Butch -VS- the Jet Ski

We live on a lake channel, so summer means we get to play on the lake. This week we were able to get our pontoon cleaned up from winter storage and have all the necessary repairs done that were needed. We put the boat in and docked it at our pier. It’s ready to go for all the adventures we want to have out on the lake.

To let you know, we are new to this whole boat ownership thing and navigating on the lake. We have had a small bass boat, but having a 24’ pontoon is a little different- mostly in steering it. So, when we’re on the lake, this thing will not turn on a dime.

The lake we live on is normally very busy with all types of watercraft. We see it all from speedboats pulling tubes, to the sail boats that glide effortlessly across the lake, as well as personal watercraft: jet skis, waverunner’s, and so on. Being on the lake means you need to be aware of all these, which way they are going and anticipating what they will do next.

Out of all the watercraft we encounter, my least favorite is the jet ski. These drivers tend to go wherever they want. When traveling on the water, most people follow a pattern, like lanes on a road. For some reason, the jet skis just seem to make it up as they go, and in my experience, can be very unpredictable.

I think I have a healthy respect for jet skis and how powerful they can be. I also know how fun they can be. You can be riding along jumping wakes, then racing like you’re going through a slalom course. Then all of a sudden, you are under water, off your craft, treading water, and trying to get your bearings.

Once you clear your eyes, you try to look for your jet ski. Hopefully, it isn’t flipped over and taking on water. I’m really not sure if they would sink without some sort of damage, but I have had one flip and take on enough water to make it difficult to flip it back to right side up.

So, in my experience they can be… well, let’s just say you need to be careful with them.

The best days on the lakes are those that have little to no wind and there’s not a whole lot of traffic. The sun is shining, and the water is smooth as ice. It doesn’t matter what your watercraft is. It just seems to glide along.

One of my first encounters with lake life was when our family was invited to go on a weekend getaway in upper Michigan, just outside of Kalamazoo. At that time I guess we were what we have come to label people who visit the lake area and then leave as “Lakers.” We were there just for the weekend, a few short days to have fun and relax.

Up to this point, I had never really driven or rode a jet ski. I had done motorcycles and dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other fun land motorsports, but not water. How hard could it be? Right? Famous last words.

So, our friends gave us a crash course on how to use these jet skis, then they took us out on them and we switched places. Kind of the whole hands-on teaching approach. We learned the do’s and don’ts, where we could go in the lake, and where not to go.

I passed the test. We were able to use the jet skis. Once I had the hang of the basics, my friend showed me how to have some fun by jumping your wake and doing power slides. I actually picked it up quickly. It was a lot like riding a dirt bike. We played for hours on these super cool machines. The lake was mostly empty, so we didn’t have to worry about other boats. We could do what we wanted, where we wanted. Then the day was turning into night, and it was time to come in off the lake for the day.

At dinner I asked if there would be any issue if I took a jet ski out in the morning with Tori? She had not had a chance to be on with me, so I wanted to be sure we were able to ride together. They said, “Sure, no problem.”

When next morning came Tori and I got our breakfast. My friend was up too. He said he would help us get the jet ski ready to go out.

Side Note: Tori was about 10 at this time. I was her hero; in her mind, it seemed that I was capable of all the things that Mr. Incredible could do. Yeah, I was pretty great then she became a young adult, and I’m no longer the incredible guy I once was. But, I know someday I will be pretty super again.

So we donned our life jackets, and I saddled up. I slid to the front and reached back to help Tori on. She wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed as she had done countless times before on my motorcycle. Tori was my biker babe– if the motorcycle was out of the garage, and mom wasn’t on the back, it was Tori fighting for the seat.

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We slowly accelerated out onto the lake. The sun was shining, and the water was perfect. It was as smooth as glass. There were a few fishing boats out, but nothing that we would bother or would bother us.

I told Tori, this is just like the bike, lean when I lean, and in the same direction that I lean. She said “Okay.” I told her if you fall off, just wave your hands in the air, and I’ll come back to get you. She said, “Got it Dad, now let’s get going!”

I took my time getting reacquainted the machine and having Tori on the back. I did a few things that I had been showed. With each thing, I asked Tori if she was ready to try it. I wanted to be sure this would be a good experience for her and create fun memories of us together.

