Seven Deadly Questions With Kev Hemingway and Steve Chown

The Watercraft Journal: Kev, you’ve got quite a few irons in the fire these days. What is Jetski Junkies – or better yet, who are the Jetski Junkies? And can you tell us a little more about how you came about creating the Jet Life brand?
Kev Hemingway: You could certainly say that. You know the question of who the Jetski Junkies are, is without a doubt, better described by our members. I believe that the words and expressions JJ members relay to others about their experiences and adventures, whether it’s a ride, overnight tour, out-of-state rally or even an expedition to another country. The stories each of them have, either individually or as a family to bring home, to tell their friends and maybe someday their grandchildren is priceless and with any luck, life changing in some way. This sets the tone for your next question about the Jet Life brand.

Jet Life became a term I used a bit when I was communicating with folks who had amazing stories or rides they had done or planned to do. These adventures seemed so epic that it was apparent to me that these folks, very much like my family, were watersport fanatics to the point that our lives twisted and wrapped itself around the sport of Jet Skiing. It became very obvious that we were eluding to the Jet Life and with a leap of faith, my wife and I trademarked the name and slowly, working through some adversity, began to put it out there. I feel Jet Life is more about PWC enthusiasts living more of a PWC influenced lifestyle and helping to spread the excitement of this awesome sport. I can’t think of a better way of doing that then with the club and creating a legacy like Jet Life for the sport.

WCJ: Steve, how did the Central Florida Jet Riders come about, and how did the CFJR become affiliated with Kev and the Jetski Junkies?
Steve Chown: My wife and I originally purchased our first set of skis back in the Spring of 2008. We enjoyed riding them but soon grew tired of the same lake rides and short river rides. We found it difficult to connect with other riders as Facebook wasn’t mainstream at the time. Like many, we used our skis less and less, and ultimately sold them due to lack of use in the Spring of 2011.

In April of 2012 we decided we really missed our skis and purchased a new Yamaha FX Cruiser SHO. Determined to get the most out of it we formed a Facebook group with several friends we had made when we previously had skis. After having the group for a few months we had a request to join from Kev Hemingway and soon realized our goals were parallel. To bring great people together to enjoy the sport to the fullest. We quickly began to share our events and plan events together.

WCJ: Steve, you mention that the CFJR isn’t a club, but a group of riders. What’s the benefit of such a loose affiliation?
SC: We had previously been a member of a few different “clubs” we had found them to be political at times which hindered their growth and got in the way of the fun. We have attracted a great bunch of people who would rather not let club politics distract from the events and riding fun. We encourage all members to be involved with planning rides/events and helping out new member as well as those who have just purchased new ski’s and are new to the sport altogether.

WCJ: What kind of attendance do your events/rides regularly see? How about attendees from outside of your group boundaries?
KH: Our format has changed a bit over the years, each time I feel the level of our club escalated. In the beginning we were lucky to get 5 or 6 riders to come out. Over the past years we have moved from just your typical local ride and social event, to exploratory riding during the week with whomever could ride to a more structured event such as destination touring once a month. In addition, we have also done expedition rides out of the country and added out of state rally this year.

Now it is a combination of all of that plus race and buoy practices for those racing or interested in racing. On any given ride the attendance could be 20–to-40 riders. Due to the ride locations, size and reach of our club, there are always folks who are not locals and most all members have opportunity to make a few rides, if not all. This is solely attributed to networking with local and out of state PWC clubs in conjunction with our JJ chapters, around the country and in Canada currently.

SC: Depending on the time of year we have had as many as 32 skis on our Silver River Ride from Leesburg, FL, to Silver Springs, FL. In the winter months it’s not uncommon to draw 8-12 skis on a chilly day in a time of year most wouldn’t consider riding. We welcome all riders and promote safe and courteous PWC operation at all times. At times, we have more than one ride choice for the same day. This way people have a choice of where to go and what area suits them best.

WCJ: So together, the Jetski Junkies and CFJR have a pretty full schedule of rides year round, huh? Kev and Steve, what has been one of your most memorable rides? (either together or separately)
KH: Yes sir! Between our two clubs alone there are rides scheduled every weekend with some spilling over into the normal week which incidentally is my favorite time to ride, less ramp and water traffic, then you add in any networking with other local or regional clubs and let’s just say, there is no shortage of riding.

