After a two-week intermission, we’re back with Amy and Lindsey’s fear-filled adventures. We left off on our ride on the Pensacola Beach Ferris Wheel, where Lindsey discovered her fear of heights and her bladder weakness while we were perched 200 feet in the air in a glass gondola.
Next on my journey to rediscover my hometown while I was visiting Pensacola two weeks ago is driving jet skis off Pensacola Beach. What embarrassing moments lie ahead in this post? Read on.
During our drive to the jet ski rental place on Pensacola Beach, Lindsey and I discuss all the things that could go wrong.
“What if I fall off?” I worry out loud. “I’m a terrible swimmer.”
“I just don’t want to lose a limb,” Lindsey says.
“Lose a limb??” I cry. “I don’t want to lose any function in any part of my body!”
We both agree that a fate worse than injury is if our dads find out we went jet skiing–neither of us has ever been allowed to ride jet skis. We’re in our twenties now, but still carry a healthy fear of paternal reprimand.
As we cross the bridge to Gulf Breeze, I look down at the angry water. Beneath an overcast sky, the waves are dark and choppy, whipped by gusts of winds. That can’t be good.
We pull up to the bright yellow building, and I say a prayer and cross myself. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. This is no big deal, right? I’m only going against my father’s wishes and doing something with which I have zero experience on a day with bad weather and rough seas. No. Big. Deal.
The young woman at the front desk looks bored. She glances at us with half-closed eyes. “You got a boaters license?” she asks.
“Well, no,” Lindsey says. “But I heard we could take the test here.”
“Look,” the woman sighs. “The water’s REAL rough today. If you fall off, you better be fast enough to swim back to that jet ski before it drifts off without you. And you’re gonna be sore as SH** tomorrow.”
Whatever minuscule amount of bravado I had dissipates immediately.
Lindsey and I exchange fearful glances and then choose to walk away.
“I heard there’s dolphin-watching boats,” Lindsey says cheerfully. “I can call and book us spots on that.”
But that seems so safe and boring in comparison to jet skiing. I keep looking back at the jet skiers flying through the water, and they look like they’re having SO much fun. Lindsey follows my gaze and stares longingly at the water too.
We mill around the car. We’ve come this far, and even though I’m terrified, I don’t want to feel as though I’ve missed out.
“You wanna take a chance?” she asks.
I want to say yes, but I also don’t want to be the one responsible for our demise.
“Maybe that lady doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” I say. “Maybe we should find someone else; ya know, get a second opinion.” Because that way, I won’t be responsible for our demise–the person who gave us the second opinion would be.
We return to the yellow building and spot a group of tan, shirtless guys in board shorts standing on the dock.
“Amy,” Lindsey whispers. “They look like they know about water. Go talk to them. Bat your eyes at them or something.”
“Lindsey,” I hiss back. “I don’t know how to talk to guys. You know that.”
(I feel this is the perfect time to mention that at my first–and last–college party I went to, I used this line on a guy: “Is that sunburn? Or are you always this hot?” Lindsey was there. In fact, she’s the one who dared me to say it.)
I consider turning around, but they catch us staring at them. Too late. I walk up as confidently as possible, smile, and say, “You, um, seem to know what you’re doing…”
“About…what?” one of the guys asks, confused. I drop the act and tell him our dilemma. The guy, named Aaron, immediately whistles a MUCH different tune from the lady at the front desk.
“The water is not THAT bad today,” he tells us. “And girls, this could be THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF YOUR LIFE.”
My eyes grow wide, and my bravado reappears.
“But wait,” Aaron says. “Have you even taken the boaters test yet?”
We shake our heads “no.”
“Oh, don’t worry!” he tells us. “The test is super easy! But if you’re struggling on a question, just wave me over, and I’ll point you in the right direction.”
Phew. Just a silly little test and we’ll be soaring across the water in no time. We walk up to the lady at the front desk again. She slaps down two clipboards and two books and says, “You can miss six questions. If you miss more than that, you can’t retake it for another 30 days.”
I gulp hard, feeling the weight of responsibility on me. Everything, our entire adventure, is riding on 25 questions about boating.
We sit down and crack our books open, but the fierce wind keeps flipping the pages rapidly and threatening to blow our test sheets away.
“It’s as if nature doesn’t want us to jet ski today!” I tell Lindsey, with a foreboding feeling that maybe this is a sign we shouldn’t be doing this.
I push that feeling aside and read the first question. It basically asks if it’s safe to operate a boat after drinking alcohol. Um, really? Of course not! Oh man, I think. This is too easy.
But the rest of the questions are tough. They ask really detailed things, like what two objects by Federal law must be carried on a boat at all times and something about what you should do if you’re coming into harbor and a red buoy is on your right side, and I keep seeing terms I don’t understand like “PWC,” and “portside” and “starboard.”
Thirty minutes later and neither of us is even halfway done.
