At some point, we were all newbies

My absolute favorite part of the Jet Ski tour happens on the backside of Key West, once we pass under the bridge to Fleming Key. Riders are instructed to follow the leader in a single file. Somehow, I found myself behind tour leader Mike who was flying. I squeezed the throttle and tried to keep up. Thirty-nine mph, 40 mph, 41, 42. For those glorious moments I didn’t think and I didn’t have to, I just had to follow Mike. I flew over the shallows and the wind whipped my hair and my friends and I laughed with heady glee that (almost) reckless speed can induce.

But, let’s back up.

I moved to the Keys more than 20 years ago when I was young and dumb. It’s a little hazy now, but I am sure I had some vague notion of what living in the Keys would be like. It probably involved palm trees and Jimmy Buffett and Corona beer with a lime wedge and super fast, super purple Jet Skis. (Excuse me, but Corona was cutting-edge brew back then. Come to think of it, my entire notion of living in the Keys might have been derived from Corona advertising.)

Fast forward 20 years — a whirring, ticking blur of marriage, kids, hurricanes and so many deadlines — and it’s easy to forget the lure of this place. For years, I groaned along with all the other locals when the band would break out “Come Monday” at the tiki bar.

But here’s the thing. I’m falling in love with palm trees, lime wedges and Jet Skis all over again. I’ve given stern warnings to myself to not let this be about my lost youth, that’s so cliché, but rather rediscovering those simple pleasures. I tested this theory last weekend with four other girls and Mike of Barefoot Billy’s Jet Ski Tours.

Barefoot Billy’s takes a group of riders out for a complete clockwise revolution of Key West, the island. It starts from the beach at Casa Marina Resort, heads to Sunset Key and then through Key West Harbor. The tour leaders stop at various points to give the group some “insider” tidbits a la “Oprah used to live in that house.” This is when I would catch my breath. The tour continued through the backcountry (my favorite part! See the first paragraph) and then the Boca Chica channel.

Back at the Casa Marina Resort I performed the most awkward dismount of a Jet Ski seen in some time in the lower United States. (“No, really. I’m fine. I swear.”) Even Mike was questioning if I was what I claimed to be — a local.


Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but is no longer chasing the Pulitzer; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and prefers the lime wedge in her tequila nowadays. Occasionally she tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister. 

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