The most memorable ride, speaking for my family as a whole, our most recent rally, the South Carolina Waterfall Ride has been the highlight of my 33 years jet skiing. There is no way I can write a few lines to even do it justice but this was the prelude to the first National PWC Rally hosted by both the CFJR and JJUSA. With 47 riders representing five clubs and six JJ chapters coming in from around the country, it marked for me, a lifetime achievement of club ownership.

Hopefully Steve feels the same way! [laughs] We could not have picked a better location or time for this first rally. The landfall point was Devil’s Fork State Park in Salem, SC offering all accommodations and boat ramp access to Lake Jocassee, a man made lake that sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains offering up at least eight waterfalls ranging from small to large which are only accessible by small watercraft making PWCs the optimal vehicle to take in this Top 10 spot to visit and vacation. The breathtaking views, relaxing evenings all combined with the camaraderie of like minded people made this one of the best for my family, no one was disappointed…until we had to leave.

SC: One of the most memorable rides was The Great Okie Ride where our journey took us from the Kissimmee River near Sebring, FL across Lake Okeechobee to Stuart via the Okeechobee Waterway. We had 15-20 mph winds which made for a 22 mile ride across Lake Okeechobee in 4-6 foot seas. It was tough, but still a great time.

WCJ: Tell us about the kinds of watercraft your riders are using on your rides? Having put on so many miles on your skis (respectively), what has been your favorite?
KH: We have a wide variety of watercraft being run, most of them are four strokes and range in the years with a good mix of late model skis I would say. Yamaha and Sea-Doo were more prevalent up until 2013 and now we are seeing a larger influx of Kawasaki machines and Honda still has many machines out there as well.

I have personally been fortunate enough to have either owned or ridden about every machine manufactured to date and not one has every one thing you want. The machine that has come the closest to fitting my particular need is the Kawasaki 310 and regardless of model, the machine in itself lends more to the touring rider from 3 major perspectives: 1) The ride of the hull in rough water, 2) The large stock fuel tank at 21.6 gallons and 3) The massive, body smuggling storage it offers.

In ECO mode, the Kawasaki 310 is averaging nearly 5.5mpg on a 310hp SC engine. For myself, who travels and tours 100-plus miles minimum in one shot, all of the before mentioned features are assets. I also have the luxury of the amazing stereo system and cruiser seat with it’s new heat deflecting material which puts it over the top.

SC: We have members with all makes and models, stand-ups, two strokes all the way up to the state of the art machines. Sea-Doo, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, and I think I’ve seen a Polaris or two! I have personally owned Kawasaki, Sea-Doo, and Yamaha and they all make a quality machine. Each bringing something unique to the table. So far I have enjoyed my Yamaha the most.

Having put approximately 1,500 miles on it since purchase, it has served me well. We have seen many members regardless of brand, customizing their skis like never before. Usually people add performance mods but we’ve seen a huge spike in “bling” upgrades. People are having custom seats made as well as new vinyl lettering. Some have completely altered the factory graphics to personalize their ride.

WCJ: How extensive is the planning for a Jetski Junkies event/location ride? Is it like a one-time fee/vacation package or an impromptu group of friends riding together?
KH: That’s a great question and I will start by stating that I think a good portion of our Club success has come down to the planning. As stated above we have a few different layers within the ride structure so that determines what and how much planning is required.

Take for example, if it’s just a day ride, one tanker as we like to call it, that means we are most likely riding an area we are familiar. We plan on 70–to-100 miles so we plan accordingly for fuel and we already know if there is fuel on the water, etc. On any Tour or destination ride this requires weeks, sometimes months of planning, obviously not eight hours a day, five days a week but long nights when those stupid reality shows are crushing the TV is when I do 90% of my planning.

The average tour requires logistics, distance and mapping, GPS waypoints, marinas, fuel, ramps, food, destination hotel/resort, rental buggies/cars or taxi/shuttles, dinner, etc. Then you move into the rally which is months of planning and adjustment and continued follow up with both Sponsors and Riders. Lastly the Expeditions, these are the year long crushers that are so full of unknowns that no matter how much planning, prepping and effort may or may not matter. These are the trips out of country, ex. US to the Bahamas. For the one tankers and tours, everyone is pay as you go although we plan it all out, we give our members all the info to make their own arrangements. The rally and expedition trips are a bit more planning and require deposits which are needed to make arrangements on behalf of the Members as neither JJUSA nor CFJR have mandatory yearly membership dues and we work solely on our love and passion for the Sport.

SC: Most of our rides are informal and planned about a week in advance. We usually have at least two planned rides per month. Often time more in the warmer months. We have begun planning overnight and out of state rides recently with great success.