Aaron prances over. “Need help?” he asks cheerfully. Just in time. We begin asking him questions and threatening that he BETTER give us the right answers because if we FAIL this…
“Oh, I’ve never actually taken this test,” he admits. “But I’ve been doing this 13 years, so I know what I’m talking about.”
Thirty minutes later, we surrender to the possibility that we might just fail this stupid test. We both trudge over to the front desk and turn in our papers for grading.
By some miracle, we both pass with flying colors. We do a victory dance, and I take a picture with my new boaters license, which is nothing more than a pink sheet of paper with my name written on it. Then, we sign our lives away.
Aaron walks us over to our final hurdle to clear before we can drive a jet ski: a safety training course taught by him. Finally! Something I’m comfortable with: safety. He shows us a board complete with photos and instructions on what to do in certain situations. I begin to carefully study each photo and the instructions.
“Okay, I’m going to give you the safety rundown,” Aaron begins. “My boss says it takes 15 minutes, but I do it in five.”
My jaw drops. He’s going to SKIP over the SAFETY instructions?
He seems to sense my apprehension. “Ohhh no,” Aaron says, “not because I cut corners, but because I can explain things MUCH more concisely than my boss can.”
Aaron breezes through the safety instructions in fewer than five minutes. “Okay!” he claps his hands together. “Let’s get you guys on a jet ski!” He takes off toward the water.
“WAIT!” I yell at him. “I still have questions! What happens if Lindsey falls overboard?”
“Easy,” Aaron says. “Just try to maneuver the jet ski over to her and sit still until she can climb back up.”
I begin to relax, but then Aaron adds, “Well, there is suction underneath where the jet ski sucks in the water, so you gotta be careful for that–but I’m sure it’ll be fine…” he trails off as he begins walking toward the water again.
“Wait!” I yell again. “What happens if we both fall off and the jet ski drifts away?”
Aaron explains that we just swim after it, or if that doesn’t work, someone will come help us. He chuckles. “I think it’s funny that you’re asking all these safety questions.”
“Aaron,” I tell him with utmost seriousness. “My goal is to not kill anyone out there today.”
“Don’t worry!” he assures us. “I’ll be watching you very carefully. If you fall off, and I see you’re struggling, I’ll hop in a boat and come get you.”
With Aaron’s promise that I won’t kill anyone or die myself, I’m inflated with ego, and I hop aboard our trusty, red WaveRunner. I watch the other jet skiers cut effortlessly through the choppy water. I can do that too.
I attach the key, switch the jet ski on, press the start button, and pull the throttle–we take off flying, rocking left and right, and I feel as though we’ve just saddled up on a wild horse.
Lindsey is clinging to me for dear life. “AMY!” she yells. “JUST GO STRAIGHT.”
“I AM TRYING!” I yell back. “I CAN’T DO THIS!”
We are being bashed about by waves, cutting across the water in a zig zag. Water sprays into our eyes, nose, and ears, and I’m questioning our decision-making capabilities.
We start heading out into the open water.
“AMY,” Lindsey yells, “I AM TOTALLY FINE WITH STAYING CLOSE TO SHORE.”
What she doesn’t know is I have no control over the steering. I would LOVE to stay close to shore, but I can’t seem to turn the thing around.
Eventually, I get the hang of it. I feel a special comfort knowing that, if anything bad happens, Aaron is watching us and will come help us. Feeling cocky, I decide to pull the throttle harder, and we go zooming through the water. I feel pretty proud of myself until I look down at the speedometer and see we’re going only about 17 mph–the jet ski is capable of doing 70.
Lindsey takes the reins and declares, “We’re gonna go faster.” She revs the engine and pulls the throttle so hard I let out a blood-curdling scream. We head away from the shore at a breakneck speed, and I go flying out of the seat–if it weren’t for my death grip on the sides of Lindsey’s life jacket, I would have fallen into the water. She feels my body leave the seat and immediately lets go of the throttle, sending me lunging into her back.
After our 30 minutes is up, Lindsey maneuvers the jet ski back to shore.
I’m feeling like such a badass because of all our dangerous moves out there, but then I discover that the kids’ “learning jet ski” can reach 35 mph–and we never even broke 31. Ego deflated once again.
I’m in the bathroom changing out of my soaked clothes when Aaron approaches Lindsey.
“Whoa!” he yells. “Your hair’s all wet. Did ya fall in the water?”
Aaron has not been watching us.
As we pull out of the parking lot and onto our next adventure (driving mopeds, which is yet ANOTHER thing we’re not allowed to do according to our dads), we spot a red flag flying over Pensacola Beach, indicating dangerous surf conditions. The words “STAY OUT OF THE WATER” scroll across the LED sign nearby.
Bottomline: Even though I was scared out of my mind, I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? Yes! I actually want to jet ski here in California (no boaters license required in this state).
Tips: Please don’t got on a day with bad surf conditions. If you want to jet ski in Florida, you MUST have a boaters license. You can usually take the test at the rental place and even though it’s open book, as you can see from my experience, it’s not that easy. Allot at least 30 minutes to take the test.