I find that if you shut up and let people talk, they’ll tell you more about themselves than you could ever discover on your own. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, salty photo sessions, tanlines, in-depth conversations with people waaay above my pay grade, hotel rooms with lousy pillows and tiny shampoo bottles, endless hours of driving and flying, and really, really nice meals that I haven’t had to pay for. Add to that possibly the most exciting exclusive The Watercraft Journal has ever landed and the launch of our parent company’s second magazine, sleep has been a necessary inconvenience. Oh yeah, and I lost my wallet like a complete moron.
All that being said, throughout my exploits I was able to sit back and listen to a huge range of personal watercraft enthusiasts from all walks of life share their experiences in and out of our sport. Sadly, I was left feeling like I wish I hadn’t. What bothered me most was first, how negative people were toward others (be them groups, clubs, racers, sanctioning bodies or persons with slightly contrasting interests), and secondly, how isolated they all felt. (This is where your sense of irony should be kicking in, folks.) Again, it’s been said that you can learn a lot about a person if you’d just shut up and let them talk, and I did my best to do exactly that this past two weeks.
“It was amazing,” Kev Hemingway said to me. “All I wanted to do was see if they’d want to join us.” Hemingway’s Jetski Junkies group is considered one of the most successful in the nation, with a variety of adventure rides ranging from half-day jaunts to week-long excursions across some of the most picturesque water in the continental United States. When he approached another Florida club about partnering for a multi-day event, he wasn’t just met with disinterest, but outright contempt. “The guy swore me out until I hung up. It was ridiculous. Seriously, what’s wrong with these guys?”
Unfortunately, contention between many riding clubs and groups – particularly in popular areas like Southern California and Florida’s coastline – is as hot as rival Hawaiian surf brotherhoods. It’s understood that athletes need that competitive spirit to drive them. It’s tough to be a happy-go-lucky kind of guy or gal when you’re facing off against the competition on the field of battle, I get it. But I always knew that the difference between an athlete and a sportsman (y’know, what your mom called being a “good sport”) was how you behaved both on and off the field.
“You wouldn’t believe the hate I got for that,” Mark Gomez glowered. Gomez had participated in a one-day heat of AquaMoto racing in between surf sessions at this year’s Daytona Freeride. Amid a lineup of seasoned and novice standup racers, the celebrated freerider took to the buoy course on his Rickter Edge. Spectators reveled as Gomez not only dominated the competition but happily threw in multiple backflips and barrel rolls throughout the race for good measure. “People got all on me for showing off. And I was like, ‘Hey, I’m not going to waste these waves.'”
Let me reiterate: Gomez, who is defensibly at the height of his game, is fielding spite and hatred for excelling. But that is a tale as told as time. Those who rise above the status quo are seen as upsetting the curve, angering the mainstream with the knowledge that to retain their mediocrity they need to try a little harder (or less, as it were) than before. No, the facts are that competition breeds excellence and those who strive for continual and constant growth and improvement chase this unceasingly, while those who seek to be comfortable rationalize their station until they find complacency.
Currently, the world of American jet ski racing is in a rift. The fracturing of AJ Handler’s Pro Watercross Tour and the IJSBA has yet to reveal what the landscape of American PWC racing will look like in a year’s time. The feud between Handler and IJSBA’s Frazier has been almost a constant subject for racers. To those completely disinterested in racing, it’s a non-topic. Personally, I won’t pretend to put on airs that I even care as to the details of the rivalry (I don’t). All that I do care about is the divisiveness and dissent that the break has caused. The backbiting, contention, bemoaning and bitterness is toxic, and poisoning a sport that is already trying to mend.
Lastly, one final story: Marcos Smith of RIVA Racing, is new to personal watercraft having joined the company from working at Red Bull, a company who knows a think or two about growing sports too. Smith’s introduction to performance PWC couldn’t be more intensive than working with the brilliant minds behind the sport’s single-largest manufacturer of aftermarket performance equipment, as well as beneath one of the sport’s greatest supporters, Dave Bamdas. Yet, his experience with jet skiers has been soured. “I looked around online and found a local group,” Smith told me. “All I wanted to do was find a bunch of guys to go riding with, but when he found out I worked at RIVA, he was like, ‘No thanks. We don’t want any corporate guys on our rides.’ All I could say was, ‘Wow’.”
Yesterday, we published a story about how Queensland, Australia is considering more sanctions on PWC near local beaches and surf spots. Many of your comments on the story were, “It’s not fair that a few individuals ruin things for everyone else.” Yes, it is sad. But I keep hearing more and more tales like Smith’s, or Gomez’s or Hemingway’s. Personally, apart from being a listening ear, much of the negativity doesn’t affect my life or enjoyment out on the water. And for a large part of our readership, nor they. But for so many who have dedicated their lives to our sport, it’s corrosive and damning.
How can people expect this sport to grow with so many people pulling one another down? As I sat at a meal with some of the biggest names and brightest minds in our industry, I was asked my take on all of this to which I replied, “The sport will remain small because so many within it are small. They think small. They act small. When people start thinking big and acting like grownups, like professionals, things will start growing again.”
Go Get Wet,
Additional images courtesy of Watercraft Superstore.