Water sports may sound intimidating to the non-athletic, but you don't have to be an Olympian to have fun splashing in the warm bay waters.
"People think there is a great mystery to water sports," says Patti Miller, who owns Sailing Etc. on 53rd Street with her husband, Peck. "Once they discover the bay, they are hooked."
Whether people try a Waverunner (the sit-down version of Jet Skis), parasailing, windsurfing or catamaran sailing, the shallow bay water is a perfect learning environment, says Ms. Miller. After all, how much trouble can anyone get into on the calm Assawoman Bay that is mostly 3 to 5 feet deep?
For those who want to get their feet wet, lessons and equipment are readily available at plenty of locations along the bay.
Waverunners and Jet Skis
If you like the thrill of fast rides, lots of motion and loud noise, sit in a Waverunner, push a button, and you'll be zipping around the bay with all of the other Waverunners.
"You can be on the water, have the wind in your hair and it is simple to operate," says Bruff Procter, owner of Waterways Jet Ski on 51st Street and bay side.
Sometimes it's the ease of operation that throws people. On a recent sunny day, Mr. Procter shook his head as he watched two muscular men tip into the water seconds after they left the shore. "Big strong guys are the worst," says Mr. Procter. "The guys are excited. Women are the best learners."
Some rental places require that patrons stay on a prescribed course, but others allow renters to roam the waters freely, which can lead to bumping into sandbars and perhaps even other boaters, says Mr. Procter.
"They feel safe on a course," says Mr. Procter. "Running aground takes the fun out of it." Plus there is staff on the water who are ready to fish out riders who tip over.
Mr. Procter says he can show anyone how to use one of the stand-up Jet Skis. It takes practice, dexterity and motor skills to operate those machines, he says, but after a half-hour lesson, most people are able to say they rode a Jet Ski.
Parasailing may seem difficult and scary, but it's more like a spectator sport as participants glide high above the water while a motorboat does the work.
"It is a smoother and more serene ride than people anticipate," says Kevin Smith, owner of O. C. Parasail at 54th Street.
He also says that contrary to popular belief people do not take off and land on water skis.
Riders are put into a harness with a life preserver and hooked up to a colorful, voluminous parachute. From the deck of the boat, each person is gently pulled upward to 400 to 600 feet for a magnificent view of the resort.
The 10-minute ride ends with an easy landing on the boat without the person even getting wet.
think it is safe, smooth and quiet," said Mike Davison of Columbia, who took his first ride recently at Island Watersports on First Street.
His friend, Mark Darby of Albany, N.Y., agreed. "It was great. Like floating. I had seen it before, but I didn't know what to expect."
The next step was convincing their girlfriends to try it. "It is going to be a hard sell, but we are going to try and talk them into it," Mr. Davison said.
Learning to sail a boat isn't as simple as parasailing, but if you want to try it, many rental places offer quick on-the-spot lessons.
"To learn how to putt around the bay is easy," says Jason Adams, manager of sailboat rentals for Sailing Etc.
"The bay is 4 to 5 feet deep. It's hard to get in trouble," he says.
With an hour lesson on the water, most people can learn to operate a catamaran, says Mr. Adams. They are taught steering, sail control and how to catch the wind.
Still, the first few times under sail can be intimidating, admits Mr. Adams.
"They may have questions out there that they didn't have on the beach."
He said the most common problem for novice sailors is determining wind direction. But on-the-water advice is readily available from the sailing staff who monitor the rental boats, Mr. Adams says.
Patti Miller of Sailing Etc. has found that many people have misconceptions about windsurfing. They think you have to be strong to windsurf, she says, but "it's not a strength sport, it's a technique sport."
With a few lessons, most people are ready to sail across the bay.
Windsurfing can be challenging to newcomers, though.
In the beginning, there may be several false starts that amount to climbing on the board, lifting the sail and tumbling into the water.
Perseverance pays off, says Olan Kenneally, who teaches windsurfing at Sailing Etc. "There is nothing more fantastic than going across the water," he says.
Mr. Kenneally said that for him the appeal of windsurfing is that it is a sport that you can do anywhere. The equipment packs on the roof of the car, and windsurfers can launch from anywhere.
He also offers this encouraging advice to novices: "You can become good in a short amount of time."