ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Readers of this column know I am more adept with a kayak paddle than a throttle lever. But an event this winter in Florida gave me a chance to demo a new watercraft from Sea-Doo.
Beyond some serious fun ripping around in turquoise waters, the demo changed my perspective on the activity in a bigger sense. In short, personal watercraft have evolved hugely since I was younger.
A new generation of models can be quiet, fuel-efficient, easy to maintain, and simple for almost anyone to operate.
Testing a new Sea-Doo model called the Spark, I felt like I was riding a mountain bike on the water. I gripped the handlebars, hit waves like they were dirt jumps, and almost forgot about the cylinders and combusting gas powering me through the swells.
There’s even a brake on the Spark, a rare feature for a watercraft that I tested after jetting to 40 mph where the water was flat. (It works!)
A four-stroke engine is under the hood. But it’s quiet enough that the wind in my ears often overpowered the engine noise. I smelled almost no exhaust, even when idling.
Sea-Doo advertises the Spark’s 899cc engine as the most efficient you can buy. It can run on less than 2 gallons of fuel per hour of use.
The efficiency comes from a new kind of engine as well as a lighter overall weight. At 400 pounds, the Spark can be towed on a trailer by a small car.
With a base price of $4,999, the model is half the cost of many other personal watercraft, Sea-Doo says. The company cut costs by building a type of hull made of polypropylene that is easier to manufacture.
One to three people, depending on the model, can ride on a Spark. It has enough power to pull a skier on a tow rope behind.
In Florida, after a 5-minute tutorial I was riding alone into the waves. It’d been 15 years since my last experience captaining a small craft, but immediately I felt in control, aiming at a wave, pressing the throttle full speed ahead.
Stephen Regenold writes about the outdoors and gear at gearjunkie.com.