On our recent getaway to Key West for Hemingway Days, we arrived at the popular jet ski tour located on Front Street, part of the Historic Seaport Harbor Walk in Old Town. We were excited about our upcoming adventure. I wore a swimsuit, cover-up, and a huge smile. Little did I know how ill-prepared I was, having bought into the myths of this particular water sport.
Myth #1: Jet skiing is for anyone!
If you’re nervous about controlling your own jet ski, don’t even think about being a passenger, where you’re at the mercy of another person’s driving skills (or lack thereof) and have very little to hold onto to keep yourself from flying off the back of the machine. My husband is a big man, and with a life jacket, even bigger. I couldn’t wrap my arms completely around him so I grasped the jacket’s front straps and held on for dear life. Oh, and you’d think it would be wise to slather up with sunscreen in preparation for the sunny day, but once the ocean spray hits your legs you’ll have less traction than a greased pig. You’ll be so slippery that when you race to catch up with the rest of your tour group, the only part of your body not flying a like a flag in a stiff breeze will be two fingers–precariously close to losing their grip.
Myth #2: It’s a great way to enjoy wildlife!
Let me ask you, “How many dolphins, sting rays, sea turtles, and manatees do you think you’re likely to see on a jet ski tour?” If you answered zero, you’re correct. The waves, vibration, and noise created by one jet ski is enough to send all nearby waterlife and fowl headed as far away from you as possible. Combine that with the five other machines in your tour group, and you’ve effectively driven away the hardiest of water creatures. Don’t feel too badly though. You’re being pummeled by salt water at 30-60 miles per hour, so you can’t see a damned thing anyway. All you can concentrate on is staying on the jet ski, ignoring the sting in your eyes, and praying for the safety of land.
Myth #3: It’s not only fun, but educational!
Sure, the tour guides are knowledgeable about the area, and they stop at four or five different sites to impart historical trivia. The only problem is, between the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead and your heart beating a staccato terror drum roll, you’ll hear about one of every ten words–learning absolutely nothing other than how thankful you are to be alive and that you should NEVER believe those glossy brochures.
Myth #4: It’s thrilling, yet safe!
If you enjoy being frightened to within an inch of your life, imagining that at any second you’re going to sail through the air and hit water at about fifty miles per hour and worrying about the inexperienced jet skiers behind you running you over, then yes, it’s thrilling. If you enjoy riding on the back of a motorized machine, much like an out-of-control motorcycle, contending with five foot waves of the Atlantic which causes your pelvis to bang repeatedly against the jet ski’s seat, then yeah, that’s thrilling too. If you’re a closet exhibitionist, and enjoy the idea of accidentally exposing your bottom half to your entire tour group at a brief stop to wade at a sandbar, then most definitely, it’s thrilling.
Safe, not so much. But it’s not as if you aren’t forewarned, signing those requisite waivers about loss of life or limb before you’re allowed to mount your water steed. Life is risky, and jet skiing, if you so choose, is part of life. If you jet ski in calm lake, bay, or gulf waters, it may be quite fun and safe. If you are an inexperienced jet skier riding with another inexperienced jet skier anxious to prove his manliness, and your group’s intent is to tour twenty-six miles around an island between the Gulf of Mexico into choppy Atlantic waters with a time limit of two hours, then it can be a tad more risky.
Luckily, the only victim of our jet ski ride were my sunglasses. A rogue wave drenched us about thirty seconds from the conclusion of our tour and I made the mistake of lifting my face to the sun. The wind caught my glasses and they disappeared into Key West harbor. Hesitant to litter, we turned back to look for them, but the deafening horn of a ferry on our tail changed our minds. We bonded from our common experience, filled with a few moments of sheer terror interspersed with moments of joy, riding the waves around our beloved tropical island.
Will I do it again? Maybe. But next time, I drive!
That’s my take on jet skiing. What’s yours? We’d love to hear your story about that or any other water sport.