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Jet-Skiers Steer Over Wavy Courses

April 24, 1988|BARRY ZWICK | Zwick is a Times assistant news editor .

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — A tattered trawler trailed the skittering jet-ski, and the skipper of the bigger boat called out:

"Move it, you brain-dead redneck!"

I was already going 20 m.p.h., but I thought of the song about the little Nash Rambler and the Cadillac, and I turned up the throttle.

Behind me, the Texans aboard the Honey Babe sang a song of their own.

I'm engaged to marry Sue,

Honey, honey,

I'm engaged to marry Sue,

Babe, babe!

I was up to 25 now, and water skiers were looking at us with panic in their eyes. The Honey Babe was still on my tail.

I'm afraid to get undressed

'Cause Mary's tattooed on my chest .

I turned the throttle up to the max.

Honey, oh baby, mine.

Top speed on my Kawasaki 300 was 35 m.p.h. The Texans were only a memory.

Go to your left, your right, your left .

Go to your left, your right, your left .

You meet all kinds of people when you go jet-skiing. Well, too bad. But think of all the great places you can visit.

Jet-skiing is a way of life in the Texas Hill Country, on the Upper Mississippi Valley, Florida's Intracoastal Waterway and here at Lake Havasu, where the national championships are held.

For a rental fee of about $30 an hour, you get to outrun any yacht and outmaneuver any speedboat. With a shallow draft you can pull into the nation's most spectacular coves, cut your engine, open the hatch, haul out a picnic lunch and drink in the scenery with a companion who has been hanging onto you for dear life.

Take Ft. Lauderdale, for instance. The Intracoastal Waterway there runs along the New River, once the exclusive preserve of teak-decked luxury yachts en route between Key Biscayne and Jupiter Island, with blue-coated professional captains at the helm.

Vice Lords in Cruisers

The yachts are still there, but now they have company. Ft. Lauderdale's 165 miles of navigable waterways these days look a lot like the klongs of Bangkok. You'll see Haitians in dories on their way to polish silver in Boca Raton, Miami vice lords in cabin cruisers riding low in the water, Seminoles in pirogues, and us--the jet skiers.

We pick up our Kawasaki 440s at Bill's Sunrise Rentals, 301 Seabreeze Ave. We turn off into a quiet rivulet fringed with blue bougainvillea, yellow hibiscus and pink oleander, redolent of jasmine and frangipani, bordered by palmettos and mangroves, and we watch an ibis dive for snook.

Too tranquil for you? Head down the Intracoastal Waterway through the Florida Keys to Islamorada, the Purple Isle, where the jet-ski World Cup races are held.

On the Straits of Florida side, the waters are so clear you can see coral reefs and shipwrecks 40 feet below the surface, and the nation's only underwater park is just 10 miles away.

The Florida Bay side, fed by the Everglades, is a fisherman's paradise. Turn off the ignition, cast your line overboard, and be prepared for anything from a wahoo to a marlin. Rent a Kawasaki 440 or a Yamaha WaveRunner at the Holiday Isle Resort and Marina at Mile Marker 84.

Other Intracoastal Waterway resorts in Florida where jet-skis may be rented include Daytona Beach, Pensacola, Ft. Myers and St. Petersburg. The Intracoastal reaches as far north as Pt. Pleasant Beach, N.J., and as far west as the Rio Grande, but those waters are not for novices.

The difference between Florida and the Upper Mississippi Valley is the difference between suntans and freckles, between white wine and buttermilk, between Spandex and gingham.

Log Rafts and Inner Tubes

The Upper Mississippi Valley is a time-warp kind of place where you pump your gasoline and then pay for it, where kids still float around on log rafts and inner tubes, where men in Big Yank overalls hang the storm windows every autumn.

Surely the best spot on the entire Mississippi for jet-skiing is Lake Pepin, where the river widens between Lock 3 and Lock 4 of the Mississippi, and on down south to La Crosse, Wis. There are marinas at Lake City and Wabasha, Minn., and four of them at La Crosse. You can rent a Yamaha WaveRunner at the Bikini Yacht Club just behind the La Crosse Holiday Inn.

Once the Mississippi thaws in late March, life in this land of dear hearts and gentle people an hour south of Minneapolis turns to the river. Water-skiing was invented here, in Lake City in 1922. You'll share the river with barges, three-tier paddle-wheelers, rowboats, sailboats, canoes and motorboats and, once in a great while, a luxury yacht; the physicians at the Mayo Clinic berth at Wabasha.

Drink in the scenery, the coulees and limestone bluffs and dense hardwood forests and classic clapboard towns that haven't changed since Mark Twain's day. Turn off at the Chippewa River for privacy, or dock your jet-skis at one of the river-front restaurants and bars set up for us water rats.

Beaches and Baseball

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