Without argument, the final reveal of the 2017 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki was the single-most anticipated event in The Watercraft Journal’s four-plus-years of publishing. The telltale spike in readership every time we shared some morsel, any glimpse of imagery, any tidbit of information was like chumming the waters bloody, maddening the seas already teaming with sharks.
A couple of months before the reveal, I had a handful of cellphone pictures of the finalized SX-R clandestinely sent to me, including one of the engine, and another the pump and tray. To keep “the right people” from closing in on my informant, I tossed in a few red herrings into any article prior to its official reveal. And, true to my word, never published the pictures.
Despite a personally tumultuous relationship with standups, I too looked forward to how the world would receive the SX-R. I had grown up on 440s and 550s, recalling the thin foam padding rubbing my 9-year-old knees raw as I struggled to balance around Lakes Perris and Elsinore. Years later, I took to my brother’s ’00 SuperJet although his souped up white-and-purple 750SXi (tuned by Greg Beaver of Circuit Jet Sports) was the far faster ski.
The last standup I truly came to enjoy was an ’08 SX-R 800 – a ski I regret not purchasing while at Personal Watercraft Illustrated to this day. It was this ski – the 800 – that had me thinking I could (at least casually) ride a standup well. The new ’17 SX-R 1500 taught me differently. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I had to “re-learn” how to ride, but I did need to learn how the ’17 SX-R wanted to be ridden.
April gave me my first taste at riding the SX-R 1500. Although given half the day to ride, most of us (the US media) couldn’t make it past half an hour. Determined not to make a (bigger) fool of myself in front of Fuzzy Boyd and Minuro Kanamori, who designed the ski, I pushed to keep riding. I think I racked up maybe 50 minutes of total ride time (most of it spent swimming back to the ski). Others fared a little better.
Unlike the comparatively impish 800 before it, the 1500 hated slow speeds. Or at least, it hated me at slow speeds. Cruising around at 30-35 was fine, but go anything less and it grew tipsy, and by a lot. Yes, at speed, the SX-R tracked like a laser-guided cruise missile. It didn’t wander, and it definitely didn’t buck. And really, the only way it wanted to corner was with me as low as possible, doubling myself forward over the handlebars, and my weight as far over the inside rail as possible.
Above left: Picking up the new ’17 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki from Castle Powersports in Madison, TN. Above right: My two oldest were the first to get in the tray.
Above: I was pretty good about my self-prescribed multi-day-a-week riding regimen for a while there.
That lesson alone, was the hardest to learn. I had ridden the SX-R 1500 for about an hour in April, and received my loaner in mid-June. And in all honesty, I think I rode it maybe 3 different times that month. July and August were different though. I really tried to commit to riding it for a minimum of 25 minutes, three times a week. Not only did I want to hone my skills but just become better acquainted with the Kawi.
I’m 235-pounds and 6’2″; not exactly the build of a professional standup racer by any means; by this time I was growling to myself, “This thing was designed for jockeys” and felt myself starting to want to give up. It was becoming the first ski I had that I didn’t want to ride. Thankfully, some wisdom came from a friend who was actively riding, tuning and racing one:
“The handlepole is too damn long. You need a shorter pole – like 3 or more inches shorter. Get your body over the hood as much as you can. And get down low. Its center of gravity is too high and a rider only makes it worse.”
With that advice, I found how the SX-R liked to handle. Come in fast. Come in low. And get over that hood. Once I did, it made all the difference. And let me tell you, there is an amazing sense of satisfaction to executing a solid set of turns after weeks of failing at it. Don’t get me wrong, I was in no place to take on Dustin Motzouris, but I was at least not hating to ride anymore.
Finally feeling like it was fun again, we started on some other articles: applying the Velocity Visions coating, installing a set of JC Racing mid-sponsons, filming an episode of “Long Haul” on the ski and those sponsons (which really did make a difference). I wasn’t back to my 3-times-a-week regimen but I was trying for at least 3 or 4 times a month minimum.
Then, in early September, while trying to reboard in deep water, my elbow slipped on the gunwale and I face-planted hard into the slick painted surface, ricocheting backwards. Gratefully, my Fly Racing helmet kept me from thousands of dollars in dental work. Then it sat. I’d say for at least a month. It saw water a handful more times between returning home from World Finals and returning it to Kawasaki late last week.
Above left: I was happy to take friends out and let them try their hand at the 160-horsepower ski. It scared the pants off of most who dared. Above right: The SX-R became a permanent fixture at the shop and the subject of a few different articles and videos.
Above: Taken right after I bounced my face off of the rail. It could’ve been a lot worse.
Anytime friends asked about it I’d happily bring it out for them to try. They’d all come back saying the same thing: “Dang! That thing’s fast!” and quickly hand me back the lanyard. Many of them were scared. And I think that’s a problem. I’ve put people on big horsepower, top performance runabouts before and received the same answer but not with the same look. This was the first time I saw people visibly shaken.
I guess this review isn’t for you hardcore standup guys. You always ride whether it’s glassy or nothing but white-capped garbage. You’d rather quit than sit. I get it. It’s cool. Rather, this is for everybody else, and I can’t help but think that Kawasaki built something that really isn’t meant for anybody else. The SX-R is a outward reminder that the days of tossing a pair of 550s and an ice chest in the bed of your Toyota are gone. The SX-R is not the light, playful dirt bike-for-the-water you remember a JetSki being. This is it’s own animal.
That being said, I still like it, but I wish I loved it (if that makes sense). Priced at $9,999, it’s the best JetSki that Kawasaki could build for such a low price and as quickly as they did. Personally, I’d like to see the SX-R stick around for a long time as I’m excited to see how the aftermarket, racers and a larger general public embraces it. Hopefully the evolution of the marketplace will bring us a tamer ski for us less skilled riders. But for now, this sport needs a standup JetSki from Kawasaki and I’m glad they’re back.
Above: After five short months and quick frankly, not enough riding, our SX-R had to be returned back to Kawasaki.