Rider Review of New Kawasaki SX-R1500
Never Judge a Book by its Cover
By: Riff Del Pardo
Photos: Kawasaki USA
In 2005, I had the opportunity to be one of the first non-Hydrospace employees to ride the Hydrospace. I wrote the first ride report on the Hydrospace S4 110 that night and posted it to the PWCtoday forum boards where it can still be read there to this day, just google “Riff’s Hydrospace Review.” In hindsight, I think my review has stood the test of time. I made a few bold claims but one never came to fruition: I expected the four-stroke turbo twin cylinder powered ski to usher in an era of 80 mph standups. I was wrong on that one. Fast forward a decade and I am here to write another “first ride” review. And again, I’ll be making bold predictions about the potential of a new ski. This time I am sure I’ll be right when it comes to 80+ mph skis, but time will tell if my other, even bolder, prognostications will come to be.
Today I am writing about the new Kawasaki SX-R1500, equally the lightning rod topic that the Hydrospace was back in 2005, but for different reasons. The 2 skis share similarities in how the public has reacted to them. They Hydrospace was seen as a villain that would destroy the sport, and today similar feelings are felt about the new SX-R. Yes, the Hydrospace hurt the sport, not because it existed, but because of how it was introduced into the racing scene. And as the IJSBA has already announced, they will be learning from their past mistakes, so kudos to them.
As with most things in this world, we all want progress, but we only want it done on our terms. Make no mistake about it, this new Kawasaki is progress for the sport. I am not paid to say that. I am no longer a sponsored racer with something to gain from sugar coating anything. So I ask you to keep an open mind as you read this article, and give this ski a ride before passing judgment. In my opinion, if this ski does not succeed, it could mean the end of standups for good, and quite possibly the biggest missed opportunity in this sport since the standup was originally killed off in 1996. This time around, there’s no sanctioning body or evil OEM to blame. We’ll have to look in the mirror.
I haven’t ridden much since I stopped racing 10 years ago. I own a nice new Yamaha Superjet that I rode for the first time last summer despite owning it for several years. Up until this week I hadn’t been on the water for a solid 6 months. So when I ventured down to Body Beach the last thing I thought I’d be doing was riding the industry’s newest hot topic. And I certainly did not think I’d be able to get a good impression from it due to my own rust.
Like most of you, I had preconceived notions of the ski. I was at the IJSBA World Finals when the ski was revealed and nothing about it made me want to give up my Superjet. The SX-R1500 is big. That’s no secret. And I am not a fan of its looks while it is on the stand/trailer. But I’ll admit when on the water, it begins to look more proportionate. The odd high bond line is hidden and the overall length of the ski does not jump out at you anymore. Some predicted that this ski would mean the end of closed course racing because with its size, it was built for offshore. Oh how wrong we all were.
After staring at the ski for a few minutes I was offered a chance to give it a few laps. The ski in question had handlebars, R&D scoop grate, R&D rear sponsons, and a R&D ECU reflash. That was the extent of the modifications, minimal stuff at a minimal cost but I believe they had a big impact on the ski’s performance..
I rode for about 30 seconds on my knees, just getting a feel for the throttle response. Then I stood up and started to hit the buoy course and the first thing I noticed was most of what I was expecting from the ski was wrong. The ski did not feel tall as I expected from the uniquely high bond line and it did not feel big. Quite frankly, in terms of length/weight/width it felt like most of the new privately manufactured racing standups that have taken over the racing scene these past few years. Granted, I haven’t ridden much the last decade, so maybe my opinion doesn’t mean much, but here is why maybe it should. After less than half a lap on the ski I forgot how long it’s been since I had ridden. I forgot that I am grossly out of shape and should be rusty. I forgot that I thought the ski was big and ugly. I got on the back straightaway and pinned it. The ski took off like a well-tuned race ski should, drove thru the chop at 64 mph, and I hit the next corner as if I’d been riding the ski all week. I had completely lost myself. I just started hammering the thing buoy to buoy. The ski is plenty nimble. It leans, it sweeps, and it can be turned sharp. It did not feel heavy at all. The fact is, it was fun, really fun.
I fell in love with the ski. As I idled it back to the shore I was doing the math on how soon I could buy one. 64 mph with just a ECU reflash? My only frustration with the ski was that I never felt scared on it. I started to wonder if I’d still enjoy the ski after a week of riding it if there was no challenge. I asked my mechanic how soon we could throw a turbo kit on one. I want to feel what 85 mph on a standup is like. Surely that will get my adrenaline going.
There is a lot to like about this ski. Sure, you can nitpick the aesthetics if you’d like, some did that with the original SX-R800. The cold hard truth is this: it’s revolutionary in that it has the capacity to rebuild the racing scene. Ask yourself what it costs to build a standup that goes 60+ reliably. Can most racers even ride a 64 mph ski to its potential for more than a few turns? Let’s use road racing as an example. Few people on the planet can rip around Mugello on a Ninja ZX-10R at race pace, but does that prevent the average Joe from being able to simply ride a motorcycle down the street? Of course not. And when a potential PWC buyer sees a runabout on the showroom floor is racing the first thing that comes to mind? Nope. But like the supersport bike, when someone sees a standup they always think RACING. This new SX-R is the first standup jetski that virtually anyone can rec ride, yet still has a purpose on the racetrack. It truly is a versatile ski that the rec rider can take up and down the Colorado River or the racer can have fun racing. Let me repeat that last part, “have fun RACING”.
