Up a creek without a paddle isn’t just a cliché. Paddles, PFDs, apparel and drybags are all part of the package when it comes to paddlesports sales. And just as in boats, there are trends determining which products leave others in their wake, languishing on retail shelves.
This year, fashion appears to be as important as ever, as does the latest and greatest material. “Color and lightweight technical fabrics are the drivers,” said Kokatat Sales Manager Jeff Turner. “Big, bold, bright colors and prints seem to be selling well at retail this year.”
And while paddlesports customers are diving into each of the niches of the category, they still want flexibility. “Sea kayakers have been asking us for more carrying versatility for some time,” Turner said. Kokatat’s new front-zip Poseidon PFD responds to this via customizable, modular outfitting to accommodate accessory pockets. It includes two removable front zip chest pockets and is updatable via clips and webbing straps to add such additional pockets, as well as a quick-release belt. Other attachable accessories include a hydration system, an electronics sling and a touring tow tether.
Customers also will find much-awaited versatility in Kokatat’s Gore-Tex Idol Drysuit, which has a waterproof zipper system called SwitchZip to separate the top from bottom fully at the waist, offering the versatility of a dry suit, dry top and paddling pant all in one. It comes standard with a dual-adjustable overskirt, three-layer Evolution Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric and 330-denier Cordura in areas of high abrasion.
In the quest for new materials and solutions, Bomber Gear will become the first paddlesports company to use Polartec’s NeoShell for its watersports products in 2015. Recently awarded Polartec’s Apex Award for innovation in material application, Bomber Gear’s new Palguin Dry Top and Pants are both made of the lightweight, waterproof-breathable, three-ply NeoShell material, with reinforced panels in high wear areas and four-way stretch Glideskin neoprene on the dry top neck for comfort.
Also on the material move is Immersion Research, which introduces the 7Figure Dry Suit and Dry Top to its technical line. The pieces feature a custom-made, waterproof-breathable, three-layer material that product manager Todd Baker said is the “result of three years of dedicated research and testing and the best fabric available for drywear.” The fabric is woven with a water-resistant yarn while incorporating a breathable, durable laminate mid-layer, with the suit featuring reinforced fabric socks, flexible and lightweight T-Zip dry zippers, heat pressed cross-seams and glued-in latex gaskets.
The world of watershoes is livening up as well. “Fit, performance and function are key,” said Keen Business Unit Director Jeff Dill. “Consumers want shoes that will protect their feet no matter where they go.” Keen fills the niche with its Zambezi sandal (MSRP $100) and Gorgeous boot (MSRP $150). The Zambezi features an open upper for quick drainage with signature Keen toe protection, with a one-pull webbing system for easy adjustment. The neoprene Gorgeous boot is for cold weather conditions, also with one-pull webbing for fit. It comes with a PU midsole and textile-reinforced outsole for durability and traction.
Part of the reason for the resurgence in watershoes is that paddlers are pushing the limits. “A trend we’re seeing is the general progression of paddlesports, fueling a need for gear that’s up to these new challenges,” said NRS Marketing Director David Blue. Responding to this trend, NRS unveils its Crush (MSRP $80), which sports a sticky, siped rubber outsole to provide sure grip while a gusseted tongue keeps out debris. It also comes with a quick-drying, water-repellant canvas upper and “crushable” heel that lets you choose between tight-laced security and slip-on convenience. NRS’ Velocity (MSRP $110) is beefier, built for creekers dealing with long portages and scouting missions. Tough rubber overlays and a nylon upper protect against blows and abrasion, a siped rubber outsole offers traction, and neoprene paddling shields the ankle and adds support.
Also on the footwear front, Astral Designs debuts its Aquanaut (MSRP $120), a lightweight, quick-drying, multi-sport shoe with a drainage system, protective upper and lizard-like grip from its G15 high friction rubber. The addition expands its footwear collection in 2015 to nine styles.
While they may always look the same from afar, paddles hardly have escaped innovation upgrades, with fishing-specific sticks leading the pack. Available in lengths of 230-245 centimeters and 240-255 centimeters, Bending Branches’ 30-ounce Angler Pro Plus (MSRP $355) kayak fishing paddle employs a 100-percent T-700 carbon shaft with large, multi-laminate fiberglass blades, as well as an adjustable length ferrule, affording 15 centimeters of additional length.