The SNEWSÂ® team -- which included eight editors -- spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene from the paddle tank to the climbing wall and even around the dusty and quiet corners of private rooms and hidden booths. Each week, through mid-September, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us and was ready for prime time, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, you were showing the product behind closed curtains which implied you didn't want us to talk about it, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on what's moving and shaking in the world of paddlesports:
It Takes a Village
If you're gonna go, go big. That seemed to be Watermark's approach to the Open Air Demo at this year's Summer Market. You couldn't help but notice the company's sprawling compound, the Watermark Village, on the grounds above Little Dell Lake. It was good to see the company putting so much oomph behind what has grown to be a vibrant event for the trade show. Central to the Watermark booth was an enclosed, air-conditioned tent in which the company was meeting with about 18 dealers every hour. The meetings covered not only new products, but much discussion on trends concerning the paddling consumer base and how dealers can more effectively reach customers. Watermark CEO Jim Clark said the dealer meetings and the large demo booth exemplified how the company is trying to strengthen its industry relationships and convey the brand's core values. "The dealer base continues to shrink, and there are fewer places to sell specialty product," he told SNEWSÂ®. "We want to work with retailers to find ways to put the 'special' back in specialty."
Of course, not everyone was enamored with Watermark's approach, including a number of exhibitors who complained to us that the loudspeaker that boomed over the water during part of each presentation was a bit intrusive.
"What if we all decided to do that, and we might for next year now that Watermark has set the tone?" one exhibitor who asked to remain anonymous commented. "It would turn the water into a loud and very competitive environment that we think would resemble a carnival more than a demo designed to help retailers."
We have to agree. As great as Watermark's event was, and we think the air-conditioned tent was an out-of-the-box fantastic idea that raised the bar of demo expectations from retailers considerably, Outdoor Retailer will have to manage next year with an eye toward ensuring all exhibitors, large and small, have an equal opportunity to be seen, and heard while on the water.
With regard to product, retailers and consumers will be stoked over Dagger's special efforts to improve the outfitting of whitewater boats, while reducing weight. With better seat adjustments, hip pads and thigh braces, new boats are as much as 4 pounds lighter. The new Mamba is perfect for beginner boaters, as it's designed to be stable, roll easily and move effectively in and out of eddies. Made for larger paddlers, it's available in lengths 7.5 to 8.5 ($1,049). Freestylers looking for more air will dig the new Crazy 88 ($1,149). The hull design and volume distribution are fine-tuned to make this boat pop, and paddlers gain performance from the new D-Bone technology, which fuses the center rail to the internal hull.
More Whitewater Boats
Fluid Kayaks, based in South Africa, made its debut in the main hall of the Salt Palace, getting good response to its line of whitewater boats. Fluid has three playboats (sizes small, medium and large), which are designed to be "super slicey," fast and loose for loop-based moves. Look for two creek boats to be introduced in the not too distant future.
Wave Sport's EZ line has served the company well for four years. Now it has combined the river-friendly characteristics of the EZ line with the looseness and hull properties of the Zero Gravity boats to produce the EZG ($999). The result is a good boat for EZ owners who want to do a little more playboating.
Pyranha's new i4 ($999) is an improved version of the previous i3 all-around river playboat. Available in three sizes (small, medium and large), it has added volume around the knee area to put boaters in a more comfortable position. Design improvements provide quicker edge-to-edge response, increased overall speed and make it glide better. Also in the works (for October production) is a new 7-foot playboat that's not just for holes, but promises to be a real "surfing machine." Stay tuned.
Riot has made some nice advances in outfitting for playboats, evident in boats such as the new Orbit 47 and the Inferno 54. The company generally cleaned up the outfitting system, including fewer moving parts to prevent breakdowns in the field. Most adjustments can be made without using any tools. One clever detail is the padded Synergy Thighbrace which pivots, making it super easy to enter and exit the boat while still allowing aggressive bracing. Cool stuff.
Rec and Touring Boats
A major trend continues as new paddlers are seeking versatile boats that serve a variety of environments. Prijon's new Combi 359 ($999) can handle everything from rivers to streams to tidewaters. The 11-foot, 8-inch polyethylene boat weighs 48 pounds, has an optional skeg, wrap-style thigh braces, touring foot braces and a padded, adjustable seat.
The new Wilderness Systems' Tsunami touring boat is another versatile product for new paddlers. With a multi-chine hull, it offers secondary stability and looks as though it will track well. Plus, it features the very comfortable, adjustable Phase3 Outfitting. With a rudder, the14-foot version is $1,099 and the 14.5-foot model is $1,149.
Rec boaters looking to trade up to a more performance-oriented boat should check out Necky's new Manitou Sport ($549). Built to be user friendly, it weighs 44 pounds, has a large cockpit for easy entry and design characteristics that make this stable boat track well.
