Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08: Kayaks, canoes, apparel, PFDs, paddles and more

Fresh from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08, SNEWS shares the latest trends in the paddlesports market, including boats, apparel, PFDs, paddles and more.
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Fresh from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08, SNEWS shares the latest trends in the paddlesports market, including boats, apparel, PFDs, paddles and more.

It really is amazing how fishing remains the big story in the paddlesports market. But the effort to target anglers reflects a broader trend -- all sorts of outdoor companies are seeking a broader audience. In the past, if a person didn't participate in one of a few core activities -- hiking, climbing, paddling -- this person was ignored by outdoor manufacturers and dealers. But now, there is a greater willingness to embrace anything that gets people outside.

Continuing trends, such as transitional boats, flatwater/whitewater hybrids -- and heck, even the emergence of paddleboards -- signal that the paddling world wants to be more welcoming and remove the barriers that prevent people from going downriver. The hunt is on for fresh faces, and companies are doing whatever is necessary to bring in new blood.

Going Fishing

At the Open Air Demo, on the shore of Pineview Reservoir, there was a bit of grumbling when Native Watercraft launched Ultimate boats powered with an electric drive. The harrumphs came from competitors who believe this industry should exclude products not powered by human effort. But the paddlesports market is so focused on capturing the fishing market that traditional boundaries are being crossed. Whether you believe this is good or bad, there's no doubt that the latest boats are blurring the lines between the fishing and outdoor markets like we've never seen before. This is generating important dollars for boat manufacturers, and it will likely continue.

Generating plenty of buzz at the show, Native's Ultimate and Mariner Multisport boats can be powered with an electric drive, a pedal system or a sail (with an inflatable outrigger). These mechanisms not only make it easier to maneuver, but just as important, a traditional angler has to make less of a mental leap when considering whether to beach the old fishing boat and switch to a kayak (which is happening more often due to fuel costs). There's plenty of buzz around the new Ultimate, which is available in lengths of 12, 14.5 and 16 feet. To give an idea of pricing, the Propel (pedal) and electric drive versions of the 12-foot model retail for $2,159.

Of course, Hobie pioneered the pedal-drive concept in the outdoor specialty market, and this year it added the 9-foot i9S inflatable (MSRP $1,549). This great-looking boat is the company's smallest inflatable kayak with the MirageDrive pedal system. It has all the solid features included in the larger inflatables, such as the Twist and Stow rudder, and it packs into a travel bag that measures 31 inches by 22 inches by 15 inches.

Another company with its eyes on the fishing community is Mad River. The company's new Adventure 16 Square Back canoe (MSRP $800) has a squared-off stern to which you can attach a trolling motor without major retrofitting.

Old Town's new Discovery Sport15 (MSRP $1,500) is another canoe with a square stern to accommodate up to a five-horsepower outboard motor.

Wenonah said it hopes anglers will be drawn to its new Fusion canoe (MSRP $1,150 Royalex; $1,650 Kevlar), a 13-foot solo boat that is very stable, highly maneuverable and available with a foot-controlled rudder.

The Current Designs Kestrel 120 OC (MSRP $749) joins the flotilla of rec kayaks being marketed to anglers. This 12-foot boat is 27 inches wide with a large cockpit that gives a kayak fisher plenty of room to twist about. Also, its length and stability should make it a good rec boat for the rest of the family. Made of polyethylene, it weighs 48 pounds.

Whitewater still kicking up spray

Whitewater boat manufacturers are focusing more on boats that still offer the ability to play, but really serve those who want to move downriver. A good example is the Dagger Axiom, which is available in four sizes, 6.9-9.0 (MSRP $995). Its narrow stern and flat hull allow a boater to do modern play moves, but the forgiving design will give beginners something they can easily control while exploring down the river.

Dagger also wants to nudge flatwater paddlers into giving whitewater a go, and Dagger's Alchemy (MSRP $895-$995) transitions easily from the lake to the river. This 14-foot boat, available in 23-inch and 24-inch widths, provides plenty of stability for beginner whitewater boaters, and it has a retractable skeg for smooth paddling on lakes. There are three hatches with bulkheads offering lots of storage space, and the boat has a pretty comfy outfitting system, so this is a good choice for multi-day trips.

Liquidlogic's new Remix XP was built with an overnight trip in mind, whether you want to camp on a lake or a stretch of the Chattooga River. Available in lengths of 9 feet and 10 feet (MSRP $979), it has a drop-down skeg and even a big storage hatch.

