It all started with one of the rare moments my wife and I get to sit down and watch some late night television. With two young daughters determined to tear our house down to the foundation, these moments aren’t often. One episode of Comedy Central’s pop culture game show, “@midnight” I was immediately intrigued when guest comedian Kurt Braunohler showed off a t-shirt with the outline of a jet ski.
“I think I might have figured out the dumbest way to make the world a better place,” Braunohler quipped. “I’ll be jet-skiing from Chicago to New Orleans (seriously) in order to raise money to provide 500 goats and 1000 chickens for African families in need. I’ve got the jet ski, I’ve got my route – I just need YOU to donate money so we can help change people’s lives.”
Wanting to learn more, I googled Braunohler, which brought me to the official IndieGoGo.com fundraiser page. True to his word, Braunohler would be partnering with Heifer International to send 500 goats and 1000 chickens to impoverished villages in Africa. It was up to the lanky comedian and Comedy Central to generate the $50,000 necessary to do so.
The charity, Heifer International is more about empowering impoverished families than merely addressing their immediate needs. By supplying these rural communities with the animals necessary to generate prosperity, Heifer brings “sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Their animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market,” according to their website.
Thinking it a noble cause, we published an announcement on the effort on The Watercraft Journal in late May. Curious for more information, I had sent off an email to Braunohler’s publicist with little thought of hearing back. Literally within two hours, I was on the phone with a board of television producers in Beverly Hills, California.
The challenge was set for The Watercraft Journal to rally its readers to join the Comedy Central team in their penultimate day of filming, in Pickwick Lake, Tennessee. The episode called for a group of fellow jetskiers to join Kurt in a mock biker gang as the terrorized the lake straddling the border between Mississippi (and the river namesake) and Tennessee.
Immediately, I went to work publicizing the opportunity. It’s not often personal watercraft get this level of broad exposure and we wanted to really pull out all the stops. A couple of emails into Yamaha secured the use of a brand-new ’14 FX SVHO, but there was a catch: I would need to drive down to Yamaha’s Kennesaw, Georgia headquarters to pick it up the day before – nearly doubling my mileage.
Next, I reached out to Sea-Doo/Slippery Wetsuit racer Claude Clayton. Clayton lives less than tour hours from where we’d be filming and I attempted to lure him into bringing his insane turbo-powered GTR and his tuned Spark for the filming. Unfortunately, both skis were incapacitated for that week and couldn’t land another Sea-Doo to use. We even tried to hook the traveling Spark Some Fun Demo Tour into driving down for the day, but their ironclad travel schedule made that impossible as well.
I left home in Nashville, Tennessee exceptionally early the Tuesday before and made it down to Yamaha in record time. Snatching up the SVHO, I doubled back up to Chattanooga and darted west determined to reach Counce, Tennessee by that afternoon. Wide-open grassy pastures, emerald rolling hills, and dense treelines reminded me how I fell in love with this state only a few years earlier.
Unfortunately, the Volunteer State’s rural highway system leaves much to be desired, and it was dusk by the time I reached the miserable little Quality Inn I had booked online. Staffed by a spherical bridge troll who clearly applied her makeup via paintball gun, my room was a dank, unlit cave with zero cellular or internet service. Despite my protests, I would have to remain overnight or pay for cave I didn’t want.
Little did I know that Braunohler and his crew were experiencing quite the same turmoil. During the first day of filming, both Kurt and the chase boat ran out of fuel. The next day fared no better as they were forced aground as the crew were dispatched to find more fuel for the second safety boat. Neophytes to both personal watercraft and the Mississippi, none expected the sheer level of debris, garbage and runoff that littered the nation’s largest river.
Traveling by water quickly proved far too problematic for the Hollywood crew who were caught completely out of their element. The decision was made to have Braunohler “hopscotch” from location to location, pulling the skis and boats out of the water and traveling to specific locales before relaunching and riding for shorter distances. In his podcast on Nerdist.com, Braunolher bemoaned the decision but relented. By the fifth day, the 6’3″ comedian was frustrated, somewhat defeated and exhausted, exclaiming, “Man, this trip has be $%$-ed from the beginning.”
As I stood in the parking lot of the Grand Harbor Marina the next morning, my heart began to sink. Seeing that filming would take place early Wednesday morning, there simply weren’t many who could take the time off and make the trek on such short notice. Besides Braunohler and his guest comedian, Kyle Kinane and a third “backup” runabout, I was the only PWC on hand.
But, it was then that the skis, the beautiful, beautiful skis started to show up.
Hailing from Mississippi, the Pirate Nation PWC club showed, bringing a trio of smoked-out flat black two-stroke runabouts – a Kawasaki, a Sea-Doo and a Tigershark. Pulling up to the dock was a very clean 2009 Sea-Doo GTX iS Limited 255. With the ink black-and-electric blue SVHO, we had ourselves quite the crew.
Each of us were provided a black sleeveless t-shirt with our “jet ski gang’s” insignia and motto: The Wet Ones: Live Free, Die Moist. Sliding the shirts over our life vests, all we had to do was wait for Kurt. I fielded a few questions from the Pirates concerning the Yamaha and even put it through the paces showing how a runabout as large as this could carve a corner with such aggression.
Finally, Braunohler and Kinane arrived, Kurt aboard a wildly-wrapped FX HO, the ski looking like a tourist wearing an American flag t-shirt over a hideous pair of Bermuda shorts. We were greeted quickly by the comedian who thanked us for coming out and then directed to stay far off camera as they filmed some A-roll for the webisode.
In the skit, Braunohler played up his frustrations that the fundraising wasn’t generating the money needed, so he intended on forming a “jet ski gang.” We were quickly ushered into a v-formation and filmed streaking across Pickwick Lake. A few takes later, we were lined up and filmed some additional A-roll between Braunohler and Kinane deciding it would be best if our gang distributed wrapped Christmas gifts to strangers on the lake.
Sure enough, we were handed bags of wrapped gifts (random items purchased at a local boating supply store) and encouraged to approach fishermen and boaters to get their reactions on camera. Unfortunately, as the camera boat followed Kurt and the others, I noticed one of the Pirates adrift far behind us. Turning back, the father and son duo were trying to encourage the Tigershark’s stuck starter.
I pulled my tow rope from the SVHO’s rear storage, I jumped in and looped the two-stroke to the big Yamaha’s tow eye. Cruising back at 20mph, we made it back to the marina to applause from Braunohler, the film and safety crew and our fellow Wet Ones. We had missed much of the filming in the rescue but felt good helping a fellow rider out.
After loading up our skis and changing out of our wet clothes, we were invited to a free standup comedy show to be performed at a bar nearby, Freddy T’s. The bar also seconded as a nightclub which open its doors to the production crew at noon. After a disturbing amount of midday drinking, the audience, which included a legitimate biker gang, were properly lubricated for the two comedians.
With a tight schedule of filming to do later that day, as well as some additional riding further down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the show had to “go on” as it were, as did I. Again, I ventured east to return the SVHO to Yamaha, only to turn north the next day and return home, 1,100 miles in three days later.