It's 2 pm on a day when the mercury is shy to rise. The Arabian sea is a bed of glistening sequins constantly torn down by waves. About five watercraft skiers, all participants of the F1 Jet Ski race, none of who can speak fluent English, shoot out from the surf in different directions. The whirring from their motors, put together, is the dissonance of a Tool rhythm in full swing. We're at Girgaum Chowpatty, riding parallel to the cars, and it's almost like we're teleporting to Nariman Point and back. The entire stretch can be covered in less than seven seconds. The 260 HP, 1498 cc engine of the watercraft truly works wonders.
Juan Felix Bravo, deemed by the Guinness World Records as the fastest man on water, beckons me to his smart, green Kawasaki 260 X. As I sit on it, he turns back to point at the gap between us and lets out a giggle. He wants me to maintain a "safe" distance. I cringe momentarily, and then find myself grabbing hold of him nonetheless. The craft has fired up, and we're away and beyond.
At first, it's like being on a bike, except, on a drunken one that's bobbing on a shapeless surface. As we gain speed, I'm a clown riding pillion with a rodeo cowboy true to his last name. Bravo grasps hold of the handlebar and twists it in all possible directions. The capricious machine is quick to respond; I'm not. My body catches up much before the head can grasp where it's at. Within milliseconds, though, the whole of me is at the next spot. Then the body is wayward again.
The waves make way
Riding with a professional skier, though safer, is hardly as exciting as riding alone. You enjoy yourself more when you're in full charge of a personal watercraft (PWC; you probably know of it as a Jetski but that's the name of the brand manufactured by Kawasaki) that's in full charge of you. Ride straight into a wave and you'll be swooped down on. The kick's in eluding them and then turning back to see them die down.
You can also choose to ski on flat, calm waters but you'll have to do away with jumps and skids. Says Ankit Somani (24), the vice-president of Drishti group, which manages the H2O Water Sports Complex in Chowpatty, "The first time I was handed a watercraft was after a brief 20-minute tutorial. I rode in normal conditions for a while before moving on to tougher waters.
"Riding a PWC doesn't require too many other skills if you know how to swim." Somani has been a professional watercraft skier for eight years and believes that you have to put aside your fears on solo embarks. On a recent trip to the Baga beach in Goa, Somani encountered 10-feet high surf. "The waves are a real challenge to overcome. But they've taught me to perform quick 180-degree turns and the odd heartbreak (a full 360-degree turn). It comes with practice," he says.
Watercraft skiers from Mumbai, some of who own PWCs, routinely head out skiing from Girgaum Chowpatty to Juhu. The ride is enthralling and makes for a quick and fun weekend activity.
Even amateurs can do it
However, if you're a ski junkie who doesn't yet believe he can own a PWC, Goa is where you'll get your periodic adventure fix. The rides are affordable and the learning process isn't tedious. First timers may have an instructor riding pillion, but experienced pilots are allowed to ride alone.
"We only show tourists how to grip the accelerator and balance themselves. It's all up to them from then on," says skier Pradeep Manjrekar (35), the manager of Beach Water Sports in Calangute, Goa. "Most riders are exhilarated at the sight of dolphins and rocks underwater. Riding can get difficult in rough weather but is safe otherwise," he adds.
Manjrekar ensures he's well clear of boats and rocky surfaces before hopping on to his watercraft. "In clear seas, you don't risk running into other sea vessels. And you get to reach really high speeds over long distances," he says. Riding alone, however, isn't recommended. You might run out of fuel or find yourself stranded in the sea without help should your craft break down.
Being agile does matter
A PWC isn't one of those ultra sleek scooters on which pilots stand while riding. Those are stand-up watercrafts. In a PWC you have the option of being seated while riding, with a pillion too, but in the latter you stand and centre your balance on the craft's board. Since balancing while riding on waves isn't easy, a stand-up watercraft requires you to be more fit and steady than a PWC does.
But professionals like Bravo exercise and keep themselves in shape nonetheless, only to enjoy their best moments at sea more. "Winning the 1999 World Cup in Barcelona was without a doubt the best experience I've had at sea," he beams with joy. "All the non-stop riding coupled with the aerobics and stretching had finally paid off."
Maybe if I'd have been in better shape, Bravo would have let me ride his craft. But neither am I fit nor, well, a 'bravo'. I am definitely going back for more though.