People who knew me growing up know I was not much of a thrill seeker. If something scared me I would avoid it regardless of how much fun it looked like other kids were having. The list of things that scared me included, but was not limited to, haunted houses, roller coasters, camping in tents and of course riding a Waverunner.
My fear of Waverunners began when I was 16 and was given a chance to ride one with a group of friends at a party. Before the party a person very close to me instilled the fear that I could break a limb or have an encounter with water moccasins or alligators if I fell off. So, while the kids laughed and played on the water with their Waverunner and their other toys, I sat on a dock getting sunburned.
Fast forward 10 years and I've now done many of the things that scared me so much as a kid. I've been camping, survived roller coasters and even made it through a few haunted houses. If I can handle all of that I figured it was time to get on board a Waverunner once and for all. Sure, I could break something, but at least I'd have a cool story to tell, right?
When I went looking for a company to try this with I was initially debating between doing it in St. Pete or Clearwater. After calling around and doing some research the Tampa Bay Visitor's Bureau recommended Channelside Watersports because they are currently the only company that takes Waverunners on the Hillsborough River and gives a tour of downtown Tampa. After talking with David Murrell, who is one of the owners, I decided to give them a try.
The big day came faster than I expected and my stomach was in knots. I brought my husband Jeremy with me for moral support but somehow all those fears brought me back to being 16 again and I was secretly thinking of backing out. Instead we sat down with David for the orientation and he calmed my fears a little by telling me the best ways to stay safe while riding. After the orientation we suited up with life jackets and boarded two Waverunners.
For about 15 minutes Jeremy and I hung out in front of the orientation area getting comfortable with turning on the machine, learning how to accelerate, how to steer, etc. … Then Jeremy boarded a boat to take pictures while I tried to see if I could handle this without any coaching.
I've never said the phrase "Oh my god!!" more in my entire life. It was like every time I hit the gas I was afraid the Waverunner was going to fly out from beneath me and leave me stranded in the water.
After about another 15 minutes David decided we would play follow the leader so he could show me the river. Unfortunately, even while following him I was too scared to let the machine go faster than 25 mph. One of the last moments I road alone was when I caught air and hit the water so hard I got drenched and just sat bewildered until David said we could just ride back to the orientation area at a speed I was comfortable with.
He then let my husband ride one and David took me on the other so I could get a feel for how fast the Waverunners could actually go. I held on so tight that David kept asking me to loosen up my grip so he could breathe.
The funny thing is even though I was scared the entire time, I realized I've never had that much fun on the water. I want to go again as soon as possible! I want to get comfortable with the machine, learn how to not be afraid and see if I can get up to the speeds they got to, catch air and not get splashed with water or fall off. I smiled so much in that hour that my face was actually hurting by the time it was all over. Other than a little sunburn in a few places I missed with sunscreen, a sore jaw from smiling was the only injury I incurred. I can't wait to go again!
— My First Time is a column about Ashley Grant trying new things in Tampa Bay. Got a suggestion for something she can try? E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.