LATE IN THE AFTERNOON on Sunday, thousands of potential boat owners swarmed into Portland's Expo Center. On their way in, a dozen protesters confronted them. The loosely organized group Skippers for Clean Oregon Water (SCOW), held signs and barked out accusations that jet skis dump a Exxon Valdez tanker full of gas and oil into Oregon's waterways every summer.

After repeated attempts to put laws in place against the sale of jet skis and other two-stroke watercraft engines, the group finally took their complaints directly to the consumer. A few years ago, SCOW lobbied the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to introduce a policy restricting the small watercraft that buzz around the state's rivers, but the DEQ rebuffed them.

Then, last legislative session, SCOW had Rep. Dan Gardner (Dem., D-13) sponsor a bill restricting the use and sale of jet skis. That bill, however, "belly flopped," says Dan Pence, the main organizer of SCOW.

"After we had no luck with the federal, state and city agencies, we decided to protest at the boat show," says Pence. SCOW is concerned about the substantial amount of gasoline that jet skis spill into waterways around the state. According to the DEQ, two-stroke engines, like those used to propel jet skis, spill about one-quarter of their gas directly into the water.

"F-16s are the only form of transportation that pollute as much," says Pence. "For national defense, I can sort of understand, but just for farting around?"

The fastest growing segment of water recreation, jet skis swarm the Willamette and Columbia Rivers during the summer months. Pence says that he empathizes with the thrill from jet skis. A commercial fisherman's son and a longtime water skier, Pence admits, "I must be personally responsible for more than 500 gallons being dumped into the water." Referring to his recent efforts to ban jet skis, he adds, "It's the guilt that drives me."

Although jet skis won't take to the water for another four or five months, SCOW is trying to get a head start on their crusade. Currently, they're looking for a state legislator to reintroduce a bill phasing out jet skis in Oregon. Attributing their failure last go-round to having a Democrat introduce the bill, Pence says they will take a different approach this time. "We're Republicans now," Pence laughs.