The call to ride went out before dawn. As the crew gathered, engines rumbling, they sounded like a Harley gang outside a truck stop bar.
But the Jetty Jumpers, as this group calls itself, were rocking in the water at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, wearing wet suits instead of leather jackets, straddling Jet Skis and other personal watercraft instead of motorcycles.
By NICK CORASANITI
The goal, however, was the same as that of their asphalt-bound cousins. Speed. Adrenaline. In their parlance: freedom.
The rumble grew to a roar as they took off in unison across the bay. Anthony Stallone, the president of the Jetty Jumpers, banked a hard left as they thundered out to Breezy Point, Queens, pursuing the whitecaps rising off the shore.
He aimed the nose of his Jet Ski at the peak of a wave, ripped the throttle and pummeled straight ahead. He blasted off the lip and lifted into the sky, a firework of sea foam spraying in his wake. At the apex of flight he raised one fist, what he calls his “signature move.”
“You have the guys who are nuts, who ride it like they stole it, and then you have the guys that just cruise,” said Mr. Stallone, 40. “Me? I ride it like I stole it.”
Then, with perfect comic timing, he caught a blast of water in the face from another rider, Chris Hanson, who had just splashed down after a jump. They exchanged a thumbs-up and sped off in search of more waves.
Each summer the New York waterways come alive with countless forms of recreation that offer opportunities to enjoy the quiet of nature, away from the bustle of the city. The members of the Jetty Jumpers, a varied group of about 40 that includes construction workers and lawyers, have assembled in pursuit of something altogether different. They cruise the cluttered New York waterways with confidence and abandon, aware of the hazards of life at 70 miles per hour. They veer to the west to avoid the lines of long-casting fishermen along the Hudson River. They slalom through the rusted scrap yard of junk metal exposed during extreme low tides in parts of Jamaica Bay.
And, in the great tradition of extreme pursuits, they recount war stories, like the time they jumped with 25 to 30 feet of air in hurricane swells, and bestow nicknames that better capture their double lives: there’s Air Charlie, Hollywood and Smiley. Stomper and China ride the stand-ups. Mr. Stallone goes by Saze.
Their turf includes “the Jetty,” a long rock outcrop where the western tip of the Rockaway peninsula dips into the Atlantic, and “the Hump,” a sandbar that collects a few hundred meters off the Manhattan Beach shoreline and provides peaky waves for big jumps. Coney Island spins in the background.
“This might sound crazy, but I’m totally clean,” said Mr. Hanson, 44, brushing his wet, stringy blond hair out of his face. “I don’t drink a beer or nothing, man. This is all how I stay high on a daily basis. I like having clarity in my life.”
They say they are never scared on the water, but an absence of fear does not eliminate danger. Last week two riders, though not members of the Jetty Jumpers, drowned near Coney Island when one tried to rescue another who had fallen in. And some of the Jumpers have had close calls: there are tales of flipping, crash landings or becoming lost for hours in fog so thick they worried about being struck by an unseen tanker.
“We kept hearing this big horn, this hhhrrmm,” said Mr. Stallone, recalling one such moment when visibility was so low he had to use the GPS system on his cellphone to navigate. “So we shut our motors off just to listen and we heard the ship charging. Then we felt this big wave come by that just rocked us.”
The dangers are tempered by the rewards, like the views of towering skylines and historic bridges, seeming 20 stories taller from the watercraft’s plastic perch.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you go down south to Florida and do something in Florida?’ ” said Charlie Scafiddi, 41, who helps run the club’s tour business. “You know what? In Florida, you don’t have the Verrazano Bridge.”
Cruising slowly back to the marina in Sheepshead Bay, radiating the glow from a good ride, Mr. Stallone waved to other boaters and people on shore. He boasts that “everything on skis in New York runs through me” and ticks off evidence, like providing rides for “The Gadget Show,” stunts for Nikon, security for the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers marathon. The jumpers even helped rescue a pilot when a private Cessna crashed into the Hudson.
But the central attraction remains the water, or better yet, the brief airborne departures from it.
Added Mr. Stallone: “Every time you catch a wave, you’re just, like, dancing with the ocean. And it’s beautiful.”