Sure to make waves this summer, jet-powered surfboards

Coming soon to a surfing lineup near you: jet-powered boards designed to make paddling, catching and even riding waves easier and more enjoyable.

Wavejet” surfboards, after 10 years of development, are set to debut as part of a U.S. demo tour this summer. They’ll sell for $4,500 apiece, or about five times the cost of an ordinary board, and enable surfers to paddle at two to three times their normal speed.

It’s hoped the boards will pique the interest of surfers of all levels, but they figure to be most attractive to aging surfers with waning arm strength and perhaps lifeguards who would benefit from swifter access to victims during rescue operations.

Purists, of course, will cringe at the notion, as they cringed 15 years ago when “tow surfers” began to catch waves while being pulled from ropes behind jet-powered personal watercraft; and more recently when the standup, or SUP phenomenon began.

“I’d say about 95% of the people are going to say, ‘This is amazing and cool,’ but you’re always going to get those people who are angry about anything new coming into the sport,” said Steve Walden, a Wavejet board designer whose shop in Ventura, Calif., will serve as the primary outlet facility.


Walden, 62, appears in the brief video showcasing the subtle but noticeable assistance the boards provide. They feature a 15-pound unit concealed near the tail section, powered by lithium batteries. The motors, which emit a low hum, essentially suck and shoot water through narrow jets for propulsion. Depending on what propulsion system a consumer chooses, speeds will range from 5-12 mph.

The jets can be turned on and off via remote-control wristband, and can operate nonstop for 45 minutes. The weight of the motor is countered by propulsion, so the boards do not feel heavy on waves and are said to ride much like traditional surfboards.

The concept is the brainchild of Wavejet Technologies CEO Mike Railey, who originally wanted to produce a jet-powered board to eliminate the need of a personal watercraft and big-wave tow-surfing venues. “Now it’s gotten to the point where I no longer want to ride a non-powered board,” he said. “You kind of become spoiled once you become accustomed to having the propulsion.”

The boards, which will be available with carbon fiber or epoxy shells, were unveiled in January at the Surf Expo in Orlando, Fla., where they drew throngs of curiosity seekers. “There was a huge amount of interest,” Walden said.

They have since been tested extensively, even in large surf. In a video posted last month on the company website, renowned big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara is seen ripping 6- to 8-foot waves at Sunset Beach in Hawaii, and gliding back to the lineup without paddling.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the boards would appear to be useful for those who teach beginners, because among the most difficult aspects of learning are paddling into a wave and standing quickly without wobbling and falling on a slow-moving board during the initial critical juncture, as the wave begins to break. If the board is already moving, the beginner only has to concentrate on standing and balancing.

But time will tell whether this new technology is embraced; whether jet-powered boards will revolutionize surfing or become merely a costly novelty.

One thing’s certain, though, lots of curious wave riders will want to try one.

— Image and video show Steve Walden displaying and riding a jet-powered surfboard. Courtesy of Steve Walden