We stumbled upon a neglected but original Kawasaki Jet Ski 400 in a backyard, surrounded by lush green grass. Despite being slightly weathered, the pride of its creation was still evident. This iconic watercraft was the first "jet-powered ski" conceptualized in the mid-60s by inventor Clayton Jacobson and brought to life in an aluminum hull. Kawasaki introduced a now-fiberglass "Jet Ski" to the market in 1973, with two styles - a v-hull that fizzled out, and the flat keel that became widely popular. Early adopters got into the sport for less than $1,000, intrigued by the concept of this new craft, which was perceived as everything from a water ski with an engine to a motorcycle built for water.
The Jet Ski's lifting handlepole and uniquely designed hull were instrumental in its early, albeit limited, success. The same hull design was responsible for an entire generation of machines as the trend caught on and spread beyond the shores of sunny Southern California. Kawasaki introduced the more practical, larger displacement Jet Ski 440 in 1977, followed by the 550 in the early '80s, considered a truly "big bore" machine for the time. Kawasaki even experimented briefly with a single-cylinder, under-300cc design, all housed within the same fiberglass form that symbolizes an entirely new sport.
While others eventually joined the bandwagon, this stand-up craft forever defined them, with the trademark "jet ski" becoming synonymous with personal watercraft. The original Jet Ski hull is long gone, now a relic preserved by collectors, enthusiasts, and the occasional overgrown lawn. Today's stand-up hulls are bigger, more maneuverable, and better suited to a wider range of buyers. However, the original version will always possess "soul," an inherent quality that enticed an entire generation of riders onto the water, opened the doors, and stood guard for a longer period of this sport's history than any other.
That one green hull, now put out to pasture, made everything possible.
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