Jet Skiing from Los Angeles to San Diego Was a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience. (Once was Enough.)
BEGINNINGSLast January in Bimini over an icy Kalik or five, I hatched a plan with Jon Rall, a PR rep for Kawasaki, to take the company’s new 300LX Jet Ski in the open ocean from Los Angeles to San Diego. It seemed like a great idea at the time. I had been messing around on the machine in the relatively serene waters off Bimini for a few days, and—despite minimal PWC experience—felt like I had become quite adept at handling it. And after all, I’m young, I’m in shape, how hard could a 140-mile jaunt down the sunny California coast be?
Flash forward a week to our New York headquarters where I presented my grand plan to Capt. Richard Thiel. Thiel—a San Diego native—smirked. “That’s a long way,” he said, before pausing as if to say more, deciding against it, and giving me the okay. My father had a similar reaction, snorting and shaking his head the way he always has when his only son tells him he is currently doing, has done, or is about to do something profoundly dumb. Nevertheless, I remained undeterred—which is to say I would soon find myself straddling a 300-hp rocket of a watercraft motoring out of a Marina Del Rey harbor with Rall and two others under bluebird SoCal skies.
The trip started off with a slight hiccup. With my internal clock whacked out from a cross-country flight the day before, I had been mainlining coffee all morning. Predictably, nature called shortly after we pushed off—which created a quandary.
My one big, irrational fear in life is sharks. And if watching Shark Week every summer for the past 23 years has taught me anything, it’s that the California coast is crawling with great whites. Like, man-eating sharks so thick in the water that I could probably skip back to the beach from my 300LX using their giant, death-harbingering dorsal fins as stepping stones. And now, a half mile out in the Pacific Ocean, I had a pressing decision to make: Ride God-knows-how-long on a bouncing Jet Ski until our first stop or jump in the water and relieve myself.
I hemmed. I hawed. I scanned the swells for circling fins. Finally, I decided to suck it up and jump in. And just as I did, one of my fellow riders—John Baynes of Kawasaki R&D—totally oblivious to my Hamletian inner struggle, shouted out “Watch out for the great whites!” Yeah, thanks dude. I’ll keep an eye out.
I didn’t get eaten by a shark of course. But when I was finished answering the call, I did rocket up out of the water and back onto my seat with a show of superhuman strength akin to one of those mothers who picks a car up off her child in a life-or-death emergency. And with that, we were off.
WILD RIDEThese are the things you see when Jet Skiing from L.A. to San Diego: First, wildlife. Lots and lots of wildlife. Sea lions are seemingly everywhere in the harbors, and harems of doughy females pile high on the large red buoys that dot the coast, always under the watchful eye of a single dominant male. Groups of sea otters, known as rafts, are usually close by, ducking and darting through the water, their coats—the thickest of any animal in the world—insulating them from the chilly depths. At one point we rode right through a pod of perhaps 100 dolphin, a few of whom hitched a ride on my bow wake, torpedoing through the water just feet from my face.
And then there were the kelp forests. Massive growths of seaweed that trace California’s coast like an eyebrow, sprouting up to a foot a day and growing so densely that they supress the effects of the wind on the ocean’s surface, effectively making the water look smooth and congealed like the top of a pudding cup, as if you could spread it with a knife.
And you’ll see awe-inspiring coastline. Surf spots like Huntington Pier and The Wedge made famous in Beach Boys songs and magazine shoots slide by. Mansions impossibly perched on sandy cliffs that fall hundreds of feet to the pounding surf below are the norm in towns like Rancho Palos Verdes and La Jolla. I raced by wild stretches of coast lining the sprawling Camp Pendleton marine base. Nearer to San Diego, hang gliders launched from the cliffs of Torrey Pines so high up that they looked like tiny, rigid birds looping peacefully in ever-widening gyres, and careening in suicidal arcs through vast canyons of space.
WHERE IS MY MIND?This is how it feels in your head to ride a Jet Ski for 140 miles. Just like on a road trip, your mind wanders, as the sensory-depriving effects of the engine’s revs and the endless blue water take their toll. You pass a boat named something that sparks a memory—Roughshod perhaps. A domino effect of thought occurs, and soon you’re smiling at a joke your coworker made earlier in the week or stewing over a past score you never settled or remembering what it felt like to kiss Cecilia Cappman on a school ski trip to Vermont in the tenth grade.
You will be awed by your surroundings.
You might think of the comedian Daniel Tosh who has a joke about how it’s impossible to be unhappy on a Jet Ski.
You’ll realize that he is right. And you get bored and sing songs to pass the time—loudly and with abandon, your voice carried away by the wind rushing by before you yourself can even hear it. Realizing there’s a dearth of good songs written about Jet Skis in the canon, you may find that a Springsteen song about motorcycles substitutes quite nicely.
THE SHAPE I’M INAnd this is how it physically feels to ride a Jet Ski from L.A. to San Diego. In a word, it’s grueling. If you’re not in “Jet Ski shape” (which I obviously was not), you’re going to take a beating. Even though the 300LX’s hull is built for chop—and handles it incredibly well—you’re still pounding across two-foot slop in the Pacific Ocean on a tiny craft at 50 mph and faster. Your legs are the first go. I had jellyfish quads after 60 miles and made the fateful decision to sit down. Eighty miles in, my neck began to throb, and at 100 miles, the spinal erector muscles in my back joined the party. At the 120-mile mark, I began to fall behind, even though I had been priding myself on keeping up with the other, significantly more experienced, riders. My speed dropped to below 30 mph. I thought something was wrong with my boat. Nope. After a short “photography” break (I suspect the other guys were just giving me time to rest) I realized that my Jet Ski was fine—I wasn’t accelerating because the muscles in my hand had fatigued to the point where they couldn’t squeeze the throttle hard enough to go fast anymore. I ended up compensating by gripping it with my palm or middle finger, gutting out the 20-mile homestretch inch by bouncing inch.
As we puttered through the inlet at San Diego’s Mission Bay, I felt like I had just wrestled a declawed Eurasian brown bear to a draw. I was bone-tired. My neck and back pleaded for a hospital dose of Advil. My legs were so shot that three days later I would still be hobbling around like an old-timer NFL lineman with no cartilage left in his knees. My hands had ossified into claws. And I had a rash from my wetsuit rubbing on the seat that would make a Tijuana dermatologist blush. The only thing that made it all worth it was that the cheeks on my face hurt too—from smiling.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.