Jet skiing seeks resurgence in area recreation

by Aaron Burns

aaron@mimonitor.com

Personal watercraft rentals have been up and down this year, but some believe the demand will increase as weather improves.

HUNTERSVILLE – According to a 2011 Outdoor Foundation report, the number of people using personal watercraft nationwide slightly dropped from the 8.6-million mark in 2007 to 7.5-million in recent years.

Jet skiing in the lake area, however, offers a mixed bag of results when it comes to participation.

Gayle Orme, the office manager for CS Performance – a Mooresville-based ski sales and rental company which serves residents in the lake area and Mountain Island – said the personal watercraft are hot commodities as soon as the weather heats up.

“Our floor is almost empty right now,” Orme said. “It’s a little early (in the season) to nearly be out of inventory.”

Jet skiing season, which Orme said begins around Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day, has been a popular method of recreation during the summer months for years.

CS Performance carries name-brand watercraft including Yamaha, Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Honda.

But rental numbers aren’t up everywhere.

Paul Skinner, owner of Charlotte-based Lakeside Water Sports, said his rentals are down a bit from last year. Skinner attributes that to uncertain weather the area has had this summer.

“The weather hasn’t been all that good for us this year, especially on weekends,” Skinner said.

“You can’t go out on a jet ski if it’s raining. That’s going to impact your rentals.”

A major reason the amount of jet skiers nationwide is dropping relates to the economy, Skinner said.

“The first thing people are going to get rid of or drop if the economy is bad is recreation,” he said. “(Jet skiing) is not going out of style. But we haven’t been in a place like we were years ago when people just came in shops and walked out with a $15,000 jet ski. There’s still demand.”

Jet skis offer something different for boaters.

“They’re fast, maneuverable and you can go out jet skiing with a group or just someone else,” Skinner said.

Safety continues to be a hot-button issue when it comes to jet skiing.

A 9-year-old boy was killed June 20 on Lake Norman when the personal watercraft he was riding collided with another one.

Skinner said safety has improved across the board, but letting children operate watercraft without guidance is a safety hazard in itself. Lakeside Water Sports doesn’t rent to people younger than 21, but there’s a risk involved no matter who is driving.

While jet skiing – like other water sports – will always have those risks, safety has improved in recent years, Skinner said.

Many manufacturers have begun putting brakes on personal watercraft. They had no option for reverse, either.

“If you were on your way to hitting something, you hit it,” Skinner said. “Now you’ve got some better safety options if you’re interested in jet skiing. We’re to a place now where you can control what you’re doing a lot easier, and that’s going to make more people want to try it. Plus as the weather and economy keep getting better, we’ll see more people around here renting or buying them.”

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