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Just skimming the surface

In 90 minutes, you can trade L.A.'s concrete jungle for the waves of Silverwood Lake, where personal watercraft are a lure.

August 24, 2008|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

For someone whose No. 1 fear is drowning, I'll admit: Silverwood Lake wasn't the most logical choice for a day trip. Nor was renting a 135-horsepower water rocket. But I believe the best way to confront a fear is to head right into it. I'm also a motorcyclist. So I combined my fear of water with a general enthusiasm for power sports and motored through my anxiety aboard a blazing yellow Sea-Doo.

The 1.5 million Americans who ride these "personal watercraft," better known as Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and WaveRunners, probably don't share my fear. For them, it's fun. Fun!

And there are lots of places to do it -- if you own one yourself. Many lakes in Southern California allow personal watercraft. It's a rare lake, however, with facilities that rent them. Silverwood, 90 minutes from downtown L.A., is one of those places. The rentable Sea-Doos are available by the hour or by the day through Get N Wet, which is based in Anaheim but rents various water thingies on Silverwood from a shack at the water's edge.

During the summer, Get N Wet is open seven days a week, starting at 9 a.m. That's about the time I arrived with a motorcyclist friend, who didn't share my anxiety for water but was merely curious about the personal watercraft experience. After several waivers, one thumbprint and enough cash for an all-day ride, we were each handed our life vests and led to matching yellow machines, where a tanned young man sporting a shark tattoo on his shoulder and a pork-pie hat on his head counseled us on various do's and don'ts for our eight-hour rental.

* Do attach the quick-release key to your life vest, the young man told us. That way, if you and your watercraft unintentionally part ways, the key can be found and the craft can be re-started.

* Don't start the watercraft too close to shore, lest it suck up sand, silt and rocks and destroy the motor, costing you (the renter) $3,000 to repair.

* Do keep your speed low until you've passed the marina buoys. After that, feel free to crank the throttle and kick up as much lake spray as you like.

My friend and I followed the rules, firing up our four-stroke motors and riding at a tugboat-slow 5 mph until we hit the main drag that would take us around the lake and its 13 miles of shoreline. We hit the buoys and . . . my friend was gone. Unencumbered by fear, he'd squeezed the throttle with his thumb and gone blasting across the H2O toward the large riding area at the far end of the water.

Silverwood Lake is shaped like an hourglass, with a swimming area and marina on its bottom end, a long narrow passage up the center and a large top section, where watercraft of all stripes are allowed to run around at speeds of 35 mph, which doesn't sound fast for land but is definitely moving on water. There were fishing boats resting with lures out and sport boats pulling inner tubes and wakeboards. But personal watercraft were, by far, the most popular mode of transport.

As I chugged along in a straight line, my body tensing with every ripple, wave or wake, my mind focused on drowning, I did manage to look around at the many other riders who were speeding by, spraying lake in my face. Whether they were standing up or sitting down, riding solo or as a trio, I noticed two things through the spots on my sunglasses: (1) No one had fallen off, and (2) everyone was smiling.

Their excitement was understandable. During the summer months at Silverwood Lake, the sun is almost always shining and the temperature is about 90 degrees. The Monday I was there was no exception. It was gorgeous. The sky was blue, the breeze was light, but most of all it was a weekday and these people weren't at work.

Technically speaking, I was "working." But come on. I was riding a Sea-Doo. The only work I was really doing was overcoming my fear of water -- deep, dark, seemingly bottomless water -- and learning how to operate what is basically a waterborne motorcycle.

It took me about an hour before I got used to the machine and was doing water doughnuts and high-speed switchbacks just to kick up spray and cool off my Nordic skin, which was cooking under a double dose of supposedly waterproof sunscreen. I'd learned from watching other riders that these things are nearly impossible to flip. The greater danger was slipping off the banana seat as I maxed out the throttle.

Fear of drowning be damned; I was having fun. Fun!

--

travel@latimes.com

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If you go

SILVERWOOD LAKE STATE RECREATION AREA

14651 Cedar Circle, Hesperia, (760) 389-2303, www.parks.ca.gov. From L.A., take the 60, 10 or 210 freeway east to the 15 north to the 215 north. Exit California 138, turn right (heading east), travel 11 miles and follow the signs to the recreation area.

Sea-Doo rental: Get N Wet, (760) 389-2547, www.getnwet.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week (season closes Sept. 30). Cost: $69 for one hour, $99 for two hours, $149 for four hours, $249 for eight hours plus gas and $500 security deposit.

On travel.latimes.com

For more views of jet skiing across Silverwood Lake, see the photo gallery at latimes.com/jetski

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