Another Jet Ski Ordeal

I went on a surfing trip a while back with a friend on a rare big swell. There’s a rivermouth up the coast that produces some world-class secret waves; when the elements are right, it’s the place to go. On this particular occasion my friend and I packed up the car and jet ski and headed off to score a classic session.

We reached our destination at around 6.00pm and looked from the headland to see if it was worth the trip. Wow!!! The waves were over 10 feet (15 to 20 foot faces) and as good as it gets. Without hesitating we launched the ski at the rivermouth and sped out to get amongst it. It was going to be dark in an hour and a half so we wanted to get as many waves as we could before the night ended our fun.

This was one of those sessions that don’t come around very often and when they do, you’ve got to make the most of them. As we came out of the entrance of the river we were presented with a six to eight foot shorebreak. It was going to be hard to get through it but after looking for a gap for about five minutes we busted through the slabbing closeouts and headed out to the point of the sandbank about a kilometre out. As we got closer my friend and I were thrown into a hyperactive state after seeing the quality and size of waves we were presented with. The wind was blowing about 30 knots straight into the barrels making them expand and slightly contract with the gusts. This maximised the tubes size creating an open mechanical wave that barrelled for over 20 seconds. Perfect solid waves with no one out… a once in a life time session.

Finally we got out the back to where the waves start. Energetically I yelled to my friend to jump off the ski and motioned that I’d get the rope to tow him in. Keeping the engine running, I lent over the front of the ski and pulled out a knotted mass of tangled rope. Cursing under my breath, I started to franticly untangle the mess, whilst admitting to myself that I should’ve been better prepared. Then, suddenly the ski’s jet spluttered and the engine conked out on me. “Oh my god!” I yelled as I realised what had just happened.

It was the unthinkable. The towrope had been sucked up through the intake grate into the engine. This meant that the engine wouldn’t start ‘cause the rope was coiled around the propeller jet. It’s a nightmare scenario and one that can only be resolved on the beach with a knife and spanner set. We weren’t on the beach and far from it, stuck a kilometre offshore in a 10 foot plus wild ocean with 30 knot winds. But the scariest thing was that I had no insurance for my $17,000 ski and only an hour of light left to get to the beach with or without it. The session was over, and that reality seemed minor compared to our situation. Our challenges were 1. Survive and 2. Get the ski to the beach without rolling and sinking it… somehow.

I felt like crying. I turned to my friend and said, “We’re gone… I don’t know what we’re going to do. I can’t believe what’s just happened”. I sat on the ski for a minute and tried to think about the options we had. If we stayed on the ski we would be heading North and would eventually go up the cliffs at the end of the bay. If we paddled in through the waves and left the ski, I would lose it for good and throwing $17,000 away didn’t really interest me. The only clear option was to try and paddle the ski against the 30 knot head wind around the sandbar point to the shorebreak. Once there, we’d have to navigate the ski through somehow without rolling it. It was our only real option and we had to give it a serious shot.

We both got into the water and held the back of the ski with one arm and pointed it towards where we needed to go. Using our flippers and the other arm we swam as hard as we could. I had a point marked on the beach when we started and after about 20 minutes it looked like we had not even moved. Our legs were killing as we paddled furiously, but by that stage it was about 7.00pm and giving into pain was not an option. “Are we even making ground?” my friend puffed out to me. I looked again and honestly couldn’t tell.  We were so far out it was hard to tell if we were moving forward. It was only after about an hour that I knew we were making progress. This breakthrough inspired us as we stepped up our efforts.

It was about 7.45pm when we finally got around the point. We had been paddling for about an hour and a half and there was about 15 minutes of light left. Our next challenge seemed impossible, we had to get the ski through a six to eight foot shorebreak without rolling it. The waves were barrelling hard and I shook my head at the likelihood of pulling it off. From out behind the waves I watched a set go through the area of choice, and the reality of what we were up against kicked in.

Timing was everything as I waited patiently for a gap in the sets to make my move. I was nervous as hell knowing that this was a $17,000 decision. “Go now, go now!” my friend yelled. Caught in a bit of confusion I began to push the ski in with him. As we started to paddle it into the impact zone my instinct kicked in and I started to tread water hard so my body came half out of the water to get better view of what was coming.

I could see something flickering out the back and yelled “ No, no, turn the ski around and push it out the back”. My friend, convinced of his decision, spluttered out “Nah, keep going”, but I trusted my judgement and thankfully started turning the ski around and started paddling out. “Quick… paddle, paddle”, I screamed as we came over the first small wave and saw a six foot set stand up in front of us. Paddling like mad men, we climbed the ski up and over the vertical wave. “Swoosh,” the ski landed of the back of the wave as we heard the explosion of it break behind us.

As the spray cleared I finally got view of the next beast. It was bigger then the previous one and was going to break out further, “Paddle, paddle”, I gurgled as I put my head down and used every skerrick of muscle that I could muster to push the ski as fast as I could. We paddled the ski flat out and up the beyond vertical wave until we reached the lip. I thought it was going to do a backflip as the lip hit, sending it crashing out in front of the wave. We gave it one last push on the tail and swam under the water as the nose of the ski hit the top of the lip. Swimming back up behind the wave as fast as I could so to see what had happened, I saw the ski had landed just on the top of the wave and was being dragged in towards the shore.

It was a unique position and if you tried to do it 100 times you might get it once. It wasn’t on the front of the wave, nor the back, more so just sitting on the lip. This allowed the ski to remain totally upright and buoyant whilst being carried by the waves force to shore. It sat in this position for about 25 metres, which was enough to get it in past the impact zone.

There was no wave behind it, which gave me time to have a quick laugh. I couldn’t believe my luck; “Quick, get the ski and let’s get her in” I chuckled. We went into full freestyle to catch the ski, grabbed it and swang the nose into the whitewash of the next wave allowing her to hit it square on. We did the same thing several times over and she washed in further. Finally getting her to shore we yanked her onto the sand. My friend had put in a solid effort, I patted him on the back and congratulated him for doing a great job.

As I sat on the beach catching my breath puzzled by how we got the ski to the beach, I heard a “Are you guys alright?” The local lifeguards had just beached their rubber ducky next to us. Apparently they were planning on coming out which would have been quite a brave effort considering the conditions and that it was nearly dark. “Yeah mate, we’re sweet now, thanks anyhow” I replied. If I’d known they were going to come out I could’ve stayed on the ski and waited for them to give us a tow, but they said they would’ve asked me to leave the ski, which would’ve been an interesting predicament.

I heard that a few days later I was on the front page of their local paper…’World Champ Needs Rescuing’. I felt a little robbed of our efforts. I still haven’t seen that wave as good as that afternoon, but thankfully I still have a jet ski to one day enjoy it again.


  1. Carlos said:

    Epic tale! Haha.

  2. Jono said:

    Classic story! That’s an awesome read haha.

  3. Jorge said:

    Sounds familiar, but as always, this blog is worth a read. Keep delivering histories!!!

  4. Arthur said:

    Good story, would love to see some shots of this wave.

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