Once I was out in the open water, it was time to see what the Jet Ski could do. A pull of the throttle initiated a big thrust of acceleration. I could feel the supercharged engine bite down on the water, and the Jet Ski moved forward. For the first ten minutes or so of riding, I was constantly overcorrecting my direction, so the Jet Ski wallowed from side to side. The more I corrected, the worse it got, and I released the throttle in an attempt to get back on course. Without any power, I had no directional control. I’d glide to a stop, then start the whole process over again. I was frustrated – I won’t lie. I asked for help, and one of the Kawasaki riders told me to stay on the throttle and to trust the Jet Ski to maintain directional stability. I relaxed my death grip on the handlebars, gently pulled in the throttle and let the Jet Ski come up to speed. The Kawasaki rider was right – the Jet Ski smoothed out, went straight and rode over the waves instead of getting bogged down. My frustration went away, and I was able to enjoy the ride. A lot. I played around with the trim control, which points the water jet up or down in increments up to 8 degrees, adjusting the Jet Ski’s stance in the water for a smoother ride. I quickly learned that standing up at the helm makes the ride much more tolerable in rough water, much like standing on the pegs of a dirt bike keeps you from getting beaten up from bouncing on and off the seat. Your legs act as the Jet Ski’s suspension, absorbing shocks that would otherwise travel right up your spine.
After an hour or so of riding, I noticed that my cruising speed had increased to about 44 miles per hour, around the limit of the SLO key. So I decided to try out the full power green key. Getting the engine’s full response under my throttle was incredible. I had to hold on for dear life, so powerful was the thrust from idle. After just a few minutes, I swapped back to the SLO key, which was plenty of power for me on my first ever day on a Jet Ski.
All that power means that the Jet Ski Ultra 310 is capable of a lot more than just racing around all day. It can carry three people with ease. It can be used to tow a water skier or tuber across the surface. With its 59-gallon storage compartment, the Ultra 310 can carry an amazing amount of gear. I could imagine loading up with camping supplies and a tent and using the Jet Ski to explore coastal inlets and rivers.
Kawasaki builds a few variants of the Jet Ski Ultra 310. The base model, the Ultra 310X ($15,299); the Ultra 310X Special Edition ($15,799) with a sport seat and fancy graphics: the Ultra 310R ($16,299), which has motocross-style handlebars, sport seat and its own fancy graphics; and the Ultra 310LX ($17,990), which adds Jetsound, a system that can play MP3 files from a memory stick, or line level sound from an iPod or other music player. A thoughtful level of waterproofing is included, with a gasket-sealed compartment and watertight holders for the equipment – but I’d still be careful about bringing expensive electronics on board.
Jet Ski’s main competitors are the Yamaha WaveRunner FX Cruiser SVHO and Sea-Doo RXT-X aS 260. Honda backed out of the personal watercraft market in 2010, and hasn’t made any noise about returning. There are a few other boutique manufacturers competing as well. The technological gap between the Wave Runner, Sea-Doo and Jet Ski is thin, but Kawasaki is currently running away in the horsepower wars. The Ultra 310 is the most powerful production personal watercraft on the market today. The horsepower bragging rights would mean nothing if the Jet Ski wasn’t also beautifully crafted, thoughtfully designed and enticingly rideable.
I don’t know if Kawasaki has made a personal watercraft rider out of me or not. I am still in love with the relative convenience and usability of a motorcycle, and I can almost convince myself that my motorcycle is a tool, not just a toy. For me, a Jet Ski would be just a toy, and I don’t live close enough to a place to ride that I’d get much use out of it. If you live near the ocean or a navigable river or big body of water, I’d definitely try renting a Jet Ski to see if you like the concept. You’ll know right away if it’s for you or not. If you decide that you want a personal watercraft, and you have to have the biggest, fastest, baddest one of all, the Jet Ski Ultra 310 is it.