Love for a way of life has many forms. People’s passion for watersports such as surfing, scuba and sailing are well-known and accepted because of countless documentaries and publications over the years. Personal watercraft are relatively new, only gaining mainstream popularity in the last 30 years or so compared to centuries old water activities like sailing. However, the key to happiness lies not in the age or size of an activity, but rather in the emotions it evokes. Personal watercraft are just that – personal. One person may enjoy the adventure of exploring places boats cannot reach and others for the camaraderie of community or competition. My own passion for watercraft started many years before I even knew skis existed.
Scabbed knees, sore muscles and sunburn to rival firetruck red. Two years ago that was my first experience with stand up skis…well actually any personal watercraft for that matter. I was hooked from the moment I fired up the engine and started moving on my used 2011 Kawasaki SX-R 800. Those first couple of attempts at standing I inhaled more water than air, but before the day was over I was able to stand and ride for longer than a few seconds. People talk about something that changed their lives for the better with awe and wonder; I am no different. Despite stand up skis consisting of fiberglass, metal and gasoline they provide myself and many others an escape from the toil of everyday life. They challenge me on a mental and physical level no other sport has been able to touch.
During my childhood over summer break when other kids sat inside playing video games, I was in the water practicing for swim team. I rode my bike two miles to the pool, swam, rode two miles home and spent the rest of the day playing in my backyard pool with the dogs. I literally lived to be in the water up until my senior year in high school when I quit varsity swim team due to pain. I’d amassed many ribbons, metals, trophies and even a few broken records over my swimming career, but it wasn’t until I left home and found a love for motorcycles that I started down the road to watercraft.
After I left home, started college and sampled what four wheels had to offer building and driving a drift car, I grew bored of the one dimensional aspect of driving on the road. I loved the challenge of drifting and learning about mechanics, but the sky was calling me. I wanted a motorsport with three dimensions. Following that realization and limited funds, most of my early twenties revolved around riding and repairing sport four wheelers, then dirt bikes and eventually sport bikes. Motorcycles made my heart pound like nothing before and I’d finally found a sport that satiated my need for adrenaline. Or so I thought.
The feeling of being pressed into the seat going around a corner and weightlessness of flying through the air on a machine that weighed more than myself was exhilarating. A simple twist of the throttle on a dirt bike had a smile permanently affixed on my face. Until all that joy abruptly changed into pain when my body met hard earth over and over again. A knee surgery followed by back surgery dampened my love for riding motorcycles and I entered a period of depression that lasted years. I felt empty and broken without a sport to give me purpose.
Enter a very used 2011 two stroke Kawasaki SXR 800 that brought about significant change in my life. It had been raced for years, been through many owners and ended up on my radar through my husband’s coworker selling it for cheap. To be honest at that point I didn’t know stand ups even existed. I was under the impression all skis were like the ones from the early 90s commercials – colorful and slow. When my husband told me about the “cheap ski that you stood on,” I was intrigued. His coworker described it as, “a motorcycle on water.” Say what? After years of finding a career and nursing my body back in health I was looking for something more. Maybe the tired ski was my opportunity to start over, to mix my love of the water with my love of motorsports.
That winter near my 27th birthday I bought the SX-R and promptly shoved it in storage; nothing like waiting for the weather to get warm to play with my new toy. Pouring salt into the wound, in the meantime I couldn’t even find any information about how to ride a stand up! Finally months later, my husband and I had a free, warm Sunday so we hitched up the SXR and headed out to the lake. Talk about a huge disappointment.
Not in the stand up, but rather in ourselves. Our first attempts to simply get moving were fraught with failure. I was weak, out of shape and my balance had seen better days. I spent more time in the water flailing to get in the tray than on the stand up. Finally after about 10 gallons of gas we were both able to body drag, pull ourselves into the tray and stand for a short amount of time before our legs gave out or we fell into the increasingly familiar lake water. So all in all we didn’t enjoy ourselves that first time out to the lake, right? Nope – we totally and absolutely were enamored with stand ups. So much so that my husband purchased a then-new 2015 SuperJet off the showroom floor the following week so we didn’t have to take turns on my SX-R.
The summer of 2015 we made an hour and a half trip to the lake each way every weekend it wasn’t raining. You are probably still wondering “hmm, sounds like a lot of fun, but where does the life-changing bit come into the picture?” Learning to ride stand ups literally gave my life purpose after years of aimless living. I discovered something to work for and look forward to outside of just existing. Life is a beautiful thing, but everyone knows how monotonous it can become. Get up, sit in traffic, work all day, sit in traffic, get home and do chores, have a little bit of precious time to spend with your loved ones and BAM! Your head hits the pillow so you can rest a bit before you do it all over again the next day, and the next and so on.
Not only was the monotony bringing down my spirits, I thought my ‘glory days’ were over because of all the pain and surgeries I’d amassed in my 20s. Fortunately, that was not the case. The full-body physical activity required for riding stand ups helped a lot of my chronic joint pain recede into the background. I wasn’t overweight, but I started shedding pounds like a snake sheds its skin! Six months into learning to ride stand ups my husband and his coworkers warm-heartedly peer pressured me to sign up for a Novice Ski race. The greatest motivating factor was that, just an hour away, TXH2O Racing was about to hold their inaugural event as Region Five’s new IJSBA event promoter. It had been years since watercraft racing graced Texas, but I was hesitant to go. My right turns were still quite wobbly (think newborn colt), and I wasn’t sure I wanted to stoke my competitive embers after all the pain I’d endured racing in swimming and riding on motocross tracks.
My first race day on a stand up was against Juniors. I lost all of my races, but I gained insight into myself. Despite my crashes and failures, the thought of this new world of racing made my pulse quicken. Speaking of crashes, I wasn’t in any significant pain unlike a day at the motocross track! I’d finally returned to the water and thirsted to learn more about riding skills and how to set up a ski. The actual racing was fun and challenging, but to this day one of the most significant things that stuck with me from my first event was the welcoming watercraft community.
TXH2O Racing’s event was very family oriented and even spectators were willing to lend a hand to a fellow racer. The promoters and attendees made me feel at home even as a newcomer; the perfect place for me. Since that first race a little over a year ago I’ve fallen in love with life through riding stand ups. Riding gives purpose, determination and most of all – an appreciation for living. The key to happiness isn’t on your lanyard to start your ski – it is your watercraft and the amazing experiences that surround it.