Wherever there are surfers, especially highly skilled, competitive surfers, there are also jet skis being used for tow-in-surfing and jet ski rescues using rescue sleds. The two things go hand in hand, with jet skis serving as one of the most critical tools in big wave surfing and in everyday lifesaving situations.
While jet skis are used on their own for recreation by thrill seekers who love spending time in the waves, they are also used by lifeguards and first responders all across the world who are tasked with keeping surfers and swimmers safe.
In those critical moments when a lifesaving operation is underway, a reliable, high-performance jet ski is needed to ensure first responders can quickly reach a surfer in distress. Jet skis are also used for tow-in surfing, delivering surfers to the hardest-to-reach big waves in scenarios where paddling may not be practical.
Read on to learn more about how jet skis became an integral part of competitive big wave surfing and a much-needed tool in lifesaving efforts on the water. We have rounded up the best jet ski for tow surfing, along with the best rescue sleds below.
Jet Skis: A Brief History
Today we use the name “Jet Ski” to describe almost any personal watercraft (PWC), but the first versions made in Europe were originally known as “water scooters.” These machines first appeared in the 1950s, but it was not until 1973 that Kawasaki manufactured the first “Jet Ski.”
Kawasaki’s new design resulted from the initial efforts of Australian Clayton Jacobsen, who had made significant changes to the earliest European versions of personal watercraft. He altered the driver’s position from seated to standing, replaced the outboard motor with an internal pump jet, and eventually constructed a model of this personal watercraft from fiberglass.
Kawasaki took an interest in his design and eventually brought it to the marketplace, paving the way for companies such as Yamaha and Bombardier to follow.
The jet ski industry now has a market size of $769 million in the United States.
Why Do Surfers Use Jet Skis?
While many surfers dream of always finding that next big wave, getting to it can prove impractical or simply impossible, or at least it was until the mid-1990s.
Toward the end of the 20th century, some of surfing’s biggest names began to try what would become known as “tow-in surfing.” Elite competitors like Laird Hamilton and others realized they could reach a large breaking wave with the assistance of a PWC or even by dropping from a tow-in line attached to a helicopter. This truly changed the playing field in competitive surfing, allowing surfers to reach waves that were once out of their grasp with traditional paddling.
In general, the maximum wave height most surfers reached before tow-in surfing came into play was 20 feet. Once jet skis and helicopters came into the picture, surfers could experience the thrill of waves ranging from 30 to 50 feet.
From Northern California to Cape Town, South Africa, tow-in surfing has become a significant (albeit controversial) part of surf culture across the globe.
Jet skis are also an important safety component in big wave surfing, especially when combined with rescue sleds, which we will explore further in this article.
What Is the Best Jet Ski for Tow-In Surfing?
If you are using a jet ski for cruising local waters and having fun with friends, you may not give much thought to its features, speed, or build in general, as long as you feel safe and comfortable on it.
On the other hand, surfers relying on PWCs to reach monster waves want to know they are using the absolute best jet ski money can buy. They certainly would not attempt to surf a 30, 40, or 50-foot wave on a cheap surfboard, and they would not rely on anything less than the best jet ski to get to that big wave.
While speed is certainly a critical factor in reaching waves, it is not the only thing to focus on when it comes to choosing the right jet ski. You also need to consider the model’s reputation for engine reliability, safety features, and overall stability.
Here are three of the best jet skis on the market for use in tow-in surfing:
1. Yamaha FX Cruiser SVHO
- Curb weight: 875 pounds
- Seating Capacity: 1 to 3
- Length: 140.9 inches
- Fuel Capacity: 18.5 gallons
With premium features and the quality consumers expect from Yamaha, the FX Cruiser SVHO is a solid choice for tow-in surfing. This model accelerates from 0 to 30 miles per hour in under two seconds and can reach a max speed of 67 miles per hour. It enables drivers to rapidly decelerate when hitting tight corners and comes equipped with a supercharged marine engine with 260 horsepower.
Yamaha’s LCD touchscreen includes GPS technology, and it comes with a waterproof integrated audio system and high-quality EcoXGear speakers; Yamaha covered all the bells and whistles with this model!
The storage capacity is ample enough at 30.3 gallons, and a reboarding ladder is another great feature added by Yamaha. The lightweight hull offers tremendous stability, even in the roughest conditions, as surfers and guides approach the biggest waves.
2. Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310 X
- Curb weight: 1031.9 pounds
- Seating Capacity: 1-3
- Length: 135.4 inches
- Fuel Capacity: 21.1 gallons
Kawasaki was the first to bring PWCs to the mass market and remains a leader in the industry, thanks to the reliable workhorses they produce. The Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R is a favorite for tow-in surfing as it can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in four seconds.
Beyond its speed, this model also boasts handlebars that can be adjusted in 18 different positions, Electric Trim Control technology, and an impressive storage capacity of up to 56 gallons of free space.
The 1,498 cc, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke DOHC packs a powerful punch in the water, and what this model may lack in extra “bells and whistles” (no audio or Bluetooth), it more than makes up for in terms of sheer power.
