In the interest of full disclosure, I confess I was predisposed to hate the Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F. Years of being buzzed by thyroid-controlled teenagers, screaming around like noisy gnats on their so-called personal watercraft while I tried to relax on the waves, had created within me a conditioned abhorrence.
Then I rode one.
The STX-15F is a Jet Ski for grownups, a watercraft that's personal in every sense of the word. Not only is it a big three-passenger, sit-down model comfortable and spacious enough for those of, let's say, adult bulk, the craft has an exceptional stability in waves and at high speeds that makes it feel like a serious mode of transportation rather than something with which to annoy your neighbors on the water. The Kawasaki Smart Steering system keeps you in control by providing the thrust needed to turn even when you've inadvertently let off the throttle. It makes turning easier for new riders but doesn't adversely affect those who are experienced.
Equipped with abundant storage space, a 16.4-gallon fuel tank and a four-stroke engine that runs on standard gasoline, the STX-15F struck me as craft built for long-distance touring. Able to run in depths as shallow as two feet, yet stable in waves, it seems perfect for exploring shallow rivers and traversing open seas. And, indeed, that's a major direction in which the sport has been taken. One adventurous soul started in Chicago, went through the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean, down to New Orleans, up the Mississippi and through canals to make a round trip to the Windy City.
This is not to say that this is a tame Jet Ski. With a 1,498cc, digitally fuel-injected engine, it's Kawasaki's highest performing four-stroke craft, easily able to top 60 mph. It's based on the platform of the race-inspired Jet Ski 1200 STX-R model that sped to victory at the Motosurf national championship in 2003. As well as having all the throttle response and cornering ability to splash your friends if you so choose, it has enough thrust to pull a water skier in its wake.
Nevertheless, the STX-15F is PC enough to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's strictest standards as well as the California Air Resources Board's through 2008. It also reduces noise (and complaints) by producing power at relatively low rpms. And that, my son, makes for a very grownup personal watercraft.