My friendship with Jerry Gaddis all started with a friendly email warning me that I had really screwed up. In the final months before Personal Watercraft Illustrated would fatefully fold up, I had written a response in the monthly “Letters to The Editor” department asking why PWI wasn’t featuring more “conversion skis.” In this instance, the questioner was referring to performance enthusiasts who were shoehorning supercharged and turbo’ed Rotax 4-Tec engines into Yamaha GPR hulls. When done right, the result rendered insane triple-digit top speeds. When done poorly, the result was a snarky reply from a young magazine editor.
My response to the letter reflected my narrow experience with these machines, and from what I had seen, wasn’t terribly impressive. The handful of conversion skis I had seen first-hand exhibited some questionable craftsmanship and in my response, I said something to that degree.
Unfortunately, the group of persons that my response offended – albeit not a majority – were tremendously vocal. And they wanted my head on a pike. The internet uproar was enough to warrant a word of cautionary warning from the founder and owner of the industry’s fastest-growing performance PWC forum, www.greenhulk.net.
Actually, my first statement’s not entirely true. In further reflection, Jerry and I had hit it off at various media gatherings previously, but I will always consider that one email as the moment Jerry put his arm around me in friendship…and kindly smacked me in the back of the head.
“Don’t give them a reason to turn on you,” he warned. “They’re really passionate about these things. They need to feel respected.” And he was right. So much so that I’ve carried Jerry’s words with me as my career transferred from print to digital publishing. No matter how divided our industry is, everyone wants to feel that the one fraction they care about is just as respected as the others.
This too, was a lesson Jerry had to learn. Long before the enterprising Morgan City, Louisiana native launched his top-of-the-line performance hardware e-commerce store, PWCPerformance.com or transitioned his one-man blog into the fastest-growing personal watercraft enthusiast forum in the industry, Jerry was guy who wanted to push his supercharged Sea-Doo to the next level. Always a fan of fast toys, Jerry applied his know-how acquired through years of tuning on cars and boats to his new 2004 Sea-Doo RXP.
The apple-green two-seater caught the attention of his two small boys. From the moment Jerry brought the ski home, the two referred to it as the “green Hulk” after the temperamental gamma-radioactive superhero.
Although the 215-horsepower output far exceeded anything produced by the competition, for Jerry and the rechristened “Green Hulk,” it simply wasn’t enough. The project ski gave way to a personal blog, documenting the build process, the trials and errors and most notably, the successes. Word of the blog quickly spread and with followers came a flood of emails.
Unable to field so many questions, Jerry turned to friend Mike Trinastich to assist in transforming greenhulk.net from a blog to a vBulletin forum. Jerry wrote, “I decided to start this forum so that instead of discussing mods one-on-one through email, everyone could talk together in open forum.”
In the new format, greenhulk.net quickly grew. An influx of home garage tuners, ski builders and top level performance shops began participating, sharing their experiences and know-how and input.
Yet, until that point, greenhulk.net was just a hobby for Jerry. The third generation in a family business, Jerry’s bread-and-butter came from Life Saving Equipment & Repair, the manufacturer of The Roe Float lifeboat, Tuff Bags, tarps, signs, custom dive equipment and a major supplier oil and gas industry, the diving and trucking industries. As more and more requests came to Jerry asking for help in locating custom or unique performance parts, Jerry saw a need he could fill. The launch of 4tecperformance.com (later to be renamed pwcperformance.com), the online store could better connect performance enthusiasts with the parts they needed.
“The store provides me my play money,” Jerry laughs. “People think I’m Mr. Moneybags over here. [Life Saving Equipment] is still what puts a roof over my family’s head and food on the table.” Albeit deceptively modest, the seven-year success of the online store has elevated it to the notable ranking of RIVA Racing’s largest distributor, and the growth of forum has given Jerry possibly the single largest influential sway in the industry. When Yamaha introduced the 1.8L SHO engine in 2008, Jerry switched from a Sea-Doo to a WaveRunner, and so did thousands of loyal followers.
When Jerry opted to use the top-of-the-line MoTeC ECU, so did some of the largest ski builders and racers. And most recently, when Jerry expressed his interest in Yamaha’s big engine-in-a-little runabout, the VXR, so did public interest. It was this machine that was of particular interest when I came to visit the greenhulk.net headquarters earlier this month. The VXR was in the midst of research-and-development testing.
Force-fed by a HKS USA Turbo and controlled by a MoTeC ECU, the VXR had already blown past 90-miles-per-hour with one of Jerry’s “Greenhulk”-style pump. By the time I arrived, the Skat-Trak-built 14-vane pump had been shelved and a 12-vane 160mm pump from RIVA Racing was in its place. Encouraging me to “give it a go,” I held into the throttle far longer than recommended and clicked off a top speed of 89.6mph, the fastest the VXR had gone in its current setup. Unfortunately, the pressure was too much for the lowly VXR to handle.
Leaks sprang up, quickly filling the engine compartment. Pulling the ski back onto the trailer, the source proved too difficult to diagnose. Only until bringing it back to Jerry’s garage could he discover a spiderweb’s worth of cracks and fissures streaking across the pump tunnel. Despite the pump tunnel reinforcement kit, the pressures applied to the ski’s hull were too much for its original design. Shaking off the fiberglass dust from his shirt, Jerry shook his head, “Call it. Time of death: 1430 hours.”
“It’s not Yamaha’s fault at all. We’re pushing skis so far past the limits of its original design that we have to consider everything,” he explained. “If it wasn’t me discovering this, it’d be somebody else on the forum. Personally, I’d rather it be me than someone else.”
That afternoon Jerry was emailing Yamaha for a new ski. A week later, a new FZR hull arrived on a trailer. It’s a little unnerving the level of influence that can make calls like that. But Jerry will be the first to pass on the credit, “I do not take credit for this forum’s success though. It’s [the] forum members that actively participate that make this forum what it is.”