What Jet Skis Do Surfers Use?

Editorial credit: Brian A. Witkin / Shutterstock.com

When you look at jet skis towing skiers into the largest waves in Nazare, Portugal, Jaws off Maui. And Mexico’s Puerto Escondido, it seems that they are doing the impossible by staring death in the face and surviving. Jet skis make these incredible feats possible with their very fast acceleration, ability to turn on a dime, and exceptional stability.

Surfers speak highly of the Yamaha WaveRunner  VX Cruiser® HO, Sea doo GTX, and the Sea doo RXT-X. Each of these machines offers the perfect match between high power and stability and yet remains very agile and easy to maneuver; and they also have several features uniquely suited to surfers.

The Jet skis which surfers use have to exhibit a balance of features that make them uniquely suited to tor in or drop off surfers in waves that can reach heights of up to one hinder meter. In these conditions, the jet skis must have the maneuverability and sheer horsepower needed to stay ahead of the wave.

What Jet Skis Do Surfers Use?

Most states require that a jet ski used for step-off surfing has seating for three people.

  • The rider.
  • The spotter.
  • The surfer.

The best jet skis which match these criteria and which are recommended by most surfers are the following.

  • Yamaha WaveRunner  VX Cruiser® HO.
  • Sea doo GTX.
  • Sea doo RXT-X.

Yamaha WaveRunner VX Cruiser® HO

Yamaha has been the most used jet ski supplier for surfers since these machines were first used in the 1990s.

The V-shaped hull ensures it remains stable in the roughest water, and the 1812CC 4-cylinder, 4-stroke means it has sufficient power to provide the best entry onto a step break and still allow the rider to accelerate out of trouble fast.

It has a tow hook installed as standard, meaning it is ready to perform duties as a rescue PWV towing a sleigh.

It has seating for up to three people and weighs 785 lbs. The length of 132.7 inches and width of 48.8 inches means it is compact enough for the rider to maneuver without contacting other swimmers or skiers.

The built-in boarding ladder makes it easy for the exhausted swimmer or surfer to climb back on board.

The Yamaha WaveRunner  VX Cruiser® HO has plenty of easily accessible storage and built-in blue tooth capability.

The watertight glove box has a  USB & 12V Outlet with Accent Lighting, which means that communication devices can be kept on charge without the threat of water damage.

Sea Doo GTX

Sea Doo has a wealth of jet ski manufacturing experience, which shows through with the Sea Doo GTX.

The Sea Soo GTX is manufactured in three variations.

  1. GTX 170
  2. GTX 230
  3. GTX 300

The different models provide power outputs of 170 hp, 230 hp, or 300 hp.

This machine offers a perfect balance between size and power. Each machine is optimized for step-off and tow in surfing, and the wide shallow V hull offers a very stable platform for riders, while the low center of gravity optimizes their usefulness in heavy seas with big waves.

In particular, the low center of gravity makes it easier for the surfer to hop on and off without upsetting the rider’s balance.

An interesting feature of the GTX is the IDFPS (Intelligent Debris Free Pump System). It allows the rider to press a button and clear a clogged intake. This feature proves to be invaluable in water with high concentrations of seaweed.

The large rear platform makes it easy to hop on and off the vessel.

The GTX range has a line break and acceleration system that makes maneuvering onto and around the waves much easier and therefore means the rider is better able to position the surfer for the ideal tow in or drop off surf.

The GTX has built-in waterproof Bluetooth speakers.

Sea doo RXT-X

The Sea-doo RXT-X is priced at the top end of the range of jet skis presented in this article.

Only one 300-hp engine is available, and it is fitted onto the ST3 hull, designed specifically for rough water handling, stability, and offshore performance.

The narrow racing seat, which Sea doo calls the “Ergolock System,” is designed to make it easier to hold onto in rough water by placing the knees closer together.

The X-Sponsons improve the turning performance and allow for greater high-speed control. It makes the RXT-X ideal for maneuvering around waves to place the surfer into the optimal drop-off position.

The trim button on the handlebar allows the rider to trim the jet nozzles into the optimal position for the conditions being ridden through.

The footwell wedges allow the riders to stabilize themselves, particularly when accelerating fast out of a hole. It means that control is always maintained, essential when using a jet ski for tow-in or step-off surfing.

The RXT-X has three seats, as required also has room to attach a rescue board to the back.

The Sea-doo RXT-X Bluetooth, USB, and smartphone app integration provide music, weather, navigation, cell phone integration,  and more, which means you can stay in touch with the shore base when looking for surfers in distress.

There is a watertight storage compartment in the front of the Sea-doo RXT-X, which provides a USB charging capability, further adding to the rider’s ability to stay in contact with a  shore base. It allows the rider to coordinate the activities with the other jet Skis on the water. 

Why Do Surfers Use Jet Skis?

The surfing community uses jet skis for two reasons.

  1. Used for tow‑in surfing.
  2. For rescue purposes.

Used for tow‑in surfing.

In the 1990s, Jet skis became the acceptable method of towing surfers onto the big waves to catch waves of thirty-five meters.

