Rockaway Jet Ski-Lower Manhattan-Tour-NYCImage via Rockaway Jet Ski

Even before we talk about Hurricane Sandy recovery, the experience of circling Manhattan with a jet ski is unlike any exploration you can do in New York City. When you take in New York City by boat, the relationship is between you and the shoreline (unless you’re driving or sailing yourself). But when you’re on a jet ski, it’s about you, the jet ski and the waves crashing over you. Then, it’s about the massive tankers, the barges, the commercial craft and private boats sharing the waters with you. You weave between moving vessels, barrel straight into the waves and hope for some reprieve in the current.

Sometimes, you can also be confronted with another reality of the waters–dead bodies. As we passed Roosevelt Island on Saturday, the FDNY Scuba Division and the NYPD were on the lookout, informing us of their search. Nonetheless, the New York City skyline is perhaps the most epic when you’re right on the water line, looking up at downtown Manhattan, or gazing crosstown at the skyscrapers in Midtown. When in the harbor, you feel viscerally New York City’s industrial history and observe that it is very much still a working harbor. Not too far away is the Global Marine Terminal in Bayonne, which you see as you round Brooklyn into the Ambrose Channel and reach the Statue of Liberty. Then suddenly as you enter the waters between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, the water becomes smooth as glass and you rev up the engine to its max 60 miles per hour, in sheer disbelief at the different personalities of the river.

But the experience all begins in Queens in the Rockaways. On Saturday, under clear blue skies we set out from Rockaway Jet Ski, located on Beach 92nd Street along Jamaica Bay. Here, Sandy recovery is still underway. Next door, it was odd to see a McDonalds abandoned, but there were signs of reconstruction. Rockaway Jet Ski is part of the restaurant Thai Rock, both owned by Robert Kaskel.  The entire restaurant was flooded during the storm and there are marks on the walls indicating how high the water came (7 feet). The place was gutted and the pier rebuilt. A big sign on the front of the building says, “We’re Open for Business,” because it can still be a little hard to tell from the front. But so much has been accomplished and the outdoor bar is bustling.

Rockaway Jet Ski-Thai Restaurant-Hurricane Sandy Flood Line-7 ftA jet skier posing against the Sandy waterline mark

In a video for the Economic Development Corporation, Robert estimated the rebuild would cost $1 to 1.2 million. In spite of these setbacks, he speaks to the support he found in the Rockaway community. “During the hurricane, I saw what I always knew about the Rockaways. That the people here are loving, caring people. It didn’t matter whether you knew the person you were helping or not. I feel very positive about the future. We’re here, we’re going to rebuild.”

These days, he tells Untapped, most of the revenue comes from the jet ski business, as they continue to rebuild the interior of the restaurant. He’s still trying to spread the word that the Rockaways are back and a great place to be. Robert took us on the jet ski tour that day, giving us tidbits of history along the way, as we passed by Coney Island, Fort Wadsworth and Fort Hamilton under the Verrazano Bridge, into the NYC harbor, and up along the East River.

Around Inwood and around the tip of Manhattan, you enter a new world perhaps not too dissimilar from how it looked when the first explorers came, apart from the floating art project called Harvest Dome made of hundreds of umbrellas, a railroad bridge and the big graffiti C for Columbia University painted on cliff. Near Spuyten Devil, Robert tells us that we’re in a part of the waterway blasted out, and to the north is land that was once part of Manhattan. Fun fact: they were allowed to keep their Manhattan area code. After a gas refill near Englewood, we came south down the Hudson River and headed back to the Rockaways.

At first glance, a jet ski might seem touristy, you might even recall the scene in Hitch when Will Smith kicks Eva Mendes in the head while getting onto her jet ski in another date gone wrong. But we can assure you that it’s a unique way to take in Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn and Manhattan, and one where the historical evolution of New York City from working harbor to world-class skyscraper city is more apparent than ever when viewed from the water. Find out more at Rockaway Jet Ski’s Facebook page and website.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich