It’s not often that we’re able to tie things up so nicely, but this year we’re able to welcome all three manufacturers – Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Yamaha – to the podium for The Watercraft Journal’s prestigious Watercraft of The Year award. For 2017, all three OE (original equipment) manufacturers brought a unique and diverse array of new vehicles to the water, each of them targeting a specific audience, many of whom were either completely new to personal watercraft or absent for far too long. Either way, all three of these entries were responsible in some way or another for bringing droves of new and returning enthusiasts to the water.
As we’ve noted previously, the personal watercraft industry experienced a surge in growth unlike anything seen prior to 2008. That’s nearly a decade of lackluster sales, that is, until now. We’re seeing growth of over 11-percent, market share growth deep into the double digits, and unparalleled product advancement. There’s a lot to be excited about, and the products shown here are directly responsible for (in large part) that growth and expansion, so while not all can be Watercraft of The Year, their respective success is worth praising all the same.
2017 Watercraft of The Year 2nd Runner-Up: 2017 Sea-Doo Spark Trixx HO 2-up
Haters gonna hate, they say. And when it comes to the Sea-Doo Spark and its Polytec hull, there sure are a lot of haters floating around them intarwebs. So amid all the chatter and hubbub professing that there’s no way Polytec could hold up to any sort of abuse, what does Sea-Doo do for 2017? They offered a Spark designed for jumping waves, power slides, 360’s and other freestyle tricks. Yup, Sea-Doo literally trolled all the anti-Spark trolls. Hell, they even named it the “Trixx.”
Starting with a 90-horsepower, 2-up (two-seater) Spark, Sea-Doo offered the machine in a more-fun-than-usual Candy Blue and Chili Pepper color combination; screwed down some smartly-molded padded foot wedges (ideal for doing wheelies like the back footpegs on a BMX bike) and crafted an aluminum telescoping steering neck. Some fun graphics around the Trixx liven up the look too.
Being absurdly lightweight and equipped with a rev-happy ACE 900 engine, the Trixx is a ton of fun. Take into account its radically extended VTS (Variable Trim System) with 17-degrees upward and negative 6-degrees downward (a total of 10 degrees of additional movement), and the Trixx can stand nearly vertical. And when you’re done showing off, you can still ride it like a regular Spark. Sure, you might think this was a fun, flash-in-the-pan, one-year-only limited edition, right? Wronnng! Not only was the Spark Trixx the single highest selling PWC for 2017, but Sea-Doo sold twice as many Trixx’s as Kawasaki sold watercraft. Let that sink in for a minute.
2017 Watercraft of The Year 1st Runner-Up: 2017 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki
“You did it. You crazy son-of-a-b***h did it.” Although that quote is famously attributed to Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park fame, it was pretty much all everyone could say when Kawasaki finally revealed what was easily the single-most anticipated personal watercraft in, what? A decade? Hmm, maybe less. But still, a factory-built 4-stroke standup from the company who invented the standup JetSki is a big deal, and that it finally became a reality this year makes it a shoe-in for contention as The Watercraft Journal’s 2017 Watercraft of The Year.
We just returned ours after half a year of testing and we’re sad to see it go. Albeit the heaviest standup Kawasaki has built (551-pounds) and over eight-and-a-half feet long, the new SX-R is quite the beast to master. But it tracks straight, it’s massive, angled tray allows for plenty of movement, and man, does it run. (Nearly 160-horsepower will do that.) Racers are just now beginning to polish the SX-R’s rougher edges through aftermarket support, and the ski is finally overcoming its rocky first impression with the hardcore standup crowd.
Being almost mandatory equipment for competing in certain key IJSBA Ski classes also pushed to make the SX-R so popular. Coming in at $9,999 was also a major feat, and for Kawasaki to achieve that goal required a lot of tight budgeting and cost cutting. The ’17 SX-R is famously stitched together from a warehouse of existing KMC products including the Teryx side-by-side, and a whole lot of stuff borrowed from all of the other existing JetSki runabouts, including the Ultra 310X. It was met with moderate success this year, and hopefully continued sales throughout 2018 will ensure a future for the SX-R for years to come.
2017 Watercraft of The Year Winner: 2017 Yamaha GP1800 WaveRunner
Possibly, at no time in the past decade did “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” hold more truth in the personal watercraft industry than with Yamaha’s 2017 GP1800 WaveRunner. Internet naysayers had less than two months to besmirch the new GP1800 before the performance aftermarket started rolling out tuning results. 79, 80, 81…84 miles per hour all with an air ribbon delete and an ECU tune. Toss in an intercooler upgrade and a repitched prop, and the GP1800 was capable of 86mph all day long. And that was just what the runabout did in a straight line.
On the race course, the GP1800 has famously and consistently beaten everything. Pilots earned multiple world titles at the IJSBA World Finals. The GP1800 reigned supreme throughout the AquaX USA tour. At the annual Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore enduro, the GP charged through 5-foot-plus Pacific chop to clinch the championship. The combination of the industry’s largest-displacement supercharged four-cylinder 4-stroke, and the lightest mid-sized runabout hull makes the GP1800 an unstoppable juggernaut. In fact, the GP inspired more racer defections from competing brands than any single machine in a long, long time.
Frills free and priced to kill at $13,999, the 2017 GP1800 literally sold out its production run by mid-June. So successful was this machine among enthusiasts and racers alike that it climbed to the 6th place in the Top 10 highest selling personal watercraft for 2017. That’s a massive feat, especially for a high performance supercharged, race-bred watercraft. (Not the typical stuff for the mainstream.) The unparalleled success of the GP1800 both on the showroom floor and the buoy course is truly impressive and truly a worthy recipient of this year’s Watercraft of The Year award. Congratulations!