Jetskis, parasailing and other beach sports

Much has been written about the perils of renting a jetski in Phuket and, indeed, other parts of Thailand. We all know the main scam: return the jetski only for some mysterious damage to be found. It wasn’t there before so the renter must be responsible, hence must pay. Police, possibly on the payroll, are called to help in negotiations but the loser is always the renter. Things can get ugly, as can be seen from this video of the TV series Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand.

It’s equally difficult if someone does have an accident and causes actual damage. The same routine is played out with the police helping in negotiations and the unsuspecting tourist always pays well over the top.

If you are unfamiliar with these scams, simply google Thailand jet ski scam and you’ll be amazed at the number of hits. I don’t need to say any more; it’s all over the internet.

But it’s not just the scams that are the problems. These are powerful machines, they travel quickly and they can be dangerous. A girl was killed at Kata Beach this year when a machine driven by her boyfriend collided with hers. I personally know someone who suffered serious brain damage when hit on the head by an out of control jetski. In Thailand they rent them off the beach and swimmers are in peril whenever someone is riding too fast too close to the shoreline.

Recently, however, the parasailers have had more publicity than their counterparts. A horrible incident took place at Kata Beach this year when an Australian tourist plummeted from his jetski into shallow water and was killed. The footage may be upsetting to some. This prompted an overdue safety check, but after a few days it was business as usual, just in time for a Patong parasailer to make headlines when it allowed a two-year old boy to participate! Again, this is here on video. The kid’s father is probably more at fault than the operator in this instance but it does make you wonder where in the queue these guys were when commonsense was handed out.

But why are jetskis and parasailers allowed to operate on Phuket’s beaches anyway? In 2014 commerce was effectively banned from the beaches, with an initial ban on sunbeds, umbrellas, massages and all vendors. So how were the operators of noisy, polluting machines exempted from this? As long ago as 2004 a statement was issued that jetskis would be phased out and would disappear completely from Phuket’s beaches by 2011. The opposite happened and now there are more than ever. The current law states that they are not supposed to park on the beaches and any trailers used for towing the jetskis must be immediately vacate the sand. So in Kata the public car park at the north end is filled with such trailers!

Parasailers have never had an ultimatum imposed as far as I know but the numbers seem to grow year on year. They operate differently in Thailand to anywhere else I’ve seen. The beach itself is a take-off landing area and a jockey, or monkey as I prefer to call him, takes to the air with the parasailer in order to help with the controls. Now, I’ve done this in Penang, controlling it myself. It’s not difficult so why they need to do this here I don’t know. It’s also not uncommon in other places for the parasailers to take off either from the boat or from a raft moored a couple of hundred metres offshore, causing minimal or no interference to beach users. In Phuket a stretch of beach is commandeered by the operators an tourists will be told in no uncertain terms that they may not park their bags, towels or bodies in this spot.

Both these operations are entirely at odds with the way the Phuket authorities want to control and manage the beaches. One can only assume that money talks. A recent article in The Phuket Gazette describes how much money the parasailers potentially earn on a daily basis. Multiply that several times and add the jetski income. Any percentage paid over to allow them to operate becomes a “nice little earner” for someone!

I understand you can get bored on the beach. Swimming is fine but after a while you want to try some other activity. Well, it doesn’t have to be motorised and polluting.

Surfing is becoming increasingly popular at many Phuket West Coast beaches, in particular Kata. A full day’s board rental is less than half the price of five minute’s parasailing, or you can just rent by the hour. I

t’s no Waikiki or Kuta and don’t bother turning up with your surfboard between November and June as there won’t be much action. In reality September and October are the main surfing months. There’s more information here

Karon’s the place for beach volleyball, though, unfortunately, the ladies professional tournament that was held there for many years has moved elsewhere. There are a number of courts at the back of the beach close to the Moevenpick Hotel..

For kitesurfing try Chalong, sea kayaking is available at Yanui Beach and a couple of spots on the East Coast, snorkelling is possible near the rocks at Karon and Kata but Ao Sane and Yanui are much better.

For some reason windsurfing, paddle-boarding and water-skiing don’t seem to be too popular in Phuket. I have no idea why.

If, after everything you’ve seen online, you do decide to jetski, carefully check for any damage before you take the jetski into the water. Photograph any scratches or dents if you feel it’s appropriate. And if you parasail just make sure that you are properly secured.

By law they are all supposed to be insured but in practice, who knows?

Of course, if you want a quiet beach with absolutely no jetskis, parasailing or other annoyances, check out my Beaches post.