Kevin Shaw: Being The Useful Idiot


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Because I’m too lazy to look up an actually credible source, according to Wikipedia, the definition of a “useful idiot,” and at least in modern political jargon, “is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.” And while this idiom has been bandied about quite frequently in this, possibly our nation’s most hotly contested and almost unilaterally disappointing election season, it also has applications well beyond the sphere of the politik.

These past two weeks have been particularly stressful for the editor of this particular personal watercraft enthusiast magazine. Not only have we launched two full-length feature articles on the 2017 reveals of both Yamaha and Sea-Doo, but were first on the planet to publish an article with the 2017 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki teaser video as well as publishing a world exclusive on the RIVA Racing Limited Edition GP1800R, all within the space of a dozen days. Toss into that traveling to a media exclusive hands-on event with the aforementioned ’17 Sea-Doos, and I’ve barely had time to breathe.

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Above: Predicting the future isn’t easy. None of the PWC media saw Sea-Doo Trixx coming.

While penning the articles is by far the easiest part of the above, the months and weeks leading up to the public unveilings have been brutal. At no time has holding a secret from our readers been so difficult. Moreover, minding what I say in public and to friends has been equally unnerving. Yet, such is the nature of the job. If I want to be trusted with certain information and pictures, I need to abide by the established rules. I sign “non-disclosure agreements” vowing that I will not leak any information, images or other data prior to an established date and time.

Yet, many don’t abide by these tenets and consequently lose their privilege, and are left to wait for outlets such as The Watercraft Journal to “info dump” everything into the public arena (thereby making us not only a resource to our 300,000 annual readers, but other media outlets too, as it were). Yet, as many of you are keenly aware, we also publish quite a few predictions, leaks and teases that would contradict the above statements, right?

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Above: Greenhulk.net’s Jerry Gaddis mastered the tailstand on the new ’17 Trixx at the Sea-Doo media intro in Tampa, FL this week.

The answer is yes, every now and again, we pick up a loose rumor or a bit of gossip that is very likely given other intel that we have. And typically, we share those in our “Vicious Rumors and Vile Gossip” columns. They’re titled as such because often, the likelihood of any published rumor is at best, 50/50 of actually wielding any sort of validity. Sometimes, it’s just the internal chatter and gossip within a company, or a persistent rumor being spread by overzealous dealers (although we try to take that with the subsequent grain of salt). But at times, the information shared has come directly from a manufacturer, and while you’d reason to believe that that information would be gospel, it often is the exact opposite.

In 2013, I was fed “inside information” that Kawasaki’s newest machine would be a “KX for the water.” That year, Kawasaki had made quite the fanfare of introducing the new KX450F with electronic “Launch Control.” The feature was essentially an ignition retard that dialed back throttle enough for the back tire to bite. Interestingly, aftermarket ECUs such as MoTec had such an option for watercraft, helping scrub cavitation when launching from a standstill. I, considering myself quite the sleuth, had deduced wrongly.

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Above: Former “Watercraft World” staffer and “Boating” contributor Jeff Hemmel proved he still has the skills to knock off some sweet tricks (*”sweet tricks” not shown).

In my first “Vicious Rumors” article on the subject, I ballyhooed the idea of a 310-horsepower, traction-controlled machine, ideally based on the STX-15F with the Ultra powertrain. It was lightweight, nimble, already loved by racers, and characteristically in line with being the closest comparison to the KX in question. A second phone call from my source acknowledged my story, thanked me for it and shared another morsel of information, never once offering to correct any bit of my erroneous conclusion. This process carried on for a couple more weeks until the big day of the dealer meeting in San Diego.

The ski that came out was the Ultra 310R, which as many know, is a standard Ultra 310X with a short, stainless steering neck, an exposed set of motocross handlebars, and a textured seat cover. And as you know, no launch control. I was, effectively, irate. I clearly was being baited for several months, winding me up and letting me run loose to spew excitable tales to my audience, and believe you me, people were as excited about the news as I was to share it. Rather, upon the true reveal, the disappointment was palatable. And not just resulting in me being lambasted for my shoddy work as a prophet.

Whether I was being played as an inside joke, a type of litmus test providing the brand useful market research, or just an outlet to beat the drum for the brand for a few months is really immaterial. It was still on me to report on what I was given as best as I could. Not every putt sinks, nor does every shot hit the target. But I would rather share what I’ve got, try to extrapolate what the future meaning might be, and present it to you to judge. Heck, it’s why I call it “rumors and gossip” for a reason.

Go Get Wet,
Kevin

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – kevin.shaw@shawgroupmedia.com
Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

6 comments

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  1. Faxon 26 August, 2016 at 08:23 Reply

    Good article! Typo on the “Put” it’s “Putt. I know you know that and were just rushing, so it’s just an FYI. Faxon

  2. Ryan 26 August, 2016 at 09:41 Reply

    Kevin, when Kawasaki officially told you about the SXR; what event was it and what was your reaction? Was their a happy dance afterwards, champagne, etc?

    • Kevin Shaw 26 August, 2016 at 14:04 Reply

      None of the above. I purposely inserted my concerns about the current state of Kawasaki’s marketshare, product line and dealer network in previous articles and even in my protests against a possible new SX-R. The truth is, even if the new SX-R wasn’t a (purported) 400lbs. beast, it wouldn’t be enough to save the brand from slipping further behind Yamaha and Sea-Doo.

      • Ryan 26 August, 2016 at 14:51 Reply

        Interesting…I agree to some point, but I see the new SXR as a marketing tool to get people excited about the brand again. Although, if, the other models are unchanged I think it it will still get people to look at the brand again.

        Another similar situation is what Dodge did with the Hell Cat twins. They came out and said it doesn’t make sense on paper, but look what it has done for the brand. They have basically sold out these models for the last two years and the increased sales on other trims of Chargers and Challengers.

        As a die hard standup fan, this news SXR is awesome.

  3. faxon 26 August, 2016 at 17:13 Reply

    Kevin, I know you can’t share the information about the SXR due to disclosure agreements signed etc….but do you actually know all the details on it already?

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