Pop quiz, hot shot: what’s the number one complaint people have about the Sea-Doo Spark? Easy. Its plastic hull. Right? Right. It’s not plastic, per se but a “low density and high-impact composite material that includes polypropylene and long glass fiber reinforcements.” But for the layman, Sea-Doo’s proprietary (and recyclable) Polytec material is “plastic.” And whether you’re tuning in to Yamaha’s viral videos, checking out pics of Spark hulls being punctured by the thrust of more powerful runabouts or failed patch jobs, it’s very likely that your faith in a Polytec hull can be a little shaky.
Consider several reasons why Sea-Doo opted to go with the unconventional hull material: 1) weight savings. The molded Polytec hull helps keep the Spark (2-up) just a smidgen over 400 pounds. That’s ridiculously light, especially for a runabout. 2) It’s environmentally friendly. Being recyclable is a very nice thing to have on a resume. And if appealing to young, environmentally-conscious buyers is the goal, being recyclable is a good feather to have in your cap. And 3) It’s cheap. OK, “cheap” is a dirty word, so maybe “cost effective” is more PR friendly. Either way, it helps keep the cost of each Spark down.
But what happens when the mere presence of the Polytec hull thwarts potential sales? Trust us, it happens and there’s no shortage of folks willing to go on and on about how “terrible” it is. The Watercraft Journal caught all sorts of grief for naming the Sea-Doo Spark as the 2014 Watercraft of The Year, with most (if not all of its detractors siting the plastic hull as being it’s number one disqualifier). If we’re fielding hate mail like this, we can’t imagine what BRP is going through. So is there a reasonable solution that satisfies the above criteria?
Well, not entirely. But close. If today’s standup aftermarket has shown us anything is that quality (and durable) carbon fiber hulls are the future of lightweight, top performance personal watercraft. Hull shapers have maximized the science of strakes, chines and pump design to eject freestylers into the air with incredible speed and accuracy, all the while withstanding astounding force and impact. Hull makers like Rick Roy Products (RRP), Trinity, Krash Industries, XScream, TigerCraft, and Hurricane Industries have each carved out a piece of the incredibly intimate standup market with marked success.
We talked with Derrick Kemnitz Jr., owner of the aforementioned Hurricane Industries, about the probability of a carbon fiber hull for a Spark. He explained, “It’s definitely doable, nothing different from what I do now, just on a slightly bigger scale – the only thing I see as a concern would be that the Spark is a super inexpensive ski, so the majority of the sales are to the guys who don’t want to shell out the big cash for the big boats. Same with the guys on the 550’s and X2s, Which generally means they won’t want to afford a $8,000 replacement carbon hull.”
And yes, the estimate for $8,000 would be a deal breaker. But what if that was dropped down to $2,000 (or less)? Kemnitz explained that most of that cost would cover research and development, testing and finally production of the hull. With a larger quantity order, and more importantly, a deposit to cover initial costs, that initial quote dramatically drops. “It’s not cheap to start production on a new item,” he continued. “Lots of guys ask me to make a fixed-steering Hurricane, but no one is willing to make a deposit on a hull, which is why we won’t have a fixed-steering hull.”
But what if there was enough demand? “If [we] have enough people who are serious about a carbon Spark hull, I can definitely do it,” Kemnitz concluded. “I would need a donor hull that can be trashed and like I said before, a [significant] deposit.” But tacking on another $2,000 on top of a $4,999 Spark is, as Kemnitz explained, counter-intuitive to the philosophy behind the Spark’s price point.
At its core, concern over the durability of the Spark’s hull boils down to limitation. Even in the Spark’s owner’s guide, aggressive and competitive riding is highly discouraged. Many detractors feel the restrictions caused by the Polytec hull keep them from fully enjoying the small, nimble craft in a manner they would prefer. Replacing the Polytec with a carbon hull would immediately resolve this, but again wouldn’t be enough to justify such a substantial price hike.
Rather, a completed package ready for “aggressive and competitive riding” offered through a licensed dealership could quantify the significant price jump. Imagine walking into your local Sea-Doo showroom and spotting a 2-up Spark sitting on a glossy carbon fiber hull, wrapped in unique vinyl decal fix complete with faux carbon accents. Throughout the ski, a complete WORX Racing Spark package: a billet steering kit, sponsons, a rideplate and intake grate kit (with pump seal kit), a billet air ribbon replacement collar, and an optional rear exhaust kit. Beneath it’s removable top deck, a V-tech Tuned 110-horsepower ECU. Sounds pretty cool, right?
(Obviously, the parts listed above are merely cherry picked from the available off-the-shelf aftermarket performance products accessible today.)
As it were, this would bring a standard $4,999 2-up Spark up and over the $9,500 mark. To the recreational rider, this would only make a 155HP GTI the better option. But to those wanting the fun, playful Spark but with a lot more oomph without any of the worry of cracking the hull after their first big jump, a dealer-installed “Carbon Edition” Spark could be just the right ticket. For the would-be racer, this would be a ready-to-run buy on Saturday, race on Sunday package. Already Spark classes have been seen in Japan, China and Thailand, with many in the States warming up to the idea as well.
Granted, the Spark was never intended to be a racer. It’s not targeted as such. But racing is in Sea-Doo’s DNA and denying the Spark the opportunity to shine – if even in a limited capacity – is contrary to BRP’s core characteristic of building recreational vehicles capable of extraordinary performance.