By Fara Kearnes
Guilty Pleasure Fun
Now is the time to plan a weekend getaway where you can experience the thrill of gliding across
a glassy lake mounted on a 140-horsepower wave rocket as you explore inlets, slalom a bouy
course, or head to a private cove to soak up some sun. If the hassle of owning a large boat isn’t
your style, perhaps you’d prefer the rush and guilty pleasure that only a jet ski can provide.
A personal water craft, or PWC, is generally known by brand names such as Jet Ski®, Sea
Doo®, Wave Runner®, etc. Many people use the generic term “jet skis” for the entire class of
watercraft, although this is actually a trademark belonging to Kawasaki. In addition to Kawasaki,
there are three other major makers of PWCs: Honda, Sea Doo and Yamaha.
More Friendly to the Environment
PWCs were given a bad rap in the nineties but times are changing. In addition to being more
environmentally friendly, the latest designs in engines generate far less exhaust and noise
pollution. Since 1998, PWC manufacturers have invested more than $1 billion in research that
has resulted in cleaner and more efficient watercrafts. The new models of jet skis are not only
quiet compared to skis built ten years ago, but the redesigned 2-stroke engines use direct fuel
injection (DFI) which reduces emissions by 75% over conventional outboard motors found on
Selecting a Personal Water Craft
If you’re planning on buying a PWC, you need to determine if you want a sit-down or stand-up
model. Jet skis are single-rider models designed for tricks while a larger sit-down craft (a
“couch”) can seat 3 or 4 people and will be powerful enough to pull a water-skier, tuber or knee
boarder. Prices for a new PWC will range from $6,000 to $11,000, and used models can look
like a bargain at $500 but you should be aware of ordinances that ban the use of older heavy-
polluting carbureted engines.
Next, you’ll make a choice between a direct injection 2-stroke engine or a 4-stroke engine.
You’ll find the new DFIs offer a decrease in oil consumption by 50 percent over carburetor
models, while 4-strokes run on straight gasoline rather than an expensive oil/gas mix.
Most manufacturers make a variety of sizes for engines and hulls. Engines range between 85 and
215 horsepower and speeds can reach 60 miles per hour. PWC are designed with a deep vee-hull
which has a big influence on performance. Short, narrow machines are highly maneuverable for
skilled riders but may be difficult for beginners. Wider, longer designs are more stable, carry
more people, and deflect spray better, but have reduced maneuverability.
Before you get started, you’ll need the proper equipment to ride safely and maximize your fun.
Be sure you have the following items:
- a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket
- eye protection (to keep wind and water spray out of your eyes)
- wet suit. For ocean riding, opt for a dry suit to keep you warm.
- booties and gloves for better control
- signaling device (such as a whistle, flare, or small air horn) for emergencies
- a helmet if you’re planning to throw big tricks
Riding for Y our Health
A PWC is extremely user friendly and requires only minimal instruction to learn to ride. In many
ways, they offer the feel of a dirt bike and will require you to stand up in order to absorb the
shock of going over an obstacle — in this case, rough water. If you try and sit down over chop at
higher speeds, you’ll experience quite a pounding on your body.
While some riders make the sport look easy, it’s a fact that jet skiing requires your legs and
thighs to be in good condition. For that matter, even if you just plan to mosey along the
shoreline, your arms and back will get a workout driving a ski which — even though it’s made
of fiberglass-reinforced plastic resin — weighs from 400 to 800 pounds.
If you’re a weekend warrior and want to really work with the ski, choose a stand-up which is
much more challenging than a sit-down and will give you the feel of waterskiing. As you
progress you’ll be learning turns and spins, and will be constantly practicing balance and weight
shifting in order to keep the pump planted in the water. Before long, the rhythm of jet skiing will
be ingrained into your muscle memory and you’ll be carving through turns, hopping your own
chop, and giving yourself a full body workout.
Practice, Then Try a Few Tricks
If you’ve been riding flat water and want to move on to some thrills, try some of the more
popular tricks which includes: bunny hops, barrel rolls, log rolls, nose stabs, tail stands, 180-
spins, 360s, fountains, hood riding, full submarines and many more.
To do this trick, run the ski at about 20 mph, then push the nose in and hop it with your legs. The
ski should dive down a foot or so then spring back up. With a little practice, you’ll be able to
clear the entire ski out of the water. This is also a good emergency maneuver for when you want
to avoid hitting driftwood or debris by jumping it with a little hop.
With forward momentum, go into a slide, drop your body off one side of the ski and roll the
machine over in the water. Come back up the other side and drive it out. (Think of a kayak roll.)
Just remember that not all hulls are the same; some models are nimble for certain tricks while
others are not.
A full submarine is a more advanced trick and very popular with riders. Place your feet at the
very back of the tray. Bounce a little bit to make sure you can easily launch into the air. Bunny
hop the ski, pushing the handle pole forward and lean forward slightly. Lock your feet to the
sides of the tray, and pull the rear of the ski up. The nose should slam into the water and dive
deep. With practice, you can also do a pivot under water and come up in the same place you just
subbed, but facing the direction you came from! Needless to say, your ski should be equipped
with a bilge pump if you’re going to do this stunt.
With the ski going at plane speed, climb onto the hood and face backwards, with your belly on
handle pole, hands on the grips, and feet dangling off front of the ski. At about 20 mph, let off
the gas, and slid your weight on the nose until it starts to go under. As the stern rises out of the
water, give it about a half throttle. Balance the ski to keep it upright as you blast a huge fountain
out of your pump. Just be careful about how much water is in the hull and don’t try this trick
without adequate bilge systems or a scupper valve.
Where to Go, Where to Ride:
Ocean riding is the most exhilarating for the jet skiing experience. Zipping across a glassy lake
is a lot of fun but can get boring after awhile. Once you’ve mastered the basics of the machine
you’ll want to challenge yourself with more difficult water. The ocean offers the opportunity to
catch wicked airs off bumpy chop — perfect for the thrill seeker in you.
Before you plan a tour of intra-coastal waterways, be sure to ask the locals for information. Even
with the new environmentally friendly machines, some marinas still won’t accommodate PWCs.
Since you’ll need to refuel on long excursions, as well as find out where to eat and what to
expect, you’ll need locals to give you tips. PWCs are gaining in popularity all over the world and
you can often find marinas at your vacation destination that rent jet skis for an hour, or a half
day, or you can sign up for a guided tour along scenic waterways.
Where ever you go, schedule a couple of days to enjoy the high energy fun of jet skiing and
indulge yourself in a guilty pleasure sport that will lure you back again and again.