Ask yourself how many laps do races actually last? I’ll tell you, they last 2 laps. The rest of the time the field is barely able to hold on to their ski. Passing is rare and most of the time it’s due to fatigue, not from rider error or actual bar to bar action. The lack of passing is a big reason why the sport has no spectators outside of the bored family member you dragged to the races.
Now imagine this, standups that reliably run in the mid 60’s with minor modifications at a cost of around $12k. A ski that more people think they can be competitive on at a cheaper cost will mean more racers. And at those speeds, while the ski may be easier to ride, I am going to predict more mistakes are made due to the new speeds. Races will be won by actually racing, not by attrition. Wouldn’t it be excited to see 20 pros line up to do battle on forced induction standups that are hitting 85 mph on the back straight away? Who loses in this scenario? What is there to not like about the potential of the new SX-R1500? Are you worried that now “anyone can do it”? This ski is not a runabout with a pole. I know seasoned pro racers that are scared at the prospect of doing 80+ on a standup. So spare me the argument that this sport just got “too easy.” The sport just got faster and more accessible. Kawasaki is running television ads again. The last time they ran ads, to my knowledge, was 1993. If your only criticism of this ski is its size or looks might I suggest you take a step back and realize you’re not seeing the big picture here.
The fact is, with all the pros and cons, there is way more good about this ski than bad. That said, I’ll touch on a topic that is rather important to me because I believe it’s important to racing. I am a big fan of most motorsports. I know the best motorsports have healthy and competitive private teams. The current revival in PWC of the independent hull manufacturer has been good for the sport of racing. I imagine this new offering from Kawasaki will hurt sales of $35k standups. When Yamaha eventually provides their own four-stroke standup it’ll only get tougher for the “small guy”. If Sea-Doo gets involved in the standup game, which is highly likely, that would mean the independents may sell their last ski. I hope the independents find a way to stick around, maybe as factory supported race teams. Either way, we should not forget that the GP class and the independent hull manufacturer carried the torch and kept the standup alive when it was left for dead. I’ll always respectfully appreciate their contributions to the sport. Ultimately though, if we ever get back to having 3 major manufacturers competing for standup ski sales, that means this sport is headed in a hugely positive direction.
While on the trailer, the new SX-R1500 does not look like the traditional standup. So what. Traditionally, this has been a niche sport that has barely been able to survive. It’s time to let go of all the traditions and give NEW a chance. That goes for everyone: the racers, the promoters, and the sanctioning bodies. What’s been done before has not been working. The new proposed class structure is aimed at keeping the older skis everyone has invested in still viable while gently introducing this new standup. That’s something never before (RIP the X-2, Blaster, Ski Stock class circa 2000-04, etc). I apologize that this article has been less of a ride review and more of an Op-Ed on the standup as I see its role in the sport today. I rode the new Kawasaki for only 3 laps. It’s all I needed to have my mind blown and push me to write this article. In my opinion, the ski is way better than anyone who has not ridden it will give it credit for. I will not demand that you go buy one. With or without the skeptic, I think this ski will sell out quickly and Kawi will start an early run on 2018 production. But I do ask that you shake Kanamori & Fuzzy’s hands next time you see them. Remind them we’d all love an X-2F version. Encourage Yamaha to hurry up with their new Superjet. And if sales of standups are strong enough, we’ll be lucky enough to see Sea-Doo jump in the game.
The new Kawasaki is fast and fun and if you want it to be a challenge, there are plenty of forced induction options that have been through the development cycle on the runabouts that will easily be applicable on the SX-R1500.
-Reliable and fast
-Very well balanced at slow speeds and full throttle
-Turns at any angle well (not usually a characteristic of Kawasaki standups)
-Air induction is very good as it’s not dependent on the hood anymore
-The hood is extremely heavy but unlike the Hydrospace, you won’t need to get under the hood often and in my opinion heavy hoods make for better handling skis. Light hoods lower the center of gravity thus making skis harder to lean over. Just my opinion/preference.
-Approximately 27 minutes of run time on a buoy course (the SX-R800 was about 18 at wide open throttle racing)
-No more mixing oil
-This ski is allowed to ride everywhere (California!)
-Aftermarket engine mods are easy to find
-Rec riders will love the stability and instant confidence this ski inspires
-Racers will love the concept of actually being able to race every lap of their event
-Racers will love the new unheard of speeds. When racers are going 80+ and blowing past corners and passing is aplenty, nobody will miss the days of follow-the-leader racing
-Rear sponsons are a must have
-If you’re a racer I’d instantly add an aftermarket handlepole to help get weight forward
-This ski probably spells the end of the log jump at races but if it means more passing, I’ll make the tradeoff. Let’s face it, most just plow the log jump anyways
-I’d say weight is an issue but it didn’t feel heavy on the water
-I’d say size is an issue but it didn’t feel too big while riding it
-I’d say aesthetics are an issue but the ski’s performance won me over so I’m turning a blind eye
Like, Tag & Share!