The warm air whips my face as I walk closer and closer to the water. Today, it’s crystal blue glass. I smell the harbor before I see it. I can hear the waves crashing on the rocks and the engines of boats coming to a stall as they pull into the docks. The excitement makes me almost nervous, as we get closer.
“Hurry up sis!” my sister, Abby, yells as she races me to the dock.
“Wait up!” I yell back, trying to catch up to her.
Henderson Harbor is a beautiful body of water just north of Pulaski, New York. My family spent a few summers here when I was a child and sometimes I can still taste the fresh woodsy air in my memories. The tiny island, named Association Island, is where we would camp and where I first learned the thrill of riding a jet ski.
Camping is a traditional summer activity for my family and has been since my siblings and I were young. We had a few campgrounds that were our favorite; this one was definitely number one though. The island surrounded by water on all sides and connected to the mainland with a one-lane bridge. It is our home away from home. I can remember vividly being terrified the first time we went and thinking we would drive off the bridge and into Lake Ontario. The water is calm as if just lulled to sleep. The air smells fresh and then fishy as we pass the water. The windows are rolled down in the truck. Once we arrive to our site, the first thing we do is grab our bikes from the bed of the truck. We love to ride around as my parents set up camp. I can feel the rush of energy as my feet turn the pedals and I see the dark, black pavement whizzing beneath me. The paths are mainly paved with some loose rocks being thrown around by bikers, runners and cars alike. The trees are a flush green color, their leaves slightly swaying in the breeze as we pass them. If they are the conductors, then we’re the orchestra.
My dad had wanted to buy something to replace our boat since he sold it a few years prior. Being older now, he thought we would be able to handle the responsibility of something a little more risky and powerful. So he bought two jet skis for us to share, one blue and one red, each able to fit two people comfortably. I couldn’t wait to ride them, that sunny June day, when we would take them out for the first time in the harbor.
The boat launch is wide enough to fit two trailers easily. The cement on shore is old and cracked, but the parts submerged in water look still intact and covered in algae. The water laps up on my toes. I stand in the shallow area, holding the rope to the red jet ski. It is cold at first, shocking my body, but soon it becomes unnoticeable like it had disappeared altogether. I wait as my dad backs the truck up in the water, submerging the trailer. The machines float there, bobbing with the motion that the small waves create. After we untie them from the trailer, they begin to drift away and I have to tug the rope to keep it close to shore. The sun beats down on my face as I glance up at the sky. Most of the harbor is open to the sunlight with just a wall of rocks separating it from the lake. The tree line surrounds most of the island except for this area where the boat launch is. It’s like a gateway opening up to let us escape the island for little while.
My brother decides to be the first to learn to drive. He has always been the bravest and the first to jump on any heavy machinery. When my dad bought us a go-cart when we were kids, he had to be the first to take a lap around the yard. During that first lap, he went airborne over the driveway and therefore proved to me sister and I the true daredevil he was. He hops on the front and my dad jumps on the back and begins to show him the controls as my sister and I look on. Soon enough, they take off, slow at first and then get faster as they get into the open water. I can hear the roar of the engine as it spits water out of the back and takes them faster and faster. The waves from their departure roll towards the docks and rock my sister and I as we wait patiently for their return. My bare feet dry quickly from the hot, wooden surface of the docks. The old tattered wood could collapse any minute but we stay on them, oblivious to the thought.
“Do you want to go next?” my sister asks as we wait.
“If you want me to,” I say. “Are you too chicken?” I tease.
“No, but you know I don’t like driving stuff like that.”
My sister has always been resistant to driving any kind of motorized machine. Four wheelers, snowmobiles, and even the boat were out of the question for her, so it doesn’t surprise me that she prefers to go last.
Before we know it, we can see them making their way back into the harbor. Slowing down gradually, and then finally coming to a stop, the jet ski and its two passengers look battered from the waves. My sister and I help guide them to the dock and pull the rope around the wooden pole that goes deep into the dark water. We then help the riders off and onto solid ground. My brother looks thrilled and my dad looks terrified.
“Good luck if you ever ride with your brother,” my dad laughs, “He is one crazy driver. We’re better off letting him ride alone.”
I laugh too and then become nervous as I realize it is my turn. So I mount the jet ski and grab the handles, tightly squeezing my fingers around the throttle and the brake. I listen intently as my dad describes how to work the controls and I gently pull the gas and we are off.
I can feel the purr of the engine all over my body and smell the fumes coming from the back of the machine. At first, I am petrified to touch the throttle much at all.
“Don’t be afraid to give it some gas, sis.” My dad yells over the engine.
I begin to accelerate through the waves. The water moves aside and splashes up on my feet. I reach the wall of rocks and study them closer, noting their sharp edges and grayish color. I remind myself not to get too close to them. The reflection of the sun off the water glares in my eyes. I am almost blinded, but its warmth makes me ignore it. As we get out onto Lake Ontario, I feel the rush of air that comes off the waves and a splash or two of lake water lands on my skin. It tastes of salt and fish and is frigid when it first touches me. I soon get comfortable with how the machine moves and I feel confident enough to control it. It is thrilling to cross the water at such speeds. It’s something I’ve never felt before.
As we begin to gradually slow down and pull back around the rocks, my dad decides to show me how swiftly this machine can turn. My siblings watch on as we begin to turn in a circle. Soon enough we are doing donuts in the water and my dad is laughing as he turns it tighter and tighter. All of a sudden he unexpectedly pulls on the throttle while we are turning and before I know it, my body is tossed into the cold water. The initial shock takes my breath away. I know how to swim, but I begin frantically splashing in the water. My eyes search the water for my dad as I spit the dirty water out of my mouth. I can barely feel my legs. They are so numb from the icy water that I am not sure they are even moving at all. I feel myself sinking as I kick harder and harder to keep myself above water. My dad immediately looks to me and asks if I am ok. I finally feel my body moving closer to the docks and I nod to him signaling that I am all right. He swims back to the jetski and turns it right side up and pulls it back to the dock. When I reach the dock, my sister reaches into the water and grabs my arm and helps me out of the water. I collapse on the dock, waiting for the feeling in my legs to come back. I catch my breath and then begin to laugh as I realize that the first time I ever rode a jet ski will forever be remembered like this. My dad is laughing as he climbs out of the water then apologizes for capsizing us.
We are just leaving the docks now, walking away from the harbor. The sounds of the boat engines get more and more faint as we get farther away. The waves begin to die down and there is a soothing swish of water on rock. Fresh air and the scent of seaweed fill my nose as I wrap a towel around my body. I shiver from the cooler air of the night by the water. It sends a chill through my spine as I relive that initial shock of the water just several minutes prior. I will never forget this day. I will never forget the first time I rode a jetski. I am content, and I know I’ll be back to do it all over again tomorrow.