For those old enough to remember the early years of Kawasaki 440 and 550 standups will recall how miserable the black sharkskin foam tray padding was. It chaffed terribly and it wouldn’t be long before large chunks of it suddenly vanished. Spongy, prone to weathering and flaking and woefully unattractive, the early jet skiers were in dire need for a better product.
Prior to its official launch in 1990, Hydro-Turf was once known as Jet-Strip, offering riders of the mid-to-late 1980s some very radical colors, including a full array of fluorescent hues that all managed to retain their brilliance far longer than its competitors as well as holding up longer to the rigors of active standup riding. It was only when the company traded hands from one brother to another that Arno Olbricht helped steer the company to being possibly one of the largest brand names in the personal watercraft aftermarket industry.
Based in Anaheim, California, Hydro-Turf has become so synonymous with performance traction products that a ski bare of some HT product is more rare than those without it. So much so that all of Kawasaki’s current PWC brandish the iconic oval logo embossed in the swim platform mat, and Yamaha proudly boasted that its top-of-the-line Super Vortex High Output WaveRunners feature two-tone Hydro-Turf traction mats.
In 2008, Hydro-Turf expanded it’s product line to include the top tier HT Moto brand (now newly rechristened as “HT Premier”), providing hand-stitched seat covers, footwells and tray matting for personal watercraft, as well as custom seat covers for dune buggies, sand rails, and UTVs, as well as sport bikes, bicycles and other motorcycles. Hydro-Turf has also become a major fixture in the standup paddleboard aftermarket as well as wakeboards and skates, providing lifter wedges and traction mats for better leg and back support.
Hydro-Turf – through distributors like Ross Champion’s Soft Deck – has also found its way on elite military vehicles and sea craft. But, it wouldn’t be the PWC or off-road market that would be Hydro-Turf’s biggest customer. “By far, we sell more [uncut] sheets of Hydro-Turf than anything else,” Olbricht told The Watercraft Journal during our visit last week. “We move through more pallets of product than any kit, seat cover or other item we offer.”
Applications for the die-cut mats can be found in ski and sport boats, bass and duck hunting boats and skiffs and even fan-powered air boats. So much so, that requests for a variety of camouflage patterns have expanded Hydro-Turf’s color and pattern selection. Currently, the focus by many has been on their two-toned colors, of which, Hydro-Turf has two kinds: a single mat that is dyed, and a sheet made of two glued-together colors.
Either sold solid, or cut in diamond, waffle, grooved, two-tone mats have become so popular that Hydro-Turf is preparing to sell “teak” style mats for larger boats. But what might surprise you is Hydro-Turf’s other items it sells. Olbricht laughed, “We literally sell hundreds of oil extractors. Y’know, those oil change pumps that suck the oil up from the crankcase. We can hardly stock ’em.”
While touring Hydro-Turf’s cavernous 12,000-square foot facility, we were impressed with the condensed layout necessary to house, process, and package so many orders of material stock, as well as those kits requiring a more personalized flair. Seat patterns for the HT Moto (Premier) line have all been laid out previously, allowing customers the option to pick their colors to place in the pre-established layout. Paired with a set of Hydro-Turf mats and someone can radically change the look of their ski in the space of a few hours.
Behind the HT headquarters sat a long row of shipping containers packed full of reams of blank sheets of material. Likewise, in crates stacked above the containers. Although a dumpster and several waste bins overflowed with colorful trimmings, Hydro-Turf is wise not to waste any needful piece that can be applied elsewhere. Jet skiers have become more resourceful as of late and so has HT.
“Many standup riders – especially freeriders – want a whole sheet rather than a kit,” Olbricht continued. “They’ve become masters as covering their skis, the footwells and odd-shaped trays. They’re great at it. We love seeing what they come up with.”
In addition to freeriders, Hydro-Turf has become a mainstay of all PWC riders. Racers use their products almost exclusively. Everyday enthusiasts turn to Hydro-Turf to either directly replace their traction mats with like-new material (as their runabouts likely came with Hydro-Turf to begin with) or add some desired personalization. “I can open up [any magazine] and see our name 50 times.” Olbricht beamed. “We love being that for so many people. It’s a great.”