Surf's up. Board's gassed. Hit the beach!
Gas-powered surfboards — the newest thing in recreation technology — will be on display at the Baltimore Boat Show from Thursday to next Sunday at the Convention Center. Fast, cutting-edge and pricey, the $12,000 motorized playthings have wowed the rich and famous — including singer Justin Bieber and Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton — as manufacturers seek to widen their appeal among everyday thrill-seekers and would-be James Bonds.
"This is a totally new water sport, for which you don't need wind or waves," said Julio Grullon, marketing director of JetSurf, a New York company that produces the boards. "You can ride them in lakes, in large-sized pools or at the beach."
Moreover, in places with massive swells, like Hawaii, the motorized boards needn't be towed out to sea past the big waves. A two-stroke, 10.3-horsepower engine built into the carbon-fiber board can reach speeds of up to 36 mph. The "tank" holds a half-gallon of gas, enough for a 45-minute run. The boards work in as little as 2 feet of water and stop if the surfer falls off.
Will they catch on in Maryland? Longtime surfers think not.
"It's a cool-looking apparatus, but I don't think it will take the surfing world by storm," said Lee Gerachis, owner of Malibu's Surf Shop in Ocean City. "I almost don't consider it part of the surfing realm."
Purists will scoff at the newfangled boards, predicts Chauncey Rhodes, owner of Chauncey's Surf Shop in Ocean City.
"Down here, surfers paddle out into the waves and frown on any [device] that helps you get out there," Rhodes said. "I'm not opposed to new inventions, and if you want to cruise around flat-water areas like the [Chesapeake] Bay or a lagoon, it would probably be a lot of fun. But if one of these things showed up at Assateague Island, I'm sure the regular surfers wouldn't be happy."
Michelle Sommers, a Stevensville native and surfing instructor for women off Assateague, shuddered at the thought of a 40-pound board hurtling through a crowd of swimmers or surfers at 36 mph.
"This isn't the wave of the future, and it doesn't interest me in the least," said Sommers, executive director of the 4,000-member Eastern Surfing Association, the largest amateur surfing organization in the world. The board, she said, is "a big toy with a hefty price tag that won't interest true surfers. So that leaves the people who don't know anything about surfing — and that's an accident waiting to happen."
A mishap involving two motorized boards in 2015 off the coast of Italy, critically injured a Victoria's Secret supermodel. Yfke Sturm suffered a fractured skull when she fell off her speeding board and was struck by another. Sturm recovered.
"I can't believe that Ocean City, or any of these towns, would allow those things to be used in a crowded area," Sommers said. "I know that most surfers wouldn't want them in the water with them."
The boards have also been touted for use by physically disabled surfers. Last year, Jorge Ortiz, a Marine who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, received a gas-powered board from Freedom Alliance, a Virginia-based charity that helps rehabilitate wounded veterans.
"We've worked with soldiers who are amputees," Grullon said. "Our boards have a throttle control. If you can hold on to the throttle, you can surf."
The boards might have a future in water rescue efforts, Sommers acknowledged.
"They could help lifeguards get to someone more quickly."
For all the good they might do, the devices also have a dark side. In 2015, a motorized surfboard filled with $100,000 worth of drugs washed up on a beach in Mexico.