It was famed American novelist John Steinbeck who bereaved, “It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” And a brightly burning light that beckoned to all in the sport of jet ski racing as sadly dimmed. Last Thursday, November 13th, Jettrim owner and founder, Gary Hart passed away from complications to cancer. Hart, (56 years old) who is most commonly known for his company’s unique artisan, hand-crafted non-slip jet ski mats, seat covers and iconic “bitchin’ stitchin’,” is remembered not merely for creating a superior product that was often duplicated, but for a spirit that burned brighter than the noonday sun that shone over his Lake Havasu City, Arizona, home.
Hart developed a passion for jet ski racing that birthed the creation of his original Jettrim “Nada-Hyde” mat in 1983. Not only did his Jettrim mats improve the riding experience, but added a dash of customization to the early standup skis. Hart’s business swelled as did the sport throughout those early heydays, and Jettrim’s logo became an almost synonymous emblem on every racer and performance enthusiast’s watercraft. Many racers over the company’s 30 years will recall Hart’s wide smile being a central fixture at Jettrim HQ, the race site and in Performance Alley at each of the IJSBA World Finals from 1983 to 2013. In fact, a stop by Jettrim became an annual pilgrimage for many, swinging by to see the mayhem as the crew hurried to finish up racer’s last-minute requests.
Yet, Hart’s passion and kindness overshadowed his product services. Hart regularly opened the doors to not only his shop, but his home to racers. Multi-time IJSBA World Champion Dustin Farthing recalled, “Gary was my first sponsor in 1992. I used to live with him 3-to-4 weeks before the Finals in my early years and he was like my family… I am so thankful for him.” As did Victor Sheldon who added, “Gary was a one of a kind. [He’ll] never be forgotten.”
Hart’s love of the sport spread to the riders and their families. Even when there wasn’t a buoy to be found on the water, the deep-rooted friendships Hart made on the lakeshore carried throughout him. Brian Holland, a former Jettrim employee, remembered, “I will always remember park trips with Gary. It was Gary’s get away from reality. To just sit back and relax. He was like gravity with all his friends. Riding down the river with 20 or so skis in a row. Gary always being the leader. He rode with such style. I never saw him happier.”
Those very fortunate to know Hart personally knew of his love for not only jet skis but for the rolling sand dunes of Glamis and for that of vintage American bicycles. In his garage, hanging above possibly the most desirable collection of meticulously-restored vintage race skis were Schwinn Stingrays. In 2010, Hart made his collection of skis public, freely opening up the Vintage Jet Ski Museum at the IJSBA World Finals. With examples from Christie Carlson, Jeff Jacobs, Chris Fischetti and Larry Rippenkroeger (to name a few), the museum was always a major draw to the Performance Alley. Again, that was Hart’s style.
Mrs. Carlson Swaid stated, “the personal watercraft industry lost an icon. God gave Gary the most appropriate last name. He definitely was all ‘Hart'” Gary was famous for trimming out anything and everything that related to jet skis. I had the privilege of speaking with him [the day before he died]… I thanked him for all the ways he made things better for so many racers. …He made the trays of my jet skis more comfortable and reliable, he made my van and trailers safer for travel and he made cabinets to showcase my Jet Gems jewelry. Gary also allowed several racers to camp out at his house during world finals preparation year after year. He was incredibly generous to so many of us racers and he will forever be remembered for his kindness and his passion for the sport.”
In regards to Hart’s presence at Finals and the Vintage Jet Ski Museum, Bob Phares wrote, “When you’ve been involved in an industry for 42 years, you are bound to hear a little bit of negative information about everybody. Not so with Gary Hart. I never heard one word negative about Gary. I met Gary first when I was running Factory Jet Ski in Sacramento. We talked on the phone and designed custom seats for our Race Sponsored ZXI’s and XI’s. He was always thorough and patient. He made everything custom with great expertise.
“The weeks leading up to World finals has always been an extremely busy time at Jettrim, but Gary always seemed casual and professional. I finally met Gary at World Finals in 1997. He was fairly quiet and paid close attention to all comments and suggestions from his customers. He didn’t offer to sell you what he made. He made what you wanted and sold it to you. Gary and I met again at Worlds in 2013 in his Jettrim Museum, a true tribute to a sport that we all loved. Handled and cared for with the loving touch of a parent. This past year at World’s, I was honored to help with the presentation of the Museum in Gary’s absence.”
Hart, whose role in the sport earned him an induction in the IJSBA Hall of Fame, was remembered fondly by the IJSBA who he had a role in forging, “Gary Hart was a true founding father of the personal watercraft sport. Through his company, Jettrim, Gary sponsored nearly every Pro rider that ever competed on a personal watercraft… The absence of Gary Hart will leave a permanent emptiness in the sport. IJSBA encourages everyone to reflect upon Gary’s legacy of his dedication to PWC and the people who raced them.”
Gratefully, Gary Hart’s legacy is one of optimism, charity, kindness and passion. Hart led by example, burned brighter than most and shone a light on a sport and the people who occupied better than most. And its that light that we will miss the most.
All images courtesy of In Memory of Gary Hart – Jettrim Facebook page.