History Of Jet Ski
© Dan Vojtech

History Of Jet Ski

A look back at the origins of our most coveted personal watercraft.
Written by Red Bull Kuwait
4 min readPublished on
We have to admit, there’s nothing like traversing the open waves on a jet ski. Once you try it, you feel like there’s never been anything like it, plain and simple.
The jet ski went from a novelty personal watercraft early on in its lifecycle to a beach fad, a phenomenon, to being the standard for all personal watercraft, and finally, a seminal part of the pro racing circuit. Like a motorcycle speeding through water, it is one piece of equipment that many athletes and weekend warriors simply cannot live without.
We should get into how jet skis got started. But before that, let’s make a quick distinction about the name of the watercraft. The Jet Ski (caps) is a trademark of Kawasaki, and jet ski is the general name we all use for this type of watercraft. Now, that we are all square, let’s ski on into the main bits.
Let’s start off by thanking an American inventor for the plans (the idea! The designer!) and a Japanese company for bringing the concept to the big market.
Occasionally also called a water scooter (the original phrasing), the first personal watercraft (or PWC) was the brainchild of Clayton Jacobson II, who further developed the idea of an older and less sophisticated series of models that were built in Europe during the 1950s. His first model was the Bombardier Sea-Doo, a name that we all know well. These were not mass-produced and so there was a limit on how many people could buy one, but that was just the start of it.
After a few years, Kawasaki reached an agreement with Sea-Doo to use Jacobson’s designs, and they finally released the first commercially popular model, in 1973, the Kawasaki JS400 Jet Ski. They sold over 200,000 of this model and the jet ski craze took off! This was the beginning of an obsession and led to jet skis being popular in coastal towns and holiday destinations, making them a common sight on the waves from then on.
The Jet Ski and Sea-Doo were easy to maneuver, maintain, and, frankly, were too fun to pass up once you could get your hands on one.
After the initial surge of success of the Sea-Doo by Jacobson as the first commercial model, and Kawasaki’s Jet Ski, then other major companies made their own models, and we’ve all seen them if not owned or driven them around on our beach days.
Yamaha invented the WaveRunner 500, with its first model hitting the waves 1986, which, like woah, has more than a decade passed already between this and the original 2 models? Yes, yes, it has.
We’ve also got heavy hitters Honda with their model, the AquaTrax, all of which are sound choices on the open waves. And even though the arena is bigger, what we want is the same. It’s the smooth, powerful, quick maneuvers of the personal watercraft that we hold dear.
Just like the dirt bike, the jet ski models also all have a lot in common, looking very similar in their overall design. But there is one that stands out, and that’s the standing jet ski. Invented by Kawasaki, also in the 1970s, this is the model we most closely associate with pro racers and people who get serious about the sport. Though less true now than before, we still consider this a more difficult model since the lack of seating means more legwork and balance is needed, especially on the landing after a wave jump.
Athletes make the sport what it is. We’ve got our very own top racer, Mohammed Burbayea, who has ruled the pro jet ski scene, securing more than 150 career trophies and is a Guinness World Record holder for most JSBA victories.
Mohammed Burbayea Poses for a Portrait
Mohammed Burbayea Poses for a Portrait
In the late 1990s pro racing began to really hit its stride, and today the forecast is healthy, and we believe that this is still only just the beginning in terms of the professional racing circuit. The tech is still considered new, and the best is yet to come.
We await more events that incorporate jet ski racing and other related events, like Red Bull Bar Bahr, and the IJSBA jet ski races.
And until then, we will see you out on the water.