Test event returns thanks to aftermarket support

SBT, Watercraft Superstore revive testing format in Tampa

With consumer publications all but gone in the PWC industry, dedicated magazine events that attempt to give the consumer actual testing and evaluation info have become a thing of the past.

It’s a situation that at least one group of industry players would like to see change. SBT founder Greg Pickren and Watercraft Superstore head John Salvatore recently spearheaded an effort to revitalize the testing format, inviting Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Yamaha to bring their newest models to a day-long testing event. The result, dubbed the first annual Skyway Ski Show, recently took place in the shadow of that iconic Florida bridge on the waters of Tampa Bay.

Though far smaller in scope, in many ways the event followed the lead of Watercraft World magazine’s long-running Dream Demo. Each of the three craft — Kawasaki’s Ultra LX, Sea-Doo’s RXP-X 260 and Yamaha’s FX Cruiser SHO — was ridden and evaluated by a team of test riders, all of whom brought a mix of riding styles, experience and needs to the event.

Jim Craig, a PWC enthusiast who was on the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. hockey team that won Olympic gold in Lake Placid, N.Y., joined the Skyway Ski Show in Tampa Bay.

Included in the mix were two celebrities: 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic gold-medal-winning hockey goalie Jim Craig and Playboy Miss October 2011 Amanda Cerny. Craig is an avid PWC and jet boat enthusiast, while Cerny is the current SBT calendar girl. Additional panelists included a mix of active

PWC enthusiasts, including PWCToday moderator Stephanie Mosny, Jet Trendz owner Brett Wiley and JetSkiJunkies.com creator Kev Hemingway.

“After Dream Demo went away with the demise of Watercraft World magazine, a lot of us in the industry thought there would never be another time when skis from each of the manufacturers would be brought together for a selection committee to evaluate, and ultimately choose a favorite,” explained Salvatore, who orchestrated much of the event. “We see a need for this type of testing in the industry, and we’re hoping to grow this event to the point where we can test multiple craft from each manufacturer’s line.”

The two companies appear to have at least Kawasaki and Sea-Doo’s support. Both manufacturers provided craft, as well as support staff, and indicated they will be back next year. Yamaha was the lone manufacturer to not actively participate. Cycle Springs, a local multi-line dealer, provided the Yamaha FX.

While in-depth craft evaluations will be the result of the project, it wasn’t a head-to-head contest between the participants. Each boat occupied a different class, and was invited because it is the newest offering each manufacturer offered in its line. According to Salvatore, the Ski of the Year will reflect the craft that best showcases the longstanding criteria of innovation, consumer appeal and market impact, as well as other hallmarks like appearance, value, quickness, speed and handling.

Amanda Cerny, Playboy Miss October 2011 and SBT calendar girl, was one of the celebrity test riders at the event.

Will the return of such testing benefit the consumer? Event test rider Hemingway says yes, primarily because the opinions are coming from enthusiasts.

“We revere the opinions of our rock-star pro riders, but it is equally important to embrace the recreational rider’s perspective,” Hemingway said. “As we know, not all skis are built equally, and some perform stronger in race platforms versus rec riding and vice versa. The great part of having an evaluation by mainstream riders is you get an idea of what works in the conditions you normally ride in. You get an understanding of whether the steering is mounted too high or low, if the reverse is on the wrong side, the comfort of the ride, fuel economy, storage, features, the size of the machines and overall muscle.

“Having an actual enthusiast with time and experience not only in the industry, but in most riding conditions, can really get you thinking about each machine and how they will be in the big picture of the everyday rider.”

In turn, that information should help the dealer by allowing a more informed consumer to come through the door.

The Skyway Ski Show in Tampa Bay brought together a variety of testers.

“It helps, as far as looking at them side by side and seeing what some of the feedback is on the different models,” said Tom Baden, on the sales staff at M&M Motorsports in Kalamazoo, Mich. “It eliminates some of the questions a customer may have on the different models, shows how they compare and stack up against each other.

“I’d like to see the shootouts come back. I know they do it on the motorcycle side quite a bit. They serve as kind of a guideline to help people out.”

Andy Nelson, general manager at Havasu Powersports in Lake Havasu, Ariz., agrees.

“Consumers really do a lot of research on a product before they buy. I find it helps my consumer on their side, which in turn helps me. They’re more educated; they have a better idea of what product they’re looking for; they have some research material they can get their hands on.

“It also helps me from a dealership perspective. A lot of times we’re busy and don’t get an opportunity to get out and ride them. It’s nice to have another opinion from an unbiased third-party until we’re able to get out there and ride them ourselves.”

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