Water­craft Won­der­land

“Party bikes of the ocean” re­main pop­u­lar rental items

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY JA­COB OGLES Ja­cob Ogles is a free­lance writer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

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 places 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.

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