This summer, Old Town rolled out its new Dirigo line of rec kayaks. Giving a strong nod to the family market, the 14.5-foot model ($749) is designed to hold an adult and a child up to 60 pounds. Increased volume in the front keeps the boat drier, and the cockpit is designed to allow people to brace without having to tuck their legs beneath anything.
Wenonah/Current Designs has introduced three new kayaks, including the Kestrel 140 ($1,649 with rudder). This longer version of the successful Kestrel 120 is made of lightweight thermoformed plastic. Also available is a new version of the Solstice, the Solstice GT Titan ($2,699 w/rudder). Made for outfitters and expedition paddlers in mind, this composite boat has been designed to accommodate larger paddlers, with a cockpit that's 5 inches longer and 2 inches wider. Also, the aft deck has been stiffened to carry heavier gear loads.
Perception's new Carolina 13.5, made with Airalite ($1,600), had to be one of the most impressive day-touring boats on the show floor. Of course, the Airalite is a big plus -- it looks as flashy as a composite boat, while being durable and easier on the wallet. But there are other great details, like the flush-mounted bow and stern dry hatches, as well as Comfort Fit outfitting which sports memory foam padding in the seat, self-inflating lumbar and thigh supports, and an easily adjustable back band. Another nice addition is the Eclipse 16.0 expedition touring boat ($1, 449.99) with a lower deck to better suit women paddlers. There's improved secondary stability, and the overall design simply allows smaller paddlers more speed and control.
Hobie has seen so much success with the Outback pedal-style boat that it introduced a smaller Sport version this summer. At 9 feet, 7 inches, the Sport version is not short on features, with a rudder system, two large storage hatches, ample storage with bungee tie downs, on-deck paddle storage, etc. Hobie has been serving the paddle-fishing market for eight years or so, and its latest offering is the Quest. At 13 feet, 6 inches, it's designed to be a faster fishing boat, while remaining very stable. The boat has all the bells and whistles anglers desire, and particularly nice are the large bow hatch and deep interior side pocket. Parents who want to paddle with a child will really like Hobie's new Kona, a very stable sit-on-top with two adjustable seats and large cargo areas.
As kayak fishing continues to reel in customers, Ocean Kayak has enjoyed a growing following with its 15-foot Prowler boat. Now there's a Prowler 13 with refined hatches and added volume to accommodate larger anglers. The boat will tote quite a load -- 450 pounds worth -- and offers molded-in storage space for a tackle box, two paddle-keepers and bow and stern bungee cords. ($699; $979 w/rudder).
Perception's Caster (11.5 and 12.5) gives paddle-fishers a stable, fast boat that's extremely versatile. The well-thought-out stern hatch is beefy enough to hold a crate, a bait bucket or tackle boxes, while the rest of the deck has a lot of surface area for custom gear rigging. Also, the seating area allows you to position yourself in many directions. The 12.5 has a bow hatch and optional thermoplastic rudder ($579 to $679).
A Few Canoes
Mad River's IQ adjustable gunwale system hasn't exactly caught fire, but it's burning brightly enough that the company has now included it in the whole line, not just the high-end boats.
Over at Bell Canoe, the focus this year wasn't so much on new product as it was getting the company's ducks in a row. In April, Bell moved from a 5,000-square-foot facility in Zimmerman, Minn., to a new 15,000-square-foot facility in Princeton, Minn. The move caused many shipping snafus, and Bell is working hard to address dealer concerns. Bell took a positive step by surveying its dealers prior to the show to get feedback on how it can improve. "We need to have a more proactive stance and give dealers a heads-up on potential delays," Bell's John Woodruff told SNEWSÂ®. As for product, Bell finally has on-hand its new Royalex Vermont canoe ($1,195) designed by Jim Henry. It also introduced the Seliga Tripper, a classically designed 17-foot boat in a KevLight layup ($1,295). We also hear that Bell will consider selling its accessories online, and dealers aren't likely to express much concern as few really carry the line deeply.
Wenonah Canoe/Current Designs is also making a move. The company announced this spring it will relocate the manufacturing of its kayaks and Outrigger Connections Canoes from Victoria to a new plant in Winona, Minn. The last day of manufacturing in Victoria will be Aug. 31, and the new facility will be ready in October. Wenonah has introduced a new river touring canoe, the Argosy ($949 to $1,549, depending on layup). At 14 feet, 6 inches, it serves as a downsized solo boat with design features that will keep it drier in moderate whitewater. Models are available weighing between 32 pounds and 50 pounds.
Old Town has blended a traditional design with modern features in its new Charles River canoe ($1,099 Royalex; $775 Polylink). The recurve hull gives the boat a classic look, while the gunwales have been dropped to reduce some windage, and the tumblehome creates a narrow beam for modern performance.
