eric Malone Enterprises.
“Eric Malone is the sport’s winningest professional freestyle athlete,” said Scott Frazier, president of the IJSBA (The International Jet Sports Boating Association), the global sanctioning body for personal watercraft racing.
Malone has won eight world championships (seven as a professional, one as an amateur) and 11 US professional national championships.
Malone has been credited with developing the famous jet ski trick, the hands-free barrel. That same year, he won the IJSBA Pro World Championship using another trademark trick, the double barrel.
Other notable jet ski tricks he developed include the 720∂ aerial double barrel roll in surf and backflip in flat water. He also created the first “green ramp” for WFWA stunt shows across the United States
Malone earned a movie SAG card when he dubbed for lead actors in movies “I am number 4” and “In the blue.”
“There is no doubt that Eric Malone is the father of modern freestyle watercraft competition,” Frazier said. “His athletic and gymnastic prowess was a natural fit with the emerging personal watercraft sensation that swept the millennium. He developed an artistic flair that, combined with his mastery of a craft, raised the bar to a new level that few world competitors could reach.
Malone picked shards from various avenues to merge them to be at the forefront of the industry. Inside his trophy case at home are the first trophies he won.
As a youth, Malone won a trophy playing basketball in the Hollidaysburg Youth League, which Malone says showed him that spending time honing a craft could lead to results.
Malone worked with coaches at Gemini Gymnastics in the offseason and believes his competitive years as a wrestler for Hollidaysburg taught him about leverage and other tactics that have helped him through his career.
However, Malone’s pursuit of his passion for jet skis was not limited to the physical benefits he derived from other sports.
One of the best decisions he ever made, he said, was to work with athletic trainer and psychologist Dr. Bill Thierfelder, who also taught Malone the mental side of competition on a international scene.
“Eric was one of the most gifted athletes I have ever worked with,” said Thierfelder, who worked with professional athletes in all sports before becoming president of Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte, North Carolina. “He was a genius in motor control. He was remarkable. When he originally came to see me, my first impression was that he was a young man who wanted to do everything he could to harness all the abilities with which he was endowed. He did not want to neglect anything.”
Malone credits his hometown for helping him harness every ounce of ability, noting that training in the relative anonymity of Pennsylvania helped him develop his equipment and new tricks on skis, as he could practice incognito rather than training in a hotbed like California, Florida, or Arizona, where watchful eyes might have derailed the tricks he debuted in international competition for the first time.
“I could train without my competitors watching” Malone said. “The name of the game is to develop new tricks, and that requires me and the machine to be stronger every day, keeping the two in sync.”
When Malone first started competing, his roots in Pennsylvania meant sponsorship opportunities were scarce. During his amateur years, his parents sponsored Malone in his competitions and later purchased a powersports dealership.
Malone established himself in the sport by winning the US National and World Amateur Freestyle Championship and later through the connections people like Shawn Alladio provided.
Alladio trained Malone in swift water rescue. Malone then applied these skills later in life and gained national recognition for his heroic efforts during the 1996 floods when he rescued people in Linds Crossing and Claysburg.
Alladio’s connections also helped Malone land a one-on-one meeting, which resulted in a sponsorship of industry heavyweights in a rather dodgy meeting with Steve Lawler, the racing director of Yamaha’s personal watercraft division. While on a trip to California, Alladio and Malone met Lawler during an unscheduled visit to Yamaha headquarters.
“I just broke in, and Steve was in a meeting with someone else,” Alladio called back. “I said ‘No, Steve, you’re meeting with me right now.’ We sat down and he said, ‘What’s going on with you, Shawn?’ And I said, ‘That’s not what’s happening with me, Steve. That’s what’s happening with you. He’s your new pro rider, and you’re going to sponsor him, because if you don’t Don’t do it, you’re going to regret it when Eric becomes world champion. You’re going to look like a fool, and I don’t think you’re a fool.
Malone left with a contract deal, and Malone began flying competitions while his parents followed in an RV.
Malone’s father, Gene, estimated that he bought about three or four RVs that each racked up over 100,000 miles on cross-country trips while the Malones supported their son.
Bonnie Malone died of cancer in July 2005, while Eric was still competing.
Today, Malone continues to support the industry while pursuing a career in real estate. An exemplary model of how success follows hard work, dedication and perseverance, Malone is a role model and a proud citizen of Blair County.
“This has always been my home base and I’ve always lived here, it’s where my closest friends and family are,” he said. “It’s at my house.”
He enjoys the support and recognition of his hometown.
“The more I think about it, when I was inducted into the Jet Ski Industry Hall of Fame, it was expected,” he said. “It’s 10 times the honor because it’s rural Pennsylvania and people who aren’t really into jet skis. To have this recognized is a complete honour.
What: 19th Induction Banquet
When: Saturday, April 9, 2022
Where: Blair County Convention Center
Tickets: Over 900 seats, but there are still a limited number of tickets at $95 each. Call Kathy Millward at 814-312-4753 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individual inductees: John Hayes (football), *John Lingenfelter (motorsports), Eric Malone (jet ski), *Eddie Miller (basketball), Tawney Nardozza Schmitt (swimming). *Posthumous
Team Inductee: 1970 Bishop Guilfoyle Men’s Basketball Team
Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Roseborough
Guest speaker: Doug Flutie