Story by DinaRella / Photos by DinaRella, M. Ciasulli, B. VanDine & J. Murray
Oops they did it again! First, we stared in amazement at Skater’s 438 “coming out party” cats Rockette and G-Force, and then we cheered when Matt Rice and Tyler Miller (of Supercat class M-Con racing fame) claimed the next two hulls. This year Christmas came early on in April when Skater Powerboat’s proprietor Peter Hledin and his dedicated team decked the Lake Havasu halls… or rather docks and street blocks, gifting the fortunate entourage of attendees at Super Cat Fest West and Desert Storm with finished hull No. 5.
Holiday or not, when the jolly red and lime green offshore ornament greets you, its presence is a present, above all, when the dual-calibration 1350/1100 engines start to jingle. Singled out on Skater’s website as “a 388 on steroids,” the latest 438 was handed over to its new owner, the one-and-only, horsepower-obsessed Mike Ciasulli, aka Skater Mike. Hailing from Green Brook, New Jersey, the aficionado of all-things fast, from the asphalt to the air to the aqua, happens to also be a prior 388 owner.
Half way through writing this story, as I sat at the computer mesmerized by the sunset stealing my attention or should I say blinding me through the window on Acoma Blvd, I got that call no writer wants. On the other end of the line, I heard, “Ciasulli put the new 438 Skater up for sale.” The boat is a beast and requires a crew of three or four, and Ciasulli is at a point where he’s looking to simplify not multiply the demands of time out on the water; not to mention, his twins Ashley who is a senior red belt in karate and Brianna who is a gifted artistic drawer, keep him and his wife Elena busy with their 12-year-old-girl goings-on. Regardless of whose hands the Skater stands in and eventually lands in… the 438 story must go on!
When Jeff Murray of Outlaw Boat Transport arrived in Arizona with the prodigious powerboat straight from the flagship’s Douglas, Michigan, headquarters for Super Cat Fest West’s premier Lake Havasu City edition, Ciasulli’s 438 got more eyes than an optician. Adding to the fanfare making the debut all the more memorable – not only was the event destination a newbie and the “cat just let out of the bag,” but the 12,000-pound feline came to town on the first 88 degree tilt trailer out the Skater door following a year of construction under the direction of Jorge Contreras. Ogle-worthy and racking up its own 88 degree acclaim; RDP was there for the presentation of both radical 2021 conversation pieces.
Titillating 88 Degree Tilt
Head of rigging Bobby VanDine, had a busy week in Havasu, between lending support to the Skater Nation fun runners’ needs, and tending to my probing him with questions for insight into the traits and trifling tribulations of the triple-axle titan. “Engineered from scratch, the deciding factor with designing the new prototype was to get the boat tilted farther down and still be inside the legal transport window without having to pull oversize permits. We crafted a unique system for tilting that uses a double hydraulic with a knuckle link to get the deck to drop down deeper,” said VanDine. He then added, “The trailer measures 13 feet 4 inches with the beam being 12 feet. This is unheard of. Finding axles was difficult. They don’t make anything like what we needed, so we had to buy larger full length capacity axles and cut then down to create the correct size.”
When the trailer was on display at the street parties, the most repeated question being asked was: What about the fluids when it’s tilted? VanDine responded, “With the dry-sump system, the tanks are placed below the engines, so when the boat is tilted, the fluids are kept in by gravity and all the systems are vented to the high side of the boat. Really the only issue was with the power steering fluid line which needed to be longer and was a simple fix.”
Skater is hoping to expand its trailer department with the game-changer, which stickers near $220,000 dollars. Next up, prepare to see the Outerlimits Hurry Up!!! moving from sea to shining sea on an 88 degree slant; Laurie and Jason Moe are in line for the second build, expected to be complete and rolling down the roads within a month.
Skater 438 Styling
In terms of size, it may seem obvious the 438 is a ten percent scaled-up magnification of the 388, but really there’s much more to it. In addition to the ten percent longer, flatter running surface, ten percent deeper tunnel, and ten percent wider sponson… the best part is the steeper sides deliver 438 owners an undaunted and indomitable rough-water riding watercraft and improved efficiency is noted when set up properly due to the under 4 percent prop slip. (Remember, slip is the difference between the actual and theoretical distance the prop will travel in one complete revolution and does not measure the efficiency of the propeller.)
Another design highlight of the 438 is the double dihedral bottom step angle which increases the lateral stability of the boat. Hitting up VanDine for an accurate and discerning depiction, he explained, “Basically it was a hydrodynamic trial that turned out well. If you look at the back of the boat, it comes up from the tunnel on an angle and then you get your lifting strake so it flattens out. The back is at 12 degrees and after the strake it goes to 24 degrees, whereas most boats continue at the same angle all the way up. With the 438 it changes angles after you get past the strake.”
Adding up all the aforementioned ten percent amplifications, the 438 equals a 100 percent damn perfect powerboat and credit must be given to the entire crew including builders – Ross O’Connor, Erwin Besic and Mike Veldoff – all of whom were instrumental in its conception. So when the time is right to reach in your pocket, base pricing begins at $800,000 and bumps up to an all-boxes-ticked $1.3 million dollars. Ciasulli’s creation includes many of those boxes, as you will see.