Accessories, Sport Racks for Boats, and Apparel
Johnson Outdoors and Thule announced at the show a new partnership between the two companies to grow paddlesports participation and retail sales. Among other things, the companies will support each other's marketing programs -- Johnson will help support Thule's mobile marketing campaign, while Johnson paddlesports brands will be featured in Thule catalogs and advertising. One solid example of their work together is the new Hullavator rack, which allows a person to load a boat at waist level then push it onto the roof using some mechanical assistance from the rack.
Yakima displayed its side-loading rack, the E-Z Load ($399), which can hold two boats, two bikes, or combinations of these, plus cargo boxes. Gas shocks on the arms of the rack assist a person in sliding the load easily to the top of the vehicle. New to the Yakima line is the nifty Boatlocker ($49), a 10-foot steel cable with a custom lock that secures not only a boat, but a paddle as well. Now that's a nice, simple idea.
Shelley Furrer of Werner Paddles said that more and more consumers are opting for bent-shaft paddles, and the company has beefed up its offering. The new Cascadia ($225) addresses rec boaters with a paddle that has a neutral-bent shaft made of fiberglass and carbon-reinforced blades for an extremely light swing weight for a rec product. The other major trend she identified was a move toward more river running, rather than playboating. River runners will appreciate the power provided by Werner's new Sho-Gun whitewater paddle ($325 to $425), which has a foam-core blade and is available with a neutral-bent carbon shaft or a straight glass shaft.
Confluence has re-branded its Voyageur paddles as Velocity, which covers a wide range of price points. The Energy touring paddle with a nylon/glass blade and fiberglass shaft retails for $199 ($239 with the company's new QuickLok feathering system). The Torque, a hardcore, single-piece whitewater paddle made of carbon, goes for $315. There's also a take-apart performance touring paddle, the Momentum, which is constructed with a carbon shaft and blades, retailing for $325 ($360 with QuickLok).
We grabbed hold of AT's new Xception touring paddle ($399), and after a few moments honestly forgot the thing was in our hands. At 725 grams, this all-carbon paddle with a foam-core blade is amazingly light. For whitewater, AT launched the AT4 Play ($249), which drew positive response from beginners and advanced paddlers alike. It not only has an extremely durable blade, the ergonomic bent shaft has a smaller diameter for people with smaller hands.
One of the more compelling stories on the show floor concerns Whitewater Technologies and its paddling helmet. Sadly, the product was born of tragedy. In 1998, 22-year-old Lucas Turner died while paddling Idaho's Payette River when his helmet slipped backward as his head hit a boulder. His father Gil worked with Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health to develop a new helmet which has straps to hold the helmet in place and three layers of foam inside a Lexan shell. There is currently one model retailing for $69.95. For information, go to www.whitewaterhelmet.com.
Paddlers concerned about PVC and its effect on the environment have an alternative in the new Titan/E drybag line from Seattle Sports. PVC-free bags such as the Crossbreed are made with urethane and urethane-coated fabrics. The Crosbreed 1500 ($69.95) and its little brother the Crossbreed 1000 ($59.95) are daypack/drybag hybrids with roll-top closures, shoulder straps, an air-flow back panel and waist belt. Other popular drybags, such as the tapered Cyclone, are also now PVC-free.
While Sospenders brought attention to the concept of inflatable PFDs, Kokatat has incorporated the idea into a more traditional PFD product. The new Sea O2 ($169) looks and wears like a normal vest, with 7.5 pounds of inherent flotation. However, it has a hidden CO2 cartridge that you deploy manually to boost floatation up to 22.5 pounds. Because the traditional design is familiar to boaters, this could be the PFD that brings inflation to the masses. Kokatat also introduced a new sophisticated drytop, the Rogue, constructed with W.L. Gore's XCR and a type of Cordura that incorporates Gore technology.
Among the paddle apparel we saw, we were especially stoked about the new women's line from Lotus Designs. Made with waterproof/breathable H2No material for cold-water paddling, the Women's Steep Stretch Pant ($170) does something important -- it eliminates that "bubble-butt" effect women hate in poorly fitting pants. You can credit a panel in the rear that not only adds stretch, but warmth. Also made with H2No are three women's dry tops, the Eva-Lution ($315), long-sleeved Aphrodite ($245) and short-sleeved Aphrodite ($195). They're not only cut to fit a woman's body, but care was taken to eliminate features that bug women, such as Velcro straps, which can catch longer hair.
"Go check that thing out. I think it could really save some lives." Those were the words of one paddle company principal as he directed us to the Crossline Solutions booth in the trade show pavilion. Crossline has introduced the Reach Safety System ($289), a river rescue self-belay device that consists of a throwbag, rope and sort of grappling hook that catches and clips to the rope. It's difficult to describe how it works in this small space, but basically it works on a buddy system where boaters can rescue themselves, rescue others who are trapped or pinned, or be rescued by others. It's definitely worth your time to take a closer look at www.CrossLineSolutions.com.