breaking news

Fourth explosion this month injures two; this time in Southwest Austin

Next wave of watersport adventure? Jet surfing!

At JetSurf Academy ATX, learn to ride a motorized surfboard.


JetSurf boards can attain speeds of 35 miles per hour.

Motorized surfboards are like a cross between wakeboards and Jet Skis.

JetSurf Academy ATX sells, rents and trains people to ride the boards, which are powered by a tiny engine.

The boards are independent; riders aren’t towed by a boat.

For those who want to surf but can’t find a wave to catch comes a new option — motorized surfboards.

Sound weird? Well, we’re Austin, landlocked surf capital of the universe.

We’ve already got NLand Surf Park, and head to the lake any hot summer weekend and you’ll find people surfing the wakes behind motorboats. Now, thanks to JetSurf Academy ATX, you can hop on a “surfboard” with a tiny gas-powered engine tucked inside it and zoom around the lake like someone from a water-themed episode of the Jetsons.

Think personal watercraft crossed with a wakeboard, add a hint of dirt-slinging, engine-buzzing motorbike, and you’ve got the idea. JetSurf boards — which look more like wakeboards than surfboards — can attain top speeds of 35 miles per hour.

Wakeboarders and water-skiers have to hold onto a tow rope attached to a boat. Wake surfers can let go of that rope, but they still have to stick close by because they catch the wave it kicks up. Jet surfers, though, are independent. They can go wherever they want, no boat needed.

“If you like water sports, it’s a combo of wakeboarding, wakesurfing, regular surfing and snowboarding — and throw in motocross because you have an engine with power,” says Kyle Ray, who recently opened JetSurf Academy ATX, where you can rent, buy and learn how to ride one.

I recently donned my bikini and life jacket and drove to Lake Travis so I could check out this latest alternative to driving to the Gulf Coast with a surfboard strapped to the roof of my car.

Ray, who operates a residential power washing business in Houston called Geek Home Services, moved to Austin two years ago. He heard about jet surfing, flew to Miami to visit the only JetSurf factory shop in the United States, tested one out, loved it, bought five and opened a business here in December. Now he’s out at Lake Travis every Thursday through Sunday showing people how to ride them.

“It’s just exhilarating,” he says. “You control how fast you go and where you want to go.”

JetSurf boards, which contain a hide-away removable gas tank and high-performance miniature engine, were developed in the Czech Republic in 2010. Four models are available, and they’re not cheap. Prices start at about $10,000, and racing versions will set you back more than $15,000.

A regular, non-motorized surfboard, on the other hand, can be had for $1,000 easy. (Of course, then you have to get the ocean and the waves, which might up your travel costs.)

The boards weigh about 30 pounds and are considered personal watercraft. That means you must be 18 or older to ride one.

When Jamie Naugle, a lead instructor for the academy, showed me how to fire up a motorized surfboard, it made me a little nervous. What if it got away from me? What if I face-planted? Could it run me over? Were there spinning blades ready to turn my shins into mincemeat?

Naugle jumped into the water while I stood on the dock. She inserted a magnetic “key” attached to a leash around her wrist into a hand-held throttle. After a five-second lag, the engine, which is encased inside the board and therefore can’t cut you, buzzed to life. She scooched belly-first onto it, stood up quickly, placing first her back foot, then her front foot, into the foot cups.

Voila — smooth, graceful and lickety-split, like a penguin popping out of the ocean and onto an iceberg. She zoomed around a cove near Anderson Mill Marina, cutting smooth arcs in the glassy water. Then she returned to the dock and stepped off into the water.

My turn.

“Speed is your friend,” Ray told me. “The faster you go, the more it will plane out.”

I’ve tried surfing in an ocean exactly once, while on vacation in Hawaii. I’ve also surfed the manufactured pond at NLand Surf Park east of Austin twice. I love watersports, though, and water-ski, scuba dive and swim regularly.

RELATED: What’s Pam LeBlanc’s perfect day of fitness?

I inserted the key, revved the throttle — and suddenly it stopped. I’d accidentally flooded the engine. Ray plopped a different board in front of me. I revved the engine and the board dragged me down the lake a little ways, like a dog with an old towel. I managed to lug myself onto the board, wobbling a lot. Still, I stayed on it for at least 10 seconds, until the board bucked me off like a horse with a burr under its blanket.

Naugle, following alongside on a Jet Ski, glided up to make sure I was OK. I was. After that, I had no trouble getting on the board and buzzing slowly around the cove. After 20 or 30 minutes, I could manage wide left-side turns. Right-side turns took more practice.

After a while Ray climbed on one of the boards and we whizzed around the cove together. He leaped over waves and kicked up a spray as he cut sharp turns. He and Naugle both want to go pro and compete in the MotoSurf World Cup, where racers are timed as they weave through a buoy-marked course.

My verdict? Fun stuff. No men in gray suits (sharks), no stinging jellyfish. But no wide open ocean, no waves and no luscious salt spray, either.

Just don’t think of it as surfing, and it makes a little more sense.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

Americans binge 17 billion drinks a year, CDC estimates
Americans binge 17 billion drinks a year, CDC estimates

College students have a reputation for binge drinking, but it’s not just them. Americans drink massive amounts of alcoholic beverages, according to a new report.  Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, to determine...
Woman who broke barrier at Boston Marathon knows real power of running
Woman who broke barrier at Boston Marathon knows real power of running

You’ve seen the photos — a race official trying to rip the bib number off a female runner at the Boston Marathon in 1967, as another athlete shoves him away. Kathrine Switzer wasn’t the first woman to run Boston — that honor goes to Roberta Gibb, who jumped out of the bushes and ran, bandit-style, without an official number...
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, March 18
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, March 18

Today’s Birthdays: Composer John Kander is 91. Country singer Charley Pride is 84. Nobel peace laureate and former South African president F.W. de Klerk is 82. Country singer Margie Bowes is 77. Actor Kevin Dobson is 75. Actor Brad Dourif is 68. Jazz musician Bill Frisell is 67. Singer Irene Cara is 59. Alt-country musician Karen Grotberg (The...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, March 18

ARIES (March 21-April 19). Knowledge is the bread of life, and taking action is the meaty part of the sandwich. But constant action will be the thing that makes a difference. No one can live long off one sandwich. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). The change you desire is coming, though not immediately. Don’t worry about the schedule. Every time you...
Dear Abby - Sunday, March 18

Dear Abby: I’m a disabled middle-aged woman, married for 15 years. From the beginning, there was never much passion between my husband and me, but we’re friends. I’m now becoming less able to go out and do things, and I will eventually be wheelchair-bound. I want to leave him so he can find someone who is able to do things with him...
More Stories