The lake started to come to life and more boats started to appear. It made me a bit nervous, so I asked Tori if she was up to exploring the lake a little further away and she agreed. So, we went all around the lake exploring the different inlets, and going around to all the islands that were separating the lake into different parts. Finally, we came on to this one little bay-like area that was deserted. It had a few houses and cottages on it, but they were far apart. I said “Let’s have some fun!” and I started going in circles creating big waves. I would then go outside of them and gun it and go over the wave we created. We would fly over the wave in the air and come crashing down to take another run at it. We would laugh harder each time. Then I decided to try and do a powerslide and whip the Jet Ski around to go the opposite direction. I explained what I was going to attempt to Tori, and she was up for it.

We got some speed up, and then I stood up and shifted my weight and turned the handlebars as quickly as I could and gave some gas. We created a huge spray and wave. Tori was giggling. So I said, “Want to go again?” She was like, “Yea, yea, do it again!” So, I repeated the same maneuver. This time as I stood up to shift my weight and turn, Tori must have felt like I was leaning too much, and she shifted her weight opposite of me. This sent us flying through the air and into the water. I remember hitting the water and then opening my eyes under the water. I was in way over my head. I swam towards the surface. Having the life jacket on increased how fast I surfaced. On the way up, I looked for my daughter. Not seeing her, I felt panic set in as if my heart wasn’t racing enough already.

I came up out of the water and gasped for a breath, then yelled, “Tori! Tori! Where are you?” Then I heard her voice as she shouted over on the other side. The jet ski had flipped and was sitting between us. As I swam to her, I asked, “Are you ok?” She said, “Yea!” As I got to her, we looked at each other and laughed. I said, “Wow, that was crazy!” She said, “It sure was!”

Now that I knew she was fine, I turned to try and get the jet ski righted. I said, “Ok, they told me what to do if this happened.” I reached all the way across the machine in the middle and grabbed the other side with all I had I pulled. It took a few times I’m sure I looked like a fishing bobber being tugged by a fish. I would get to rocking it, and almost get it then I would loose my grip. Finally, I did get it right side up.

The next part, well, that was the challenge that seemed to take forever. We needed to get back on. Now, it’s no secret that I have a bit of weight on me, and at this time I was pushing well over 200 lbs. Pulling oneself out of the water with a life vest strapped to you is no easy task, then add in that the Jet Ski was wet and slippery.

I would go from behind grab the handle and try to pull myself up, only to slip right back off. Then I thought, I’ll try it from the side, big mistake. I flipped it again. But this time, I did have it back up much quicker.

I thought maybe if Tori got on, it would stabilize it enough for me to get on. I got Tori on, but ended up knocking her back off again. I looked at my daughter and said, “Maybe we should swim it into shore and get on there. It was a good 1000 yards to shore; she looked at me and said emphatically, “No!”

By now, about 30 minutes had passed since we flipped. We both were getting tired. I saw in her face that she was not doing well and losing faith in me. So, I said a quick prayer, moved behind the jet ski and put my knees on the back and stretched as far as I could grabbing the handles. The back started to go under the water. Just then I heard a chirping noise and felt a boost up onto the jet ski, it was Flipper! Just kidding! There was no boost, but I did manage to get on the thing.

I then gave Tori very specific instructions on what to do. I stood up to provide counter weight and balanced as she pulled herself up and on . It was really like someone gave her a boost on.

We both breathed deep and thanked God, and I hit the start button. It fired right up. I remember looking back at her saying, “Let’s take it slow and head back. Is that ok with you?” She shook her head yes, and we started back. I said, “We may want to keep this to ourselves.” She looked at me, and said, “No, it was too awesome to do that.” And we both laughed.

This was a scary but fun experience. It really prepared us for some of the future adventures we would have together. Like getting lost under Chicago. Yes under Chicago. We were trying to get to a Family Force 5 concert and got ourselves lost down in the underground streets that run under the city of Chicago.

Still, trust is the big lesson here. Without trust, you have little to nothing. On this day we learned to trust each other at a new deeper level. When trust is broken, it takes awhile to be repaired, but it can be repaired, if both parties choose to forgive and move forward. This is what Jesus does all the time with us. If he can do that for me, I should be willing to try and do it for others.

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