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The Jet Set
Jack McCallum
July 21, 1997
An avid jet skier defends a sport scorned by mainstream boaters
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July 21, 1997

The Jet Set

An avid jet skier defends a sport scorned by mainstream boaters

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I am here to say something nice about et skis. That isn't the same as saying, "I am here to say something nice about diarrhea," but it's close. Times are tough "or the million or so of us owners of et skis. "We're being treated like the unwanted stepchild," says Keith Bush. an editor of Personal Watercraft Illustrated. It's true. I can't haul my jet skis anywhere without someone ambling over and gleefully telling me, "You know, I hear they're trying to ban those damn things."

That hasn't happened yet, but many states have passed or are considering overly restrictive laws governing the use of jet skis. They include New Hampshire, where only the larger and quieter three-person models are allowed on most lakes, and Maine, where one proposal would prohibit jet skis on lakes smaller in area than 200 acres. There are even restrictions on jet skiers in anything-goes Hawaii, where tourists are encouraged to eat roast pig on the beach. And they say jet skiing is a frightening activity.

A few weeks ago the fear and loathing went prime time when Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs tsk-tsked about personal watercraft (the industry term for jet skis, often abbreviated to PWC) in the lead segment of 20/20, whose producers chose the obligatory Born to Be Wild background music when the first jet ski flashed into view. I am here to testify that many PWC owners are, like the members of Steppenwolf, nearing or past the age of 50, born-to-be-mild types with steady jobs and unwavering insurance premiums, as disinclined to risk life and limb as the most sedate sailboat captain.

There are several reasons we are despised, one of the principal ones being that jet skiers have not bought into the boating thing. By and large, we don't consult navigational charts and keep our radios tuned to the marine weather channel. We don't have stories about battling the elements, being at one with the tides and knowing where the fluke are biting.

I have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to spend a lot of time on a dock, up to my elbows in grease and greenheads, changing the fuse in the bilge pump. Boat people aren't happy unless they're tinkering. My tinkering is limited to filling my tank with gas. I'm also impatient. I like to get my jet skis in the water, wrap the lanyard around my wrist, push the start button, squeeze the throttle and take off. Clearly my marine sensibility is at odds with that of sailboaters, folks with Job-like patience who seem to enjoy dilemmas. A few weeks ago I was jet skiing when I came upon a drifting sailboat.

Me: "How's it going?"

Sailboat guy: "Well, the roller furling assembly in my jib is jammed."

Me: "You don't say."

Sailboat guy: "Yeah, the halyard's wrapped around the head stay or the furling line has popped out of the drum."

Me: "Oh."

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