by Joshua Dowling

Each year about 100 keen jet ski riders gather to raise money for disadvantaged kids and hit the ocean on their PWCs.


Close to 100 jet ski riders are hitting the water this morning off the coast of Bundaberg and heading north. Destination: Hamilton Island via Stanage Bay, a 700km journey over five days.

The 21st running of the Yamaha Variety Jet Trek draws participants from all over Australia, from as far as Perth, Tasmania and Far North Queensland — and everywhere in between.

Over two decades the event has raised more than $2 million — after costs — that goes directly to help kids in need, including $380,000 in 2018 and $270,000 in 2017, both previous record years. The final fundraising numbers for 2019 will be announced at the end of this week’s event.

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Last year, Jet Trek was held in NSW (Sydney to Yamba) and previous years have taken in the Victorian coastline, finishing at Phillip Island.

But the event is primarily held along sections of Queensland coastline, from Cairns to the Gold Coast. The 2019 leg completes the last stretch of Queensland water the event is yet to cover.

While the annual charity ride is open to anyone with a jet ski and a big heart, it does require some preparation that might not be for everyone.

You also need a “support crew” driver to take your car and trailer to the next meeting point while you hit the water.

Each participant must raise a minimum $2500 (although many reach up to 10 times this amount), plus there is an in additional $840 levy per person to help cover the costs of running the event. This ensures all money raised goes to disadvantaged kids.

Then you need to account for accommodation and, the big one, fuel.

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Jet skis burn through between 60 and 65 litres per 100km (as much as a V8 Supercar around Bathurst) once you’re decked out with a full tank, plus up to 60 litres of jerry cans strapped into custom-made racks on the back.

Non-supercharged jet skis can get away with carrying only 40 litres on the back (in addition to a full tank onboard) because they burn through less fuel, but supercharged jet skis need at least an extra 60 litres.

Sometimes, even that’s not enough, which is why buddying up with someone who is on a non-supercharged jet ski can mean the difference between getting to the end of each leg or getting towed.

A handful of riders plumb auxiliary tanks but most refuel out of jerry cans with a jiggle hose — or with a funnel and a strong pair of arms. On some stretches of coastline refuelling on water is forbidden, in which case the jet skis are retrieved briefly on a boat ramp mid-way through the day.

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The event is split into teams of about a dozen riders, each group with a lead and a sweep rider, both of whom are veterans of the sport.

They have direct marine radio access to emergency services, organisers and a medical team. Plus every jet ski must have both an EPIRB and a PLB, among other warning devices.

The ride itself runs smoothly and relies heavily on volunteers, without which there would not be an event of this magnitude.

The biggest advice for first-time participants is preparation. Ocean riding is vastly different from riding a jet ski in a river, a dam, or calm waters.

A rough day in the ocean can be some of the worst riding you will ever do. But when conditions are perfect (low wind, low swell, long wave intervals) it will be the best riding on a jet ski you’ll ever experience.

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If the weather gets too severe (winds in excess of 35km/h) that leg is cancelled by organisers under the orders of Queensland Marine Rescue, who have the final say each day whether we go on the water or stay on land.

Experienced riders can handle tough conditions but rescue officials have the right to veto a leg or an entire day because it’s their crews that would be putting themselves in danger to pluck someone from the ocean.

Before you sign up, it’s advisable to have completed at least half a dozen decent ocean rides — although the more, the better. The event also caters for novices who travel in groups at a slower pace (although the jet skis wear numbers, it’s not a race) but the preparation is as much to get your body in shape as it is to develop your skills.

It took me 30 hours in calm waters before I could develop the balance to stand up on a jet ski in the ocean. Now I never sit because it’s too hard on your body.

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When standing, your arms and legs are effectively your body’s suspension, to better cope with skipping over chop — or punching the nose into a big wave.

Sometimes you get into a such a rhythm that the jet ski skims across the top of the chop. These are good times.

And sometimes the swell is so big you end up getting the back of your eyeballs drenched. Every few seconds. For hours on end. These are the less fun days, but it’s all part of the journey.

Almost everyone wears goggles or sunglasses to deflect spray. An increasing number of riders are also wearing lightweight helmets, most of which are full face, to protect your jaw, teeth and nose from coming into contact with the handlebars if you lose grip.

As for which jet ski you should use, the event attracts owners of all three brands: Yamaha, Seadoo and Kawasaki.

However, while Seadoo is the market leader in terms of jet ski sales (ahead of Yamaha and then Kawasaki) most riders on Jet Trek run Yamaha FX models, with a mix of supercharged and non-supercharged.

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According to owners who’ve previously run Seadoos and Kawasakis on Jet Trek, they say they switched to Yamaha primarily because of fuel range.

Seadoos only have a 60-litre tank (until later this year when the performance models are due to gain the 70-litre tank from the Fish-Pro) and while Kawasakis have a 70-litre tank (the same capacity as the Yamaha FX series) they burn more fuel because they make more power.

We won’t get into which jet ski is best in this story because it’ll turn into a three-way tussle that makes the Ford-versus-Holden battle and Sydney-versus-Melbourne arguments seem tame.

That said, four out of every five skis on Jet Trek are Yamahas. For this type of riding, Yamaha seems to be the preferred jet ski but at the end of the day the smiles are just as big on Seadoo and Kawasaki riders.

If you want to take part, there’s a second “Spring” Jet Trek aimed at first-timers that repeat this week’s “Autumn” run from Bundaberg to the Whitsundays on 14 to 19 October 2019.

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If you have a jet ski and sense of adventure, there’s no better event. Indeed, it’s an understatement to say the Yamaha Variety Jet Trek is also an emotional roller coaster.

The smiles from riding eventually turn to tears when, at the end of each day in front of participants, representatives from the Variety Club donate a new piece of medical equipment, a computer, or other physical aids to disadvantaged kids.

When you see the joy in the faces of these kids and their families after receiving something that will change their lives, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

Suddenly, all those eyefuls of saltwater from riding in the ocean are worth the effort.

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