Tow-in surfing means the surfer does not have to paddle out to the waves; instead, the surfer is towed by a jet ski. The jet ski rider takes the surfer out far enough to catch the big waves and lets the line go once the surfer is in the optimum position. It exponentially increases the surfer’s chances of catching and riding a big wave compared to traditional paddle surfing.

There are many reasons why surfers have adopted jet skis as the preferred mode to get onto the big waves.

  1. Towing the surfer onto the big waves makes them accessible and means that surfers can get onto waves, which in some break lines can be as high as eighty feet.
  2. They are fast and maneuverable, so there is less lead time to get surfers out to the surf line, providing the necessary speed for the surfers to catch the wave.
  3. The surfer uses less effort when catching waves which leaves more stamina to catch more waves.

The Problems With Tow In In Surfing

In the last decade, a substantial backlash has been against using jet skis for tow-in surfing.

The main reasons why jet skis are being opposed include the following points.

Jet Skis Hide Surfers True Skill Levels

While a skilled surfer can paddle onto waves as high as seventy feet, this is not always possible for an unskilled surfer.

Instead of practicing on ten-foot waves and building their skills, less experienced surfers are moving immediately onto the larger waves and getting injured.

These surfers are relying on jet skis to save them.

Being able to be saved by a lifeguard using a jet ski to get to them is becoming an accepted part of training for some surfers. Lifeguards stepping in and assisting should be a last resort, not simply an expectation.

No One Likes Jet Skis

It may be an extreme statement, but jet skis run the risk.

  1. Running through the lineup and preventing surfers from starting.
  2. Chopping up sets.
  3. Decapitating packs with the jet ski tow rope.
  4. Injuring fellow surfers.

They Take Up Room On The Beach

Jet skis have a trailer which means there is a tow vehicle, and on a busy beach, this means annoying people and making them get out of the way while you launch the vessel.

Unless the rider is skilled and trained accordingly, blasting out over the surf or returning to shore, there is a real risk of causing injury to a hapless swimmer.

They Take Some Of The Fun Out Of Surfing

The drop is probably the most exhilarating part of surfing, that moment when the surfer commits everything and starts to paddle feverishly to drop down a challenging curved face.

If a jet ski is towing the surfer, it is much simpler, less exhilarating, and more challenging. Tow In surfing has made it harder to differentiate the best surfers from the rest.

It is one of the main reasons to move back to old-school paddle surfing.

For Rescue Purposes

Jet skis are more suited or used as rescue craft than rubber ducks with an outboard motor.

The benefits of a jet ski over other vessels used for rescue are as follows.

  1. Jet skis have very good maneuverability levels, making it easy to get close to the victim.
  2. Jet skis can operate in most wave conditions and rough weather and water.
  3. Jet skis do not have a spinning propellor protruding at the end of an outboard lower unit.
  4. This absence of projections ensures the maximum when approaching a swimmer in distress.
  5. Jet skis have superior acceleration ability meaning they can make rapid approaches to drowning victims.
  6. Turning on a dime and using power as the steering force makes approaching drowning persons easier and means there is less chance of hitting the victim and causing secondary injuries.
  7. Mounting the jet ski from the rear makes it easier to onboard a drowning victim.
  8. When used with a rescue sled being towed behind, a Jet ski offers the most effective means of saving a drowning person.
  9. Because jet skis are watertight, they can easily recover if they capsize in the surf.
  10. Jet skis are much more compact than rubber ducks, making them easier to store indoors in a smaller area and away from the corrosive, salty air.

Merits Of The Rescue Sled

  1. Lack of distance from the water surface makes climbing and pulling people onto the sled easier.
  2. Light and soft materials ensure easy handling and comfort.
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Editorial credit: Debbie Eckert / Shutterstock.com

Do Surfers In The Future use Jet Skis?

Jet skis are loved and hated by surfers. In many locations, tow-in surfers is the only realistic way to get to the most giant waves, and when used in a rescue role, they are unmatched.

Yet outside of these roles, many surfers feel they get in the way and act as an impedance rather than a benefit.

Big wave surfers started using key skis in the 1990s to catch waves deemed too large and too fast for a surfer to paddle out to. At the time, the largest wave that most surfers felt could be paddled out to was a thirty-five-foot monster.

In locations like the infamous Jaws off Maui, it was said that it was impossible to get out far enough and quickly enough to catch a worthwhile wavewithout using a jet ski to tow the surfer.

While several males and female top-level surfers still insist that a Jet Ski assisted surf is the best way to chase big waves around the world, there is a growing movement to find the largest wave ridden without a jet ski.

As the better-known surf spots become more crowded, having a large number of Jet skis in one area of surf makes it more difficult for the regular “paddle” surfer to operate without interference.

Since the early part of the century, there has been a growing movement to forswear Jet skis in favor of the traditional “one paddle at a time” movement of surfers.


The Yamaha WaveRunner  VX Cruiser® HO, Sea-doo GTX, and the Sea-doo RXT-X have the characteristics which make them well suited to tow surfers into or drop them off at big breaks which can be as high as one hundred feet.