3. Sea Doo RXP-X 300
- Curb weight: 780 pounds
- Seating Capacity: 2
- Length: 130.6 inches
- Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
The Sea Doo lacks the fuel capacity of the aforementioned models and cannot accommodate three passengers; however, these drawbacks do not have a significant impact on its performance with tow-in surfing.
This reliable model from a trusted brand in personal watercraft can reach 70 miles per hour in certain conditions, and it boasts a Variable Trim System that can be controlled via the handlebar.
The 1630 cc, 3-cylinder, 4-stroke supercharged Rotax makes this an incredibly powerful jet ski, and Sea Doo’s exclusive IDF (Intelligent Debris Free) system helps to prevent engine damage.
The fiberglass hull breaks water tension smoothly, and the RXP-X 300 can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds.
What Is an Inflatable Jet Ski Sled?
If you are using a jet ski for tow-in surfing, an inflatable jet ski sled is an absolute must-have.
A jet ski sled is a flotation device that can be attached to a PWC. While these flotation devices must be durable enough to stand up to rough conditions, especially in lifesaving operations, they must also be light enough not to cause too much drag on the jet ski.
The jet ski driver needs to be able to pull surfers or swimmers on such devices with relative ease and safety in mind. Inflatable jet ski sleds can come in handy in a variety of situations and are used by lifeguards, first responders, and at tow-in surfing events.
If you are considering a jet ski for tow-in surfing, include an inflatable jet ski sled in your budget.
How Do You Attach a Rescue Sled to a Jet Ski?
Your best resource for determining the proper way to attach a rescue sled to your jet ski is the manufacturer of the PWC you own. There will be subtle differences in attachment methods from different manufacturers, so you should always be sure you have reviewed all instructions provided with your particular jet ski.
If you are ever in doubt about how to attach the rescue sled (or any other function related to your jet ski), contact your dealer to get the best information. Safety should be at the forefront of the minds of anyone operating jet skis, whether for pleasure, tow-in surfing, or in a high-stakes rescue attempt.
There are also some general guidelines you can follow for attaching rescue sleds to most personal watercraft:
- There should be three attachment points on the stern
- Drivers should ensure the attachments are neither too tight nor too loose, both of which can affect the ability of the watercraft to tow the sled
- Never use any attachments not provided by the manufacturer; do not try to substitute components with additional ropes, hooks, etc.
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with how to attach the rescue sled to your jet ski is by watching a how-to video from the sled manufacturer, such as this one.
Best Jet Ski Rescue Sled
When purchasing a jet ski to use with tow-in surfing, ask your dealer for recommendations on the best rescue sleds for your particular make and model.
Some of our top choices for jet ski rescue sleds are listed here.
1. Liquid Shredder Rescue PWC Tow Sleds Soft Hybrid
Made of a lightweight foam core, this sled is easy to tow thanks to a tough aluminum stringer system. It features a nonslip deck and has two different size options (71 inches or 62 inches).
The 71-inch rescue sled can hold up to 520 pounds in water, and the 62-inch rescue sled can hold up to 420 pounds in water. The EZ grab handles are fiber reinforced, and a 3-point Caribiner hookup system ensures the rescue sled can be attached safely to your personal watercraft.
Liquid Shredder has been a trusted name in surfing products for almost 25 years, and their rescue sleds are made with the same great attention to detail as their surfboards, paddleboards, and other products.
The rescue sleds are made in Peru (with free shipping to the U.S.) and tested in the Pacific waters by experienced watermen. For tow-in surfers and jet ski enthusiasts, the Liquid Shredder Rescue PWC Tow Sleds are the most reliable choice on the market.
2. LIFESLED LS Big Wave Surf Extraction Board
One of the best ways to illustrate why LIFESLED rescue sleds are great choices is by considering the testimonials of surfers.
The reliable LS1 is 67 inches long, 37 inches wide, 4 inches thick and weighs 37 pounds. The manufacturer recommends a transom adaptor to attach the rescue sled to your jet ski, and its sturdy three-point hookup can be attached in just minutes.
The handles are fiber reinforced with a 750-pound break strength, and the hull and nose guard materials will not warp in extreme heat and sunlight. This incredibly durable yet relatively lightweight rescue sled is another reliable choice for tow-in surfers.
Summary and Final Thoughts on Tow-In Surfing with Jet Skis and Rescue Sleds
Jet skis are a significant investment, with most in the range of $20,000.00. However, they are invaluable when it comes to surfing big waves, and when coupled with rescue sleds, they make the difference between a session of ten-footers or a thrill ride at 40 feet.
Safety should always be a surfer’s top priority when on the board and operating jet skis and sleds. Be sure to do thorough research before purchasing a jet ski and rescue sled, taking into account not only your budget but also the reliability and durability of the equipment.
Surfing is a thrilling but dangerous activity, so you need to rest assured that you are using the best possible board, jet ski, and rescue sled for the conditions you surf in regularly.
Always review the manufacturer guidelines before operating a jet ski for tow-in surfing and before attaching a rescue sled to any personal watercraft.
Torsten Bird is a talented and adventurous waterman from Western Australia, passionate about surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, hydrofoiling, skimboarding, snowboarding and skateboarding. Torsten has spent countless hours mastering his skills and his dream is to one day represent Australia as an Olympic athlete. Follow Torsten’s adventures on Instagram.