Kawasaki is sending the 800 SX-R stand-up out with a bang, outfitting the final model year of this iconic craft with special colors and graphics, and adorning the hull with a commemorative badge that pays homage to the craft’s 37-year history.
The 2011 model, along with one of the original 1973 craft, was unveiled during the company’s 2011 dealer show in Las Vegas.
It’s hard to fathom that this is the end of the line for what many still consider the original “Jet Ski.” Introduced in a limited 500-model run in 1973, the original craft was small by today’s standards, sported a measly 27 hp, and featured a handmade fiberglass hull. Originally, that first model came in two different variations, distinguished by whether the hull sported a flat bottom (the WSAA) or a V-hull (the WSAB). The latter was quickly discontinued as it proved difficult to ride, and the flat-bottom hull became the signature Kawasaki design that would grace Jet Ski models for many years.
Full-scale production of the Jet Ski began in 1976, when the first yellow skis with a 398cc two-stroke powerplant began to roll off the assembly line at Kawasaki’s Lincoln, Neb., manufacturing plant. One year later, the JS440 was introduced. It featured a more powerful engine, and became the mainstay of the line for the next five years, becoming the workhorse for the growing race scene.
That same hull design was used for the JS550 in 1982. Featuring a 531cc engine, the 550 quickly gained in popularity. It was joined in 1986 by the single-cylinder JS300. In 1987, the JS300X introduced a new, more angular design into the market. Meanwhile the 650SX featured yet another new, larger look for the stand-up Jet Ski, along with the highest horsepower to date. Interestingly, it also brought back a V-hull design.
The last model to utilize most of the original Jet Ski design was the 550SX in 1990. In 1992, the 750SX introduced yet another new take on the stand-up hull and deck. A dual carburetor 750SXi would arrive in 1995. By 1998, the SXi Pro would most resemble the craft we know today. It would be replaced in 2003 by the 800 SX-R, which most pundits would agree offered the best, most aggressive handling of any Kawi stand-up. The 800 SX-R has been the best-selling stand-up model since 2007.
While the 2011 skis are fundamentally no different than the 2010 models, the colors and graphics mark a rather surprising departure for Kawasaki, which of late had dressed the craft in traditional, factory-oriented shades of green.
“For the 2011 model year, we wanted to offer a youthful and energetic color and graphic on the Jet Ski 800 SX-R,” explains Kawasaki Product Manager Croft Long. “We have enjoyed success with green/black/white graphics in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
“Since we want the last year of the 800 SX-R to be very successful sales for our dealers, but we just don’t have enough volume to offer multiple colors, we made the decision to ‘go bold’ with the red and black colors with a tribal graphic. This new look should attract some customers who maybe didn’t look at our model in the last couple of years, and we hope buyers who really prefer the green will be able to find noncurrent units to purchase.”
Why abandon a craft that launched the sport of PWC riding and racing? Certainly the popularity of sit-down models had something to do with it. The stand-up market share has been minimal.
The primary reason, however, lies in increasingly stringent federal emissions regulations. Already the craft has been banned from sale for several years in California and New York because of its two-stroke powerplant. The 800 SX-R, along with Yamaha’s standup model the SuperJet, theoretically should have gone the way of the dinosaurs in 2010, when two-stroke outboard engines were regulated out of existence. Kawasaki and Yamaha, however, effectively got a two-year pass from the Environmental Protection Agency. That bought both companies time, but that time officially runs out on Jan. 1, 2012. PSB