Kevin Shaw: The Man Who Killed The JetSki


[Apparently, I need to preface this editorial by saying that this is meant to be a funny little glimpse of some “inside baseball” between two enthusiasts who happen to work within the PWC industry – one far more significantly than the other. Please don’t misconstrue this for more than it is. And please don’t write me or Mr. Watkins angry emails. – Ed.]

The condensation beading off the sides of my bottled water fell freely like raindrops, pooling into a wet spot in the table cloth. The shade of the large lakeside pavilion did little to shield from the oppressive humidity. Yamaha’s 2015 Media Introduction was an attractive affair, gathering members of the press from the boating and personal watercraft industries to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation perched on the edge of Lake Oconee. Nearly every possible factor was planned for, that is except for the sudden onset of mid-afternoon mugginess.

The sweltering atmosphere didn’t break Jerry Gaddis’ focus from the screen of his iPhone.’s founder was rarely without it. Nowadays, I am no different, much to the chagrin of my wife. By this time, the cat was out of the bag. Yamaha’s presentation of its 2015 lineup of WaveRunners was less of an unveiling, but a debriefing; a glimpse into the company’s brutal take-no-prisoners plan of attack for the new year. If 2014’s boost in overall sales (15-percent increase) meant anything it was people are excited again, and hungrily buying up new product.

Although presented as being succinctly different, the new RiDE system couldn’t help but ring echoes of Sea-Doo’s iBR in my ears. And that’s OK. I learned a while back that truly successful people don’t envy and despise others for their success; they congratulate them and try to emulate what worked and put their own spin on it. In its five years of existence, Sea-Doo’s Intelligent Brake & Reverse has been hailed an unmitigated success by the media, the boating industry and customers. Blamelessly, Yamaha wanted a slice of that pie.

The announcement of the JL Audio system the following week clearly was targeted towards those whose interest was piqued by the Jetsound system on the Kawasaki 310LX. And if Yamaha didn’t invent it, they were damned sure to improve upon it.

Then I realized that the actions of one, almost directly effect the other.


The next day, between rounds of flogging whichever new model I could get my hands on, I had a moment alone with Scott Watkins, the IJSBA World Champion and Yamaha Product Manager for the last 20 years.

“So, no SuperJet?” I asked, half joking.

“Oh, no. It’s still there. We just didn’t think we needed to wheel one out,” Watkins laughed.

“Yeah, I can see that. So when are we going to see a new one? Y’know something different?

His gaze shifted. “Never.”


“We can build the SuperJet only as long as we leave it ‘as-is’ – it’s an EPA thing,” he growled. “The minute we update it, it won’t be considered ‘old technology’, which gets grandfathered in. Once we mess with it, it’s gotta pass all the emission stuff, and you know it won’t. So we’ve gotta leave it alone.”

I prodded a little deeper, “Yikes. How about going 4-stroke? Maybe with the 1,100 in it?”

His normal default devil-may-care grin turned sour. “Not gonna happen.”

Reading my surprised expression, he continued, “We talked about going 4-stroke. We did. It was a few years back. I put an end to it. The minute we put a 4-stroke in the SuperJet is the minute it stops being a jet ski. Y’know what I mean?”

It was an emotional answer. And yes, I got it.

“We used to have these races where we swamped our skis on purpose and timed each other to see how fast we could drag it up the beach, pull the plugs, turn it over and get it running. I think I did it in like 3 minutes.” The smile immediately came back to his tanned face. His eyes danced. There was nostalgia there that refused to be replaced with with bigger, heavier standups.

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An insane thought suddenly came to mind. “Scott. When did this conversation happen?”

“Sheesh. I dunno. Maybe 2008. Why?”

Quickly arranging my thoughts, I stammered, “Alright, imagine if you OK’ed a four-stroke SuperJet. How quickly would it have hit the market? 2010?”

“Yeah, most likely,” he replied, raising a curious eyebrow.

“So let’s say Yamaha announces a 4-stroke SuperJet in late 2009 for the next year,” by this time, the train of thought running in my mind was nearly jumping its tracks. “When did Kawasaki kill the SX-R? 2011?”


“Here’s my question: Do you think had the SuperJet gone 4-stroke that Kawasaki would’ve killed the JetSki? We both know they’ve got working prototypes. Do you think they would’ve just followed Yamaha with a 4-stroke a year or two after you guys?”

“I dunno. Maybe.”

“So it’s your fault!” I announce a little too loudly, drawing the attention of a few people near us.

Scott’s eyes widen and brow furrows, confused and little angry. “What?”

“Had you approved a 4-stroke SuperJet, Kawasaki never would’ve killed the SX-R,” a deduce in my best Sherlock Holmes impression.

Laughing but a little uncomfortable with where I was going with this, “Yeah, I don’t know about that, Kevin,” he smirks.

“Yeah, I know. I know. But it’s a crazy idea, right?” I pause one or two beats before leaning in, almost threatening, “This going in the magazine.”

Scott laughs. “$#%&. Please don’t.”

Go Get Wet,

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – 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.

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