Roots of Jet Skiing, Part 2 – World Exclusive

The early years
Bob Phares travel us to the early years of jet skiing, when the stand-up crafts could be picked up easily by two persons and ridden under any circumstances.

Source:Bob Phares
Photos:Bob Phares

Bob Phares explains in his own words the facts of jet skiing in the early days of the sport, the decade to seventies. Originally, he posted the facts on FB, however we took his written permission to publish them on separate stories on

Kawasaki JS400, 1974
Rare Jet Ski pictures a few at a time. I know it doesn't look it, but this is a blue '74 Kawasaki JS400. Picture taken at Snug harbor Carlsbad, CA. I have no idea why the umbrella…

First Jet Ski product designer, 1975
Jerry Richardson was one of the very first accessory manufacturers. In college he was studying design, so for projects he would design and make a Jet Ski product. Turn it in for school and sell it to pay for his education. Even his catalog was a project. This started in 1975. Loads of respect for Jerry (Jet Ski) Richardson.

Kawasaki Jet Ski released in 1976
In 1976 the Jet Ski was released for sale to the entire country. 1973, ‘74, ‘75 had been a test market time with only one Calif. dealer (Fox's Snug harbor) in Carlsbad and Dealers in Texas and Florida. The dealer meeting in Fall of 1975 was in the Bahamas and was the introduction for the Jet Ski to the Whole country. By then the Skis were being made in the new Lincoln Nebraska facility and at the time was the largest single piece of SMC product in the world. Goodbye fiberglass. I (Bob Phares) was District Manager of sales for Northern California at the time of the release. Here's some pics from that dealer meeting on Grand Island. That's me on left with John Derek and his wife Patty. John owned John D'S Kawasaki in Rio Linda CA.

Kawasaki JS440 Modified, 1977
I found some pictures of a friends ’77, JS440 that was made into a 474 dual side draft reed motor in Sacramento in 77. The guy that did it also started the rear exit exhaust. Jim Kinslow had a Jet Ski rental and did these modifications. I took these ideas to Kawasaki and showed them the rear exit exhaust. Everyone hated the front left exhaust hose. Kawasaki seemed disinterested but Ed Losinski (L&S) started doing these jobs too, mine as first. The red white 77 #36 boat in my picture. I will scan a few pics of Jarmin Coopers 474 dual reed side draft ski in a bit.

First race, 1977
In 1977 the first official jet ski Race was organized and put on by David Wiles from San Diego. It was a great day for those of us involved in the early years and laid the foundation for the forming of the USJSBA, later the ISJSBA. It was PERFECT! No, not in every way. Perfect that it was done. David planned an event held in a side bay in Mission Bay. Racing for stock and modified skis. Closed course with Lemans start, ski jump and Freestyle competition. Here are some pics from that day. I will also do another post to show more photos. Bob Soppeland, Steve Stricklin, Bob McCord at Mission Bay, San Diego 1977.

First race protest, 1977
Gotta have controversy at races and this boat brought that. The Snowmobile powered Dry piped entry from the R&D Team from Minnesota. First protest in Race history 1977. Even though the ski broke it was impounded, stripped down and found LEGAL. Made to race in 440 class (they tried to enter mod) as it was NOT a big block engine the stock 440's were upset. This engine was actually undersized. Stock 440 were about 30hp in 77. Snowmobiles ran as high as 100hp. It was VERY loud, fast and it broke.

Randy Milligan Poster boy for Kawasaki ‘79
Continue with information on the team at Whiskeytown Lake for the ‘79 photo shoot.
Riders Randy Milligan, Doug Silverstein, Terry Beatty, Bill Grey, Jordy Grey, Tracey Shelly, Fred Tunstall and his daughter work long days in and on the water. It was a blast. So here are a few more shots from then. Randy Milligan was the Poster Boy before me. He worked in Advertising, Public Relations and marketing at KMC (Kawasaki, USA) for many years. Shown jumping a wake in this picture. RIP Randy. We had more than one picture of Debra to choose from. And I figured you wouldn't mind seeing a few of her.

Debra Zulo, Kawasaki  ‘79 Poster
Most favorite photo, the ‘79 poster of Debra Zulo. Taken at Whiskeytown Lake CA.
Makes you wanna ride.

Sometimes we rode just for civic pride
Here, Paula Brethauer rides in parade of boats in Newport Balboa Bay. Paula, Rene and Jill part of our beautify the jet ski program.

So who was John D?
He was one of my customers in Rio Linda, CA. He also bought the second Jet Ski I brought with me to Norcal. At that dealership was a young MX racer named Larry Rippenkroeger and another named Tony Corry. You may recognize the names as Hall of Fame members and part of the rich Jet Ski history. Larry has graciously stated in interviews that I introduced him to Jet Skiing and I thank him for the props. I have had people say, "So you taught Larry to ride?" To be clear, I did take Larry riding and get him started, but how he rode, he taught himself. Then, he performed it beautifully on the International stage. Here are pictures of those famous riders. The "Ripper" and the "Torch". Great work guys.

error: Content is protected !!