Basically, boat companies are just trying to reduce the barriers to paddling and make the activity friendlier. And this idea is even trickling down to brands such as Wave Sport, which typically courts the hardcore 25-and-under set. Wave Sport launched the Diesel 60 (MSRP $995), a new version of the popular Diesel that should appeal to women and lighter men. We also really dig the brand's new F.A.T. 5.0 thigh brace system, which adjusts easily to serve a wide range of body types, and allows you to move the braces out of the way temporarily for a little relief.

Random observations from the boating booths

As Americans get….ehemm…bigger, so do boats. Bell Canoe introduced the EveningStar, a 16.5-foot tandem canoe for experienced but more expansive paddlers. The EveningStar covers another base as well -- it's bulkier than other Bell canoes and will feel particularly stable to beginners. It will be available in Royalex, Kevlar and Blackgold layups, and pricing is still being hammered out.

We're still seeing the introduction of many "transitional boats" that help develop beginners' skills and carry them to the next level. An example is the Current Designs Vision 135 (MSRP $1,100), a rotomolded boat with most of the features of a true touring boat and an optional rudder. Those building their paddling skills should find this 13.6-foot boat relatively easy to handle.

Mad River's Expedition 186 canoe (MSRP $2,800-$3,100) gives you an expedition worthy boat that weighs an incredibly light 45 pounds. That's very good for a craft that stretches more than 18 feet and can haul up to 1,250 pounds.

Two new Necky kayaks are also being marketed as boats that bring beginners along and advance their skills. The brand's Looksha has been one of it most popular boats, so it has added the Looksha 12 and the Looksha 12Si, which has less volume for smaller folks. Both are built for performance, yet they provide easy transition from primary to secondary stability. Also, each boat retails for $999, or $1,229 with a rudder.

Few companies are putting much emphasis on boats built for playing in ocean waves, but Ocean Kayak is breaking from the flotilla and doing just that. Its new Mysto kayak (MSRP $549) has a planning hull for good action in surf, and it's designed to drain easily. It's 9 feet, 9 inches long, and has a big cockpit to suit larger bodies.

In 2007, Pelican began its Elite series, and it is now expanding the line to target specialty dealers. It includes two new fishing kayaks, six new rec boats and three new sit-on-tops. While the specialty market has an aversion to the Pelican name, dealers should check out the new stuff as well as the returning Strait series of touring boats for intermediate paddlers. Made of polyethylene with the polished look of glass, the Strait boats are a great value and retail from $899 to $1,149. In lengths of 12 feet and 14 feet, Strait models provide tons of features and they could attract today's consumers seeking lots of value and products at a reasonable price.

Wilderness Systems has overhauled its complete Tarpon line to make the hull designs consistent from boat to boat. Also, the tankwells are bigger, and a slide-track outfitting systems makes it easier to customize rigging.

Getting dressed for paddling

is working harder to serve women with clothing designed specifically for their bodies. The new women's X-Tended Wear spray top (MSRP $85) is a pullover made with Toray DWR-treated nylon. It's seems pretty lightweight, and has neoprene closures at the neck and wrists.

Immersion Research had a delay in delivery of its See Change jacket (MSRP $220), so it will reach dealers in the fall. Made with 100-percent post-consumer recycled fabric, this two-layer, waterproof/breathable piece really represents the heart of a company that wants to work toward a higher level of sustainability. The company has moved to using eco-friendly materials in base layers, such as the men's Bamboo Thin Skin top, available in long sleeve and short sleeve (MSRP $52-$60).

Immersion Research also gets the funky fashion award for offering the men's Comp LX Dry Top in plaid (MSRP $327).

Kokatat has waded into the footwear realm with a good-looking line of neoprene booties. For core whitewater boaters, there's the lightweight Seeker bootie (MSRP $55), while the high-top Scout (MSRP $58) should appeal to more mainstream paddlers and the rec market. The Nomad (MSRP $120) is a mukluk with neoprene at the foot, but a waterproof/breathable gaiter up top to make it less hot and easier to dry than an all-neoprene product.

Kokatat actually introduced an impressive array of new products this summer, and one highlight was the introduction of a three-layer Tropos fabric (dubbed T3), which will make certain pieces of paddling apparel and dry suits more durable, and better at moving moisture.

The company also fashioned several pieces of apparel for the kayak fishing market. The SuperNova has been adapted to make an Angler Paddling Suit, plus there are new paddling jackets, a sock for launching in knee-deep water and the T3 Tempest Pant (MSRP $159), which has the type of incorporated sock you'd find on a dry suit. Very smart of the company to provide anglers a few key pieces tailored just for them.

Like Immersion Research, NRS is digging the plaid trend and using it on the Flux Drytop (MSRP $245). Over the past couple of years, NRS has experimented with colors and designs that move beyond traditional styles, and the latest offerings look really good, especially the women's Flux Drytop in two tones of blue.