WCJ: As you mentioned Kev, recently, Jetski Junkies and CFJR went on a pretty big adventure to South Carolina. What made you pick that location What made it particularly attractive for a jet ski trip? Tell us about the trip – how long did you spend, what landmarks did you see, etc?
KH: A couple of our Members live relatively close and camp near by there quite a bit. They had posted pics of themselves on Lake Jocassee and the pics were amazing! After some research I tried to put together a quick impromptu ride in October during foliage season amongst a few other large rides we had planned, so it just didn’t work.

Well, Steve also saw those pics and we got together on face book and decided to reach out to the other local Clubs to see about setting up a ride and a few months later the Rally was initiated. The details came together in about three months and of course an evolution process took place during that time as more and more focus was put on the location. We were finding out about all the area had to offer and how amazing and beautiful it is and how it would make for one heck of a family retreat, thus the rally was born. The trip was May 1–4, 2014 with arrival Thursday May 1 for most. A welcome reception was hosted that evening with food and spirits to thank everyone for the long journey to come together. We had amazing stand alone Villas overlooking the lake for most as well as both RV and tent camping for others.

Friday, we rode Lake Jocassee approximately 60-plus miles hugging the shoreline and scavenging for as many waterfalls as we could find rushing down off the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took in at least nine waterfalls, some large enough to ride our watercraft right in and under, nothing compares to this, nothing. The most amazing part about this lake is it was man made for hydro-energy reasons and has depths reaching 300-feet yet still offering many sandy beach retreats and virtually no homes or business dotting the shoreline, just pristine shores and lots of wilderness and privacy. After an amazing day on the water, most of us got some eats and then headed over to the campsites for a campfire social, just an amazing way to end the day.

Saturday took us all to Lake Keowee, just a few short miles away from Devil’s Fork State Park. Lake Keowee is separated from Lake Jocassee by a 300-foot dam and is approximately 20 miles long yet offering nearly 300 miles of shoreline. Lake Keowee, not as noted for waterfalls although there are some, is better recognized for all the massive and beautiful homes dotting the shoreline as well as all the small islands throughout the lake with beautiful sandy beaches you can ride right up to and hang out for the day. Another 70 miles that day just cruising and exploring the aqua green waters and taking in a very cool waterfall and finding jump off rock where the locals cliff dive. If that wasn’t great enough, the day ended back at the CFJR HQ for a pulled pork BBQ dinner & dessert combined with Awards, Prizes and lots of swag! Sunday everyone left out on their own wrapping up one of my most memorable Jet Ski trip experiences.

SC: Last October I saw a member who lives in the Carolina’s post a photo of herself on her ski in front of a waterfall. She mention it was in South Carolina. I show my wife the photo and said “We’ve got to get a group trip up there!” We asked Kev if he’d be interested in joining us with his group and six months later we had over 30 skis on Lake Jocassee from as far away as Texas and New Jersey. The location was perfect.

Devil’s Fork State Park, Lake Jocassee with at least eight waterfalls accessible by ski, the Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest as the backdrop. It was a no brainer! Witnessing 80-foot high Laurel Fork Falls from a PWC in the waters of Lake Jocassee is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Crossing from SC to North Carolina to see the Keowee Toxaway cable bridge was breathtaking as well.

WCJ: Do your groups have any more combined out-of-state rides planned? What does 2014 hold?
SC: We are currently working on an annual national trip that I will let Kev explain in detail. [laughs] We will continue to ride together locally and on overnight and out of state rides!

KH: Yes, actually we have an expedition to the Bahamas this June planned as well as a combo RV/jet ski tour to New England and back which will bring us to Lake Hartwell in SC, Lancaster, PA and Lake Sunapee in NH. The Fall will bring our annual Atlantic Coast tour, which is Ormond Beach to Jekyll Island, GA with a bonus Atlantic Coast tour, which will be Jekyll Island to Hilton Head, SC being planned currently and then the Jetski Junkies hold it’s annual Tampa Invasion ride bringing together Florida clubs and riders to do a 50 mile insertion ride right into downtown Tampa.

Last year we totaled nearly 40 PWCs and hope to add a few more this year. In addition to that both Steve and Michelle of CFJR as well as Angi and myself for JJUSA are in full on planning mode for next year’s National PWC Rally to be held in one of the most sought after ride locations in the United States, New York, New York, respectfully dubbed “Freedom Ride 2015”. All of the info can be found on the website and on Facebook. We hope to continue in planning, hosting and rallying members and riders from around the country to plan and attend the National PWC Rally each and every year.

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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