“Party bikes of the ocean” remain popular rental items
Aflock of WaveRunners coasts into the calm waters of Estero Bay and as the vehicles idle, a cluster of dolphins jumps up in the air and starts to swim toward waiting tourists. While state law prohibits motorized water vehicles from driving within 100 feet of aquatic wildlife, the wet mammals have no problem coming close to the gathered tourists.
“It happens on just about every one of our tours,” explains Jack Graddy, manager of Holiday Water Sports. It’s one of numerous companies renting out WaveRunners—or Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and other personal watercraft—on Fort Myers Beach.
Every day, guides lead tours of up to eight guests into parts of the bay beyond sight of the beach itself. The guides have learned the movement of the dolphins, and they position themselves in the path of the aquatic mammals so they swim toward the guests. With this, the personal watercraft known as “party bikes of the ocean” become a means to see sea turtles, manatees and other water flora and fauna in a nearly pristine ecosystem.
Tourists are excited to return to the beach year after year. “I would definitely do this again,” says Melissa Tackett Marcum, who went on one of Holiday Water Sports’ tours twice in a visit last year. “We got to see dolphins both times.”
Of course, that’s only part of the reason why rental booths and body shops dot the entirety of Fort Myers Beach. Also known as “four-wheelers of the ocean,” personal watercraft are popular rental items on beaches, thanks to the exhilarating feeling that comes from blasting across the water. With the rush of wind in one’s face reminiscent of riding a motorcycle— but having a level of control that means most anyone can comfortably steer the craft—they are hot commodities.
“Riding the watercraft and enjoying the speed and the experience of operating it has always been a popular thing,” says Eric O’Gildie,
owner and manager of All Island Watersports. “And the companies making the watercraft make them more attractive and more sporty over time.” O’Gildie rents primarily Yamaha watercraft, and says the appeal of the vehicles stays high even as new water sports come and go.
And water-sports companies in Southwest Florida say Fort Myers Beach remains one of the best plac es in the country to take a personal watercraft out onto the waves. Or rather, the total lack of waves. “Our water is usually pretty calm, which makes it a smooth ride,” Graddy notes.
The geography of the island plays a major role. With a barrier island separating Estero Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, the positioning of the beach actually tucks it away from heavy currents.
There’s certain safety concerns that go along with personal watercraft. If Graddy smells alcohol on someone’s breath, he won’t rent to that person for the rest of the day. While most craft are designed to hold as many as three people, there’s a 500-pound weight limit. And while there’s no speed limit on the water, there are idle zones to protect wildlife.
Far left, personal watercraft riders find it smooth going off Fort Myers Beach. Employees (left) at Holiday Water Sports offer instruction on using the watercraft. Holiday Water Sports serves guests seeking to rent personal watercraft and other beach...
Visitors take out a WaveRunner at Fort Myers Beach.