Man overboard
© Trent Slatter

Five reasons why PWCs suck

So you want to buy a PWC? Derek Rielly has some advice. Don’t!
By Derek Rielly
4 min readPublished on
Years back I started a surfing magazine. It went well. Money flowed like gravy at a diner.
This was the mid-2000s when marketing managers at surf companies threw money at magazines as if it was an existential necessity. (For them it was. Spend the budget and it'd get refilled the next year.)
And so one day my biz partner and I swung into a Yamaha marine store, prodded a few skis, sat on a few more, found one with chromium mirrors and said "we'll take it."
We figured we could lease it and claim all the expenses on tax. But when the salesman brought out a sheaf of forms we'd have to fill in before we could saddle up, and with the swell hitting its apex, right then, we said "how about we just cut you a cheque?" For twenty grand.
That day I became the owner of a Yamaha WaveRunner (Jet Ski® is actually the trademark term coined by Kawasaki for their standup machines from the eighties) with a 1200 cc engine. It was soon fitted out with a sled and various condiments from Hawaiian Surf Accessories.
We started to tow Ours. The Puerto-like beachbreaks of South Narrabeen. At the famous right-hander between North and South Stradbroke Islands.
I began to tremble whenever my phone rang. I didn't like big waves but as the owner of a ski, well, what excuse did I have? Once, I was towed into something so big, so round, I had to fight my natural instinct to straighten out (and be swatted) and, as I stood inside the tube, my legs trembled. I shrieked and raised my hands in the air as I came out to no applause.
And that's the thing with jet-skis, 10-foot tubes are commonplace. No one cares. What else sucks about skis?
1. Whenever you want to go for a surf, you have to prep the ski, fuel it up, attach it to the car, and then, if you get to the surf and it ain't towable, too small or whatever, you're stuck with a choice. Leave your ski unattended. Dumb. Or make one of your pals sit in the car and guard. Dumb. You'll watch with envy as unencumbered surfers dance into the lineup with board and arms.
2. When they break, they… break. What amazed me was that the jet-ski license was a written test. Fill out a few multiple-choice answers and you're let loose in the ocean with a device that weighs half a ton and can kill a family in the shorebreak. And so you'll roll your ski. You'll drown your engine. You'll rip open the hull on rocks as you beach it. All fixable, of course. At a price. Marine mechanics went to the same vocational college as camera and lighting equipment repairers. Budget $2000 every time you drag it into the shop.
3. No one likes jet skis. Hate might even be a more accurate description of what you'll see in surfers' eyes as you roar through the lineup, chopping up sets, nearly decapitating packs with your tow rope. You want to be liked? Don't take it out of the garage.
4. They take all the fun out of the big-wave experience. Want to know what the most exhilarating part of a big wave is? Yeah, the drop. The moment when you commit, paddle your lungs out and drop down a difficult curved face. On a ski it's about as challenging as putting on a pair of slippers. The shift in big-wave surfing back to paddle ain't a coincidence.
5. Governments try to ban 'em by subterfuge. You want to know why that license is three times the price of the boat license? Why there are so many exclusion zones? Why they make you wear life jackets, have a spotter and everything else? Because the state wants 'em out. They breed maniacal behaviour. Who needs!
The two happiest days in your life will be the day you buy, and the day you sell, the damn machine. Do heed this advice.
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