“Hey man, I’m going to be there if you want me to cover it,” Jetski Junkies’ Kev Hemingway offered. Since it’s start in 2011, I hadn’t been invited to the usually cordoned-off Watercraft Superstore Skyway Ski Show, yet I still wanted coverage of the watercraft shootout. Patterned after the now-default Watercraft World Dream Demo shootout, the Skyway Ski Show gathered a group of test riders from various walks of life and ranging in PWC experience, to try out the latest wares from the OE manufacturers.
And sure to his word, Kev delivered. If I recall correctly, he delivered a little too well (and soon), managing to earn a little reprimand from the brass at SBT, Inc. This year though, would be the exact opposite. So much so, that the title of this editorial is a little disingenuous. I didn’t actually “sneak into” but was cordially invited to not only cover but participate in this year’s Watercraft Superstore Skyway Ski Show. In between the initial invite and the schedule date in early March, I was asked if I could step in for Jeff Hemmel who was called away suddenly.
Suddenly, I went from being an invited member of the media to the Head Panelist and Judge. I also was tasked with writing the article for the celebrated Watercraft Superstore “magalog” (a hybrid between a magazine and catalog). With a circulation of over 100,000 copies annually, the WCSS’s magalog nearly matched that of The Watercraft Journal’s readership, so the pairing couldn’t have been more perfect. I drove down a day early to socialize with WCSS’s John Salvatore, and check out the latest goods from the industry’s biggest retailer.
That night, as I mentioned in a previous editorial, was a fantastic meal paired with some very compelling inside industry information. All of the big three were present, Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Yamaha, which was a first for the Skyway Show. Each of the OE manufacturers brought two of their latest personal watercraft for the panel of six to test ride. Yet, unlike previous years wherein manufacturers provided samples of their most extreme runabouts, this year’s selection was intentionally chosen to represent segments more “core” to the general buying public.
Units were pulled from each brand’s Recreational line, and the entry models for each brand’s Luxury line. For Kawasaki, this meant their ’15 STX-15F and naturally-aspirated Ultra LX; Sea-Doo brought their ’15 GTI SE 155 and GTX 155; and Yamaha their ’15 VX Cruiser and FX High Output Cruiser. No big power, gas-guzzling supercharged skis or over-the-top luxury units were present. All were intentionally selected to meet the biggest demographic of family-friendly budget buyers.
According to the WCSS crew, last year’s Skyway Ski Show was downright cold, which is especially peculiar for St. Petersburg, Florida. Riders bundled up in thick JetPilot wetsuits and jackets, zipping up additional layers just to ward off the cold. This year – thankfully – saw no such problems; the sun was shining bright overhead with mild breezes coming in from the Gulf. By afternoon, many swapped out their JetPilot wetsuits for a pair of Blacktip neoprene shorts and short-sleeved rashguards. I still have the tan lines.
If most big corporate deals are made on golf courses and bar stools, the the same can be said for the PWC industry, but on beaches and lounge chairs. I secured two major advertising programs, introduced Kawasaki’s Jon Rall to Ashley Sponaugle, who now will be piloting a Kawasaki 310X in this July’s Long Beach to Catalina Offshore Championship, locked in Brent Venderley as a contributor to The Watercraft Journal, planned a day with Tim McKercher and the Sea-Doo team, and even cozied up with the Rattis who proposed a content-share program.
Long after the day spent with Mark Gomez, Ashley, Coach Joe Marshall, Adam Snorek, Rachel Vietmeier and of course, Ashley, I was sorting through the pictures as I prepared to turn in the recap for the show. Hemmel had returned and picked up the task of writing the individual reviews of the respective skis, with my recap being the segue into Hemmel’s assessments of each riders’ reports. The images revealed two major revelations: Mark Gomez can motosurf any watercraft, and that I made the stupidest faces when I ride. Ugh.
A few weeks after submitting my report, a box arrived with four copies of the hefty 210-page magalog. To my surprise, I and my goofy-looking mug, was all over the coverage. As much as I hate to admit it, there was a familiar twinge of giddiness seeing myself in print again. Having published over 740 articles since launching The Watercraft Journal in October of 2013, the thrill of seeing my name in a byline has lost its savor a little. I get the thrill of seeing oneself in print, I do. I’ve been there, I get it. I’ve even been on a couple of magazine covers.
So what will next year’s Skyway Ski Show look like? I’m privy to a couple of suggested changes that should make the day go a little smoother, but have no clue what the skis will look like. If Sea-Doo is rolling out the big 300-plus-horsepower machines, I’m sure there’s gonna be a muscle craft shootout segment. I can’t imagine anyone letting that opportunity pass them by. And if that’s the case, hopefully they’ll let me come back.
Go Get Wet,