Outdoor Retail Gear Trends: 2016 kayaks

Added features increase convenience, but challenge designers to keep weights down. Check out what's ahead for kayaks hitting retail shelves in 2016.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 5 – 8

In the kayak market, designers continue to chase weight savings, comfort and performance, all while focusing on versatility as a driving design feature, whether the craft are for catching fish, running whitewater or general rec paddling.

“Rec kayaks need to fit paddlers of all shapes and sizes,” said Old Town Canoe brand manager Dave Hadden. “Our rec customers are enthusiast paddlers who appreciate the experience much more than the entry-level/price customer.”

To that end, 20 years after releasing its original, best-selling sit-inside kayak, Old Town Canoe debuts a new Loon series. Available in four lengths — 100, 120, 126, 155T — and two angling versions (MSRPs $999-$1,099), the new line includes an all-new, forgiving hull design with extra width and volume for stability and easily adjustable ACS2 seat. Billed as “the ultimate recreational kayak,” it also comes with a new “work deck” with USB ports and built-in storage for tech gadget outfitting.

Weight savings continues to drive design. “The paddlesports’ demographic keeps aging,” said Steve Jordan, president of Hurricane Aquasport, “so weight savings is becoming more important.” Practicing what it preaches, Hurricane unveils its new ABS/Thermo-formed Santee 120 S (MSRPs $1,099-$1,149), featuring a new hull design and deck treatment. The 12-foot, 36-pound boat has a 55-by-24-inch sport cockpit for easy entry and exit, a new Airstream seat system offering more adjustability and better outfitting, and a new 10-inch hinge stern hatch.

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In whitewater, high-end performance still reigns supreme, whether on a creek or play wave. Bent on winning the World Freestyle Championships again this fall on Canada’s Ottawa River, Jackson Kayak unveils its “best-ever generation” Rock Star (MSRP $1,199), designed by company owner and four-time World Freestyle Champion Eric “EJ” Jackson and partner David Knight. It carries a narrower, faster and looser hull, offering easy edge-to-edge transfers, smooth surfing and mammoth-sized airs. Available in three sizes (5 feet, 4 inches to 5 feet, 11 inches), it’s also available in a lighter Competition configuration (MSRP $1,399) with an Innegra/carbon hull.

In inflatables, the Holy Grail is rigidity. Sea Eagle debuts the RazorLite 473RL tandem (MSRP $1,499) and RazorLite 493RL single (MSRP $999), the first inflatable kayaks to use the drop-stitch construction of inflatable SUPs and self-bailing raft floors in its three air chambers. The result: A boat that can be inflated to 10 psi — more than double the pressure of most IKs. Combine this rock-hard inflation with the tandem’s 15-foot, 6-inch length, sleek 28-inch width, and a rigid plastic bow and stern caps, and you get one of the fastest, most-responsive IKs on the market. Bonus: At just 38 pounds and a roll size of 33-by-22-by-10 inches, it’s easy to carry and store afterward.

Innovation also comes to the folding boat market in the new Coast (MSRP $1,945) and Coast+ (MSRP $2,495) from Oru Kayak. Employing the same briefcase-to-a-boat folding feature as its predecessors and made from skillfully folded 5-millimeter extruded polypropylene, both are 16 feet long, and 25 inches wide, engineered for rough water and multi-day trips and offer great speed, tracking and stability. Both versions include a large rear bulkhead and an adjustable footrest, with the Coast offering half-deck rigging for additional above-hull storage, while the Coast+ adds on a small dry hatch, integrated rear hatch and full-deck rigging.

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Also hopping on the versatile, breakdown bandwagon, Point 65 Sweden debuts its new blow-molded Gemini (MSRP $549), boasting a proprietary break-apart modular system — each section weighing 22 pounds — that allows it to be assembled as either a solo or multi-cockpit craft. No matter the configuration, it features a straight-tracking hull, padded seat and backrest, tank well, ergo carrying handles, cockpit shoulder pads for carrying and Point 65’s signature tapered deck design for performance.

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In touring, it’s still all about performance. A collaboration between Danish designer Jesper Kromann-Andersen and its in-house designers, Current Designs’ Prana is an efficient, quick and highly maneuverable 17-foot tourer at home on waves and “rock gardening.” With a 21-inch-wide beam for nimbleness, it’s streamlined yet stable and comes with a hybrid hard chine hull and tracking-friendly rocker profile that’s perfect for all conditions. It’s available in fiberglass and Kevlar laminates.

Dagger ups its do-it-all sea kayak game with the new 14-foot, 6-inch, 53-pound Stratos (MSRP $1,199), designed for surf, rock gardens, open water and estuary paddling. It’s designed to blend tracking, maneuverability and forgiveness, with stability for beginners and a fast, sporty hull for intermediates and experts. It comes with two hatches, bulkheads and deck bungees, and an adjustable drop-skeg for tracking.

The weight-savings trend needs to infiltrate the fishing kayak niche, said Hurricane’s Jordan. “The category continues to grow, but the boats are getting heavier and heavier,” as brands load on features. “People want lighter versions, he said, touting Hurricane’s 34- to 36-inch-wide models with aluminum track seating. Old Town’s Hadden adds that while weight is becoming more important, fish kayaks also need those accessories for electronics and other add-ons.

Both features, as well as a new niche demographic, can be found in Jackson Kayak’s new 9-foot, 50-pound Skipper (MSRPs $999-$1,199), designed for young fishermen ages 6-12. The sit-on-top offers a stable platform for casting standability. It also includes rod and tackle storage options, trimmable seating, a bow-mounted clip point and a tether system for towing. A narrow 28-inch hull accommodates shorter arms, and it comes with track-based rear storage and molded-in front-hatch storage.

Also angling for new sales in the fishing market, Wilderness Systems launches its new Advanced Tactical Angling Kayak (MSRP $1,795), touting it as the most versatile, stable and customizable fishing boat to date. With an open design, total fishing accessory compatibility, and a low-profile, wind-friendly hull blending speed and stability, it allows anglers to sit or stand and fish, move around on the deck, and customize it to fit their every need. Sister brand Perception brings the Pescador Pro 10.0 and 12.0 kayaks, packed with fishing accessories and customizable features. The stable yet speedy Pescador Pro tracks like a much longer boat, while providing anglers with solid initial and secondary stability for navigating through winding waterways or fighting fish. The sit-on-top deck comes with a stadium-style seat that can be adjusted on the fly; users can sit up for paddling and improved casting or switch to a reclined position for more comfort.

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And weight savings don’t get any more extreme than in the pack raft market, where pounds are paramount. At this year’s show, AIRE unveils its new 7-pound, 2-ounce BAKRaft (MSRP $1,299), the lightest self-bailing pack raft on the market complete with a self-bailing I-beam floor for cushioning and hull rigidity. The 7-foot-long, 39-inch-wide boat combines the storability and lightness of a pack raft with kayak aerodynamics for whitewater performance. With a load capacity of 350 pounds and made from a two-layer, proprietary Dyneema/Sprectra shell, the two-chamber craft comes with whitewater valves, a 12.5-inch tube diameter and 10-inch bow/stern rise.

--Eugene Buchanan

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