In the future, NRS will also focus more attention on the kayak fishing market. (Its fishing-oriented PFD released a couple of years ago is selling well.) The folks at NRS tell us they're attending the next FlyFishing Retailer trade show, and it will pick up more fly-fishing accessories next year.

Teva rolled out a pretty darn serious kayak bootie, called the Cherry Bomb. Made to withstand rugged portaging, it's fairly beefy (we're thinking it'll fit best in higher-volume boats), and sports a serious outsole with substantial toe protection. Another new shoe, the Gnar, follows the recent trend that anything youth-oriented must resemble a skate shoe. More of a true shoe than a bootie, the Gnar has mesh panels to release water and an upper closed-cell EVA foam that doesn't soak up water.

Staying afloat when out of the boat

And now for something completely different…Astral Buoyancy wasn't sporting any new breakthrough PFDs this summer, but it has used scraps of Gaia Foam (which are not recyclable) to stuff the new Astro Pad dog bed. Available in small, medium and large (the medium measures 32 inches by 36 inches), they retail from $98 to $138.

Last year, MTI sales manager Lily Colby got us up to speed on the company's efforts to overhaul the brand, and this summer she reported that the work has made a big impact. The redesigned brand logo pops more on apparel, but even more important, the process of retooling the brand sparked new thoughts on ways to reach out to consumers and dealers. The company is featuring stories from retailers on its website, www.mtiadventurewear.com, where you can also find a really good video on the history of the brand, titled, "It's a Big Blue Planet."

As for new products, MTI has created a kid's PFD, the Journey (MSRP $45), which gives little ones a jacket that's contoured and fits the curve of the torso -- just like what Mom and Dad wear.

A few new PFDs pass the eye test for looking good and feeling comfortable. Available in red, black and gray, the NRS Ninja Type III (MSRP $120) is sleek with a low profile, offering 16.5 pounds of flotation. It's constructed with 500-denier Cordura and has PVC-free foam. The new Big Water Guide Type V PFD (MSRP $110) should fit a wide range of customers, adjusting to fit from a 30-inch chest to a 58-inch chest. There are six side adjustments and two shoulder adjustments, plus a flotation collar to protect the head.

Powering along with paddles

Aqua Bound
included a really clever detail on its new Fin Stalker fishing paddle. The blade, made of carbon-reinforced nylon, has a hook-shaped notch, which can be used to grab fishing line to free it from snags. Smart thinkin'. Another smart idea is to put a cute illustrated shark image on the blades of kids paddles, which Aquabound did on its Sharkie Kids touring model (MSRP $115) and Sharkie Kids whitewater model (MSRP $110). The touring paddle has a two-piece carbon shaft, and it's available in 190 cm, 200 cm and 210 cm. The whitewater paddle has a one-piece fiberglass shaft and ranges from 160 cm to 185 cm.

Bending Branches has a new Wave Hound stand-up paddle (MSRP $230) that allows users to create a custom length. Much of the shaft and blade are made of Basswood wrapped with glass, while the topmost part of the shaft and grip are fiberglass. Retailers who do custom work on paddles can allow customers to choose the perfect paddle length, from 70 inches to 86 inches, in 2-inch intervals, and marry it with the fiberglass grip portion.

Bending Branches also showed off new paddles for kids. Its Kid's Splash (MSRP $50) has an aluminum shaft, weighs 32 ounces and is available in 180 cm and 200 cm lengths.

With sustainable materials capturing so much attention these days, Sawyer decided to create its first bamboo canoe paddle, the Kai (MSRP $160), which is reinforced with carbon fiber. Like other hardwoods, bamboo is a very heavy material that's difficult to work with when creating a paddle, but bamboo provides added durability, and the Kai can take more punishment than a Sawyer carbon fiber paddle. And, the Kai weighs just 20 ounces, about 4 more ounces than its carbon fiber cousins.

Werner's stand-up Spanker paddle introduced last year was a great success and sold through in May. That has been a good all-around stand-up paddle, and the new Advantage (MSRP $219-259) will serve those who want something designed a bit more for fitness and racing. The blade shape allows you to place it close to the board, and the fiberglass material is light and stiff, allowing powerful strokes.

The other cool new development from Werner is that the company is really going above and beyond the call of duty to educate retailers and consumers, and match people with the appropriate paddle. If you haven't seen the Werner catalog, check the page with a "Guide To a Great Fitting Paddle." It's an awesome mini-clinic that every store staff member should have on-hand. Also, Werner provides dealers little survey sheets with questions that, when answered, steer a person to the correct paddle. The slips of paper, made for various types of paddles, play on the concept of a doctor's prescription -- substituting Px for Rx. A person can fill this out in the store, and then let the retailer fill their prescription. Cool!

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.