Since the beginning of May 2022, longtime ski enthusiast and builder Jason Rivera had been keeping the vintage community in the dark about a fresh 550 build to premier at the Motosurf and Freeride event in Huntington Beach. After a long weekend of die-hard racing and absolute carnage, the Watercraft Journal team finally had a chance to sit down with Jason to find out the details on the build, and to hear about the long-time legend that assisted him.
The Watercraft Journal: What was your first thought when Gordon Oelkers came to you for help with these builds?
Jason Rivera: Gordon and I go back, and I mean waaay back in the jet ski industry. I became friends with Mr. PJS 15 years ago. He had his service shop in Brea and I would buy all my parts from him. I was a frequent face there. When he closed his shop 6 years ago, he graciously let me have a lot of his tools, including his “holy grail” of a test tank, which I still use frequently. So with all of the support he had given me in the past, I of course jumped at the opportunity and agreed to help in any way I could.
WCJ: Roughly how long does it take you on these types of builds?
JR: Traditionally it would take me a few weeks to a couple of months to fully assemble a build, and that’s from bare hull to finished product. But with the last few years of COVID craziness and other life happenings, it set us back quite a bit.
On Sunday, May 1st, Gordon and I finally got together and there we were, staring at a bare-bones 550 hull, a completely blank slate. That weekend was the Huntington Beach race. We realized we had six days to build it. Claiming complete insanity, we both quickly got to work with full intentions of seeing it raced in the surf that weekend!
WCJ: Wow, that does sound like complete insanity!
JR: Oh it was! But Gordon and I worked extremely well next to each other. We were like a well-oiled machine. One of us would be assembling the motor. The other would be running around with a tube of silicone, gluing in the pump shoe, tubbies, you name it! But we finished in record time. Four days later we lowered the ski into the test tank at 9pm that night to break in the motor (the neighbors love me -HAHA).
Not only was I cranking on the build, but I had other skis to attend to before that weekend. So, while Gordon tidied up the loose ends and finished other small assemblies on the ski, I prepped my own ski (#38) and my long-time friend and fellow racer, Tommy Bonacci’s (#12) ski.
WCJ: Any “bloody-knuckle” moments that you care to mention?
JR: Oh there were plenty. Notably was the night we dropped the ski into the tank. We started it up and a few moments later my girlfriend came out yelling that we woke the baby up! Thought she was gonna beat me into a pulp. Sorry honey! HAHA
I also dislocated my finger during practice on race day, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to race the build. Luckily my friend Mark Gomez stepped up and was willing to race it that weekend!
WCJ: Mark was extremely pleased with how the ski handled the surf too! We reached out to him to see what he had to say about your build:
JR: The PJS build came in hot to Huntington Beach! The ski ran great having only been tank-tested! Saturday’s practice was its first official water test, and after a few fuel adjustments it was race ready. The ski handled incredibly well for the choppy ocean conditions we had that weekend.
I was riding on a previously sprained ankle so I was very cautious about the lines I picked and maneuvers I made, but the faster I rode the ski and trusted it, the more it cut through the chop. And it never did anything unpredictable, it was very honest in the surf! Gordon and Jason built a great vintage mod machine. They knocked it completely out of the park!
Notable sponsors for the build; find them on Instagram: JetStar (@jetstar.inc) PJS USA (@pjs_usa) Retro Jetski (@retro_jet_ski) Bomber Eyewear (@bomereyewear) Jettrim (@jettrim) Impros (@improsimpellers) Rhaas (@rhaasproducts) G&J Aircraft (@gandjaircraft) Performance Fiberglass (@performance.fiberglass) VJS Originals (@vjsoriginals) Hydro-Turf (@hydroturf) Atlantis Powersports (@atlantispowersports)