It certainly is a changing world. Charlie remembers, as if it were yesterday, his first water toy. It was a rubber duck in the bathtub, used as an enticement to get him into the hated weekly washing regimen in England’s often wet and chilly weather. Later a row boat was added with Popeye and Olive Oyl rowing around the same pond skirmishing with said duck sometimes encountering unusual waterspouts … (well, we won’t go into that).
Fast forward to the early 70s, now in the Caribbean, and Charlie acquired his first real water toy – a small 28ft sailboat, a cutter rig with sexy lines and proud bowsprit. A snorkel, mask and fins were added toys as was a spear gun for fishing – tools as well as toys. A sextant, almanac and sight reduction tables also classified as tools/toys; a dinghy was a necessary adjunct. The whole package was sometimes complemented by the addition of a nubile young mate, encouraged to allow the sun and salt spray to anoint a pale and lubberly body … I’m getting off track here.
Fast forward another 45 years and water toys have taken on a whole new meaning. Performance sailing has taken a back seat to convenience and comfort. A sailboat with beautiful lines is hard to find except at classic regattas and shows. Square ‘pizza boxes’ with multiple decks and two hulls are everywhere in the Caribbean these days, often packed with 10 to 12 passengers. These cattlemarans are often loaded with ‘must have’ water toys like kayaks, paddleboards, inflatable donuts, bananas, wakeboards, mats, rafts, noodles, etc., all in that worrying anticipation of not missing one single scrap of potential ‘fun’. On mega yachts, if you don’t have an inflatable slide from the top deck to the water, you are definitely on the wrong side of cool.
Waterfront rental outfits for the latest toys are popping up like mushrooms after spring rain. Jet skis, supposedly banned in the BVI, are now a regular sight as is the new flyboard activity – standing on a board whilst being shot up into the air on jets of water.
Kite boarding is an obvious ‘rush’ and skilled players can ride on foils if the wind is strong enough. Kite boarding is one of the fastest growing extreme sports on the planet. Recently President Obama, on an invitation to Necker Island by Sir Richard Branson, learned the sport, getting several long rides, much to the consternation of his security detail who looked rather less than inconspicuous trying to keep up with him in a dinghy and attired in dark suits, ties, shades, and bulging jackets.
Most of the new watersports are all about the ‘look at me’ effect. Half the pleasure, it seems, is egocentric. In other words, people don’t partake unless there’s an audience; rather like a ‘reality show’. It’s a sign of the times where depth and meaning to activities has been replaced by superficial and mundane instant pleasure. And what’s wrong with that you may well ask …
Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.