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PWC event gets boost

Tampa’s Skyway Ski Show doubles in size in Year 2

What seemed like an interesting gamble in its first year — holding an independent PWC testing event and featuring the results not in a magazine or website but in a catalog — is starting to look more like a seasoned event in its second year.

Watercraft Superstore’s Skyway Ski Show returned to the waters of Tampa Bay, Fla., in early March, inviting a panel of independent testers to evaluate twice the number of watercraft featured in 2012. The results will be featured in the company’s upcoming 2013 catalog, as well as in a video documentary produced by longtime PWC industry videographer Wayne Smith.

It’s been a year since the first iteration of what SBT and Watercraft Superstore owner Greg Pickren dubbed the Skyway Ski Show, so named because it takes place in the shadow of Tampa Bay’s iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The first event attracted the support of Kawasaki and Sea-Doo, which each brought a single craft to the event. Without direct support from Yamaha, Tampa Bay-area dealer Cycle Springs Powersports stepped in to carry the load for the brand.

For 2013 that scenario stayed mostly the same. Kawasaki and Sea-Doo again threw their support behind the effort, with representatives from each of the manufacturers on hand to walk panelists through the features and benefits of each boat. Cycle Springs again handled that duty for Yamaha, as well as delivered the boats used by Kawasaki.

Shootout flavor

Watercraft Superstore’s Skyway Ski Show in Tampa Bay puts a variety of enthusiasts on the seat for performance reviews.

And yes, that’s boats, plural. While the initial show featured only one marquee machine from each manufacturer, the 2013 event doubled in size, with each manufacturer represented by two machines, one each in a flagship, “deluxe touring” category and an “introductory/recreational” segment. In that way the event itself turned into less of a show and into more of a shootout, with evaluators looking at entries from all three manufacturers in two of the most hotly contested segments of the market. The event will be a highlight of the WCSS catalog, which will again mix product with editorial.

“Two years ago we added editorial content, knowing there was a void in the market for watercraft magazines,” explained WCSS’s John Salvatore. “We believe our customers like having something to read to stay informed about our industry.”

This year, WCSS had added a digital version of the catalog as well, available online and for mobile devices.

This year’s event panelists revealed an effort to be even more reflective of the market’s target audience, representing everyone from the hardcore, frequent PWC rider to the non-PWC owner contemplating getting into the sport. Panelists included active riders Bob Sullivan and Glenn Goodman, the latter a former member of the Team USA wrestling team; fitness enthusiast Jodi Vetter; and former X Games champ Mike Frazier, a silver and gold medalist in skateboard vert doubles. Frazier carried on the event tradition of having a sports celebrity amongst its attendees, a role handled last year by Olympic hockey gold medalist Jim Craig. Rounding out the panel was the current SBT calendar girl, Nikki Leigh, Playboy’s Miss May 2012. All spent an entire day switching between the six craft, noting their strengths and weaknesses, and then rating each vehicle in terms of performance, handling, ergonomics and value.

Tim McKercher discusses some of the finer points of Sea-Doo models for a video during the Skyway Ski Show in Florida.

It’s information that Tim McKercher, on hand representing Sea-Doo, feels is vitally important.

“Watercraft Superstore is bringing a lot of truly insightful value to the readers of their catalog who are looking to purchase a new watercraft, but don’t have the opportunity to test them back-to-back-to-back,” McKercher said. “This is the only such test that has taken place in years and their content is golden and extremely valuable to the industry, and most importantly, to the consumer.

“The effort of Watercraft Superstore to provide customers with what has become the only head-to-head-to-head comparison of new watercraft has long been missed and supplies consumers with something real to gauge what model is best for them. With the complete lack of dedicated personal watercraft magazine-style media outlets — although there are a few up and comers — the consumer has little, truly informative comparison articles to help them base their future purchasing decisions from. Most marine publications’ product reviews now only highlight the good points and fail to point out the downfalls. If everything is said to be good, how can anybody pick what’s best for them? There are a handful of staged blogs that are pure propaganda but pop up in search engines. That confuses the consumers that much more.”


Valuable for consumers

Still, while recognizing the current value of the event, McKercher admits he would like to see it expand beyond the confines of the catalog in the future.

The event held on Tampa Bay in Florida attracts a range of participants, from longtime enthusiasts to first-time riders.

“The way this test is conducted is the right way, but we would love to see Watercraft Superstore actually partner with a media outlet to take this to the next level in the future for more in-depth testing. Third-party advocacy is extremely valuable. The event already is, but could be more of a win-win for everybody.”

The fact that the coverage is featured in a PWC parts and accessories catalog, in fact, is one of the primary reasons Yamaha has yet to support it.

“While we wish them the best of luck, we reached the conclusion that we can’t support a retailer outside the Yamaha dealer network,” explained Yamaha’s Andrew Cullen. “That doesn’t align with our business model and that of the dealers we support.”


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