“Craig Ellis at Appearance Products came through with an off-the-chart interior,” said the very content Ciasulli. The spectacular detailing of the custom Alcantara covered eight-seat cockpit jumps right out at you from the Skater logos running down the side panels to the stitching of the rear seat grab handles. Planning and implementation of the sweet splashes of red, green and black were put into the hands of Chris Mills at Boat Customs and finalized in-house by Steve and Jake Schulte. The collaboration calls for a celebration, from the boat’s fine shine to the lime lines, Ciasulli is thrilled,” I had seen an Outerlimits with the red and green and it caught my eye. That bright green adds a special touch that really makes the 438 stand out.”
Apart from a 141-mph sea trail on Lake Michigan, the tenacious warrior’s virgin voyage went down on Saturday of Super Cat Fest. And what a day it was; winds hit a howling 27 mph. Edging away from the protected waterfront of the London Bridge Resort with Ciasulli behind the helm and throttleman Jim McIntrye by his side, the Skater blew through the whipping outbursts over the white caps which greeted the feisty cat by Windsor State Park launch ramp and continued to the end landing-place – the Pirate Cove Resort party with pop punk band LIT.
Luckily, by late afternoon, the only remaining rock-n-roll was roaring out of the speakers from the band on stage and not by Mother Nature. The wind and water calmed down for the return dash and while the throttles of the freshly-soaked Skater were not nudged to their possible 175 mph in 1350 mode, opening day digits were dialed up to a solid first-time of 151 mph. This was not Ciasulli’s first waterway rodeo and he had nothing to prove since crossing finishing lines at the front of the pack comes as second nature for the 62 year old; therefore, a buck and a half was good enough for smiles on board and bragging rights into the night.
Ciasulli – A Speed Savant from Early On
An automotive industry mogul and accomplished speed-savant, Ciasulli really needs no introduction! When the successful owner of Maxon Auto Group on Route 22 in Union, New Jersey, first started out at age 26, he was the youngest dealer in the nation. No doubt his father Robert taught him well. At the height of his career in the 1960s, his dad owned more than 20 car dealerships and was the force behind General Motors largest facility, Maxon Pontiac.
But chances are, if you’re reading this you probably don’t know him as Mr. Ciasulli from a Hyundai or Mazda purchase, but rather chatting with “Skater Mike” or combating the waves alongside him at one of the six or so poker runs he tries to hit each year, predominately on the East Coast.
Growing up surrounded by automobiles, Ciasulli’s attraction to speed was born out of his love for fast cars. This led him to the start line where he began tearing it up on the track early on. Having connections with GM, in 1985 he began as a Pontiac driver for five years and then moved into an Oldsmobile to compete in the Trans Am series. During his stint with Oldsmobile, none other than Paul Newman was one of his teammates. Ciasulli characterized him as, “A private but friendly and grounded person who was an extremely talented racer, as well as actor.”
Heading into the new millennium, Ciasulli switched things up climbing into an exotic Ferrari he campaigned in the Ferrari Challenge series for two years, before reverting back to burn more rubber in an American model Corvette. His biggest racing highlight was achieved in 2002 when he won the 24 Hours of Daytona in the purpose-built Vette. Soon after, he met his wife Elena and moved on from car racing. The Prancing Horse badge remains his favorite – preferably in white –and today two decades later, he can be spotted dancing up and down the Garden State Parkway in a 2020 Portofino.
Ciasulli’s connection to fast boats actually started prior to the car thing in the early 80’s and in the same fashion – on the professional race course. His slicing and dicing action on the liquid track was alongside his brother Tim in their 33’ Sutphen Miss Maxon. Cherished races for the Ciasulli bros included running the legendary Benihana Grand Prix in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, in Modified class and a second place finish during the equally-famed world championship showdown in Key West.
Tim then moved on to race the 46-footer Skater Planetman. Offshore racing buffs might remember featured cameos from Beverly Hills 90210 actor Jason Priestly in the driver’s seat, but the moniker stems from his Planet Honda car dealership. Ciasulli ventured over to the powerboating for pleasure side of the spectrum. He started with a Sleekcraft jetboat and funnily enough it was so long ago, we both had to Google the proper name of the brand while on the phone for this interview because he and I couldn’t remember!
Ciasulli’s hop into hip high-performance crafts commenced with a 33’ Scarab before wrapping his hands around the wheel of a 38’ Cigarette equipped with dual 700-hp Rickie Zul engines. He held onto the Top Gun for three years, and then in 2010 kissed his V-bottom life goodbye when buying his first Nor-Tech 36 cat mated with Mercury Racing 1075 stern drives. Once you go cat you don’t go back… in 2014 Ciasulli was initiated into the Skater Nation tribe when sliding into his first Skater 388 powered by Mercury Racing 1350s and M8 drives. He hasn’t looked back since, nor does he need to!
“Skater Powerboats are tried and true race hulls and the pleasure boat versions incorporate that race DNA into the hull construction. The company makes the best bottoms. Period! Peter (Hledin) is like the godfather of catamarans and Tony Cutsuries and the entire staff are so talented,” professed the happy twin-hull owner who’s clearly sold on Skaters.
As a pilot and previous owner of an A36 Bonanza, Ciasulli’s passion will always be flying – only nowadays it’s fueled by soaring in speedboats and not piloting planes. Only time will tell whether he remains in the 438 or comes out roaring in a different animal. The fun part is speculating on what the fly guy’s next move will be!