I need to start this review by coming clean about my jet ski experience: it’s non-existent. If I’m on the water, I’m fishing, and I have no problem sitting on the water for eight hours without a bite, never once feeling the need to travel at unnatural speeds, whip up white water or jump over lingering east coast swells. But then an opportunity came up to test two of the ‘skis in Kawasaki’s 2021 range and I knew it was time to step out of my reasonably paced, writing-friendly comfort zone. I also knew that I couldn’t do this review by myself, so was quickly on the phone to two tradies who know jet skis, quite literally, inside and out – sparky Dillon Barnett, Director of Top Sparx Electrical, and chippie Karl Bradley, who owns and operates Kiwi Diggers.

I spent day one of testing with Dillon Barnett at Orakei, Central Auckland, and I contented myself with taking photos, letting him take the two ‘skis for a spin. The first one off the trailer was the Kawasaki Jet Ski STX160 – a red and white bullet that was soon roaring across the water. Smaller than its cousin, the Jet Ski Ultra 310X, this model is built for fun. While I was amazed with the agility and acceleration I was witnessing, it’s Dillon who has the educated opinion – and his overall impression was extremely positive.

“It’s a good size that you can easily fit two adults on, but without the stability getting affected. Despite the size, the performance doesn’t change,” Dillon tells me back in the office.

“The four-stroke engine is smooth and quiet, and also has a lot of pickup from the standstill. You get straight out of the water, which is a huge difference between this and some of the older models. Because it’s not too heavy, this allows it to accelerate quicker and be more manoeuvrable.

“The value for money is really good,” he continues, commenting that you get a lot of power for what is a very reasonably price in the Jet Ski world.

After having a good blat on the STX160, it was time to jump on the supercharged Ultra 310X. As soon as he clicked the ‘on’ button, we could both sense the power. There’s a reason it’s the world’s most powerful production Jet Ski. Again, Dillon was stoked with its overall performance, and particularly its stability.

“I could see how it could fit three people comfortably, which is great when you need to transport people. The trim feature is also really helpful, particularly when going on longer journeys, like to a remote fishing spot. The cruise control is another great feature when travelling long distances.”

Considering how powerful the ‘ski is, he also noted that he liked having the choice of a ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ key, as it means, in his words, “inexperienced riders will still be able to learn and enjoy the Jet Ski, while more experienced riders can embrace its full power.”

With the ‘ski’s back on the trailer, it was time to get some rest before an early start for day two of testing. The Ultra 310X was fully equipped for fishing, so I invited Karl to join me at dawn in Mahurangi to cast a line and give both models a run. 

While I’m not the best person to judge the more technical aspects of Jet Ski performance, I do feel qualified to assess the Ultra as a fishing platform. This assessment turned out to be extremely easy: it’s fantastic. We cruised out to Motuora Island at 60km/h with four rods in the holders and the IceyTek strapped to the back of my ‘ski. My initial expectation was that it’d fish similar to a kayak, on which you have to be careful about weight distribution, particularly when striking fish and turning to grab tackle from one of the compartments. This was certainly not the case. The ‘Ski is so stable that I spent most of my time fishing standing up and grabbing the rods from behind was no trouble at all. The two greatest advantages, though, were its manoeuvrability and speed. You can access all the tight spots that are usually only available to kayakers, but then move between spots at over 60km/h (or closer to 100km/h). With the ‘Ski starting at the push of the button, there’s no mucking around if you see birds in the distance, which is a huge advantage in autumn and spring in the Hauraki. 

The fishing on this day was slow, however, and it only took 30 minutes for me to realise Karl was definitely not there to fish. He was chewing at the bit waiting to put his ‘ski through its paces, so after hooking only one undersized snapper on my soft-bait, we shot back into calmer waters near Mahurangi – and then I saw why Karl was keen to stop fishing. The water didn’t stay calm for long. Waves erupted around the STX160 as he threw it around tight turns at shocking speeds. “How’re you finding it?” I asked. “Yeah good,” was his response, shooting off again. 

When I did have a chance to speak to him back on shore, he had a fair bit to say.

“I thought it was really powerful for what it was (a lighter ‘ski) – it goes a lot harder than mine. I was surprised by how hard it went.

“I found the STX160 nearly as fast as the supercharged Ultra. It’s still big enough to tow someone on the sea biscuit – a good all round ‘ski. For a modern ‘ski, you could still really make it slide whereas some other brands really bite. 

“The power to weight ratio is also very good – that motor could easily be in a heavier ski. This makes it a far better experience and way more fun. It means you can bolt out of a turn and accelerate away quickly.”

Karl’s only negative comment was about the forward and reverse lever, which he found a little clunky. But funnily enough, this was one feature Dillon particularly liked, which for him made launching and retrieving easy.

When we swapped ‘Skis, Karl was equally impressed by the bigger model, and like Dillon, commented about how great it would be for day trips further abroad. His exact words were, in fact, “It’d be perfect for taking the girlfriend and a chilly bin to Waiheke.” A great show of imagination from Karl, who is in reality, and not for lack of trying, very much single.

So what about my own less qualified impression of the ‘Skis? Throughout the couple of hours of fishing and photographing, my confidence on these powerful ‘Skis had grown, and something amazing started happening: I actually enjoyed riding them – and not with a fishing destination in mind, but just riding for the sake of riding. There’s an old saying I never trusted: “They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but have you ever seen a sad person on a jet ski?” But when I was travelling at 100km/h, skimming across the water, cruising through my mate’s wake, I can confirm that I was about as far away from ‘unhappy’ as humanly possible. 

Article by: Ethan Neville