Outdoor Retailer Summer Market ’10: Paddlesports Pt. 1 -- Market makes a solid comeback with boat designs, stand-up paddling

We sifted through hundreds of stand-up paddleboards, canoes, kayaks and accessories, and boiled it all down, to bring you a two-part series on the paddlesports products and market trends that caught our attention at Summer Market. Part 1 focuses on design developments in canoes and kayaks, as well as stand-up paddling.
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During last year’s Summer Market, there was plenty of grumbling among the paddlesports booths, as manufacturers and retailers protested new show dates. But this year -- with the show moved back to August -- folks seemed pleased, and many retailers who skipped out last year were roaming the aisles.

While happy days are here again, some elements of paddlesports were subdued -- the vibe was mellow for the whitewater category -- while stand-up paddling generated stronger buzz than ever. Also, we saw fewer new boats this year, as many companies focused on touching up existing products, but there were still solid additions in the canoe, rec and touring and kayak fishing categories. As we combed through the latest stuff, we also found pleasant surprises with new accessories, which we’ll report on in Part 2 of our two-part series on Aug. 23.

To highlight important trends and a few must-see products, we whittled down our notes to the following key observations:

SUP goes B-I-G

Unless you’ve been trapped under something heavy the last couple of weeks, you no doubt witnessed the stand-up paddling hype reach new heights. It practically took over the Open Air Demo. And, heck, one morning during Summer Market we opened our New York Times, and the travel section had a big photo of tourists in the Hamptons paddleboarding. Who knew?

For info on SUP board trends, click here to read the Aug. 3 SNEWS Morning Report

Also, note that in the coming week we’ll be reporting on more issues concerning stand-up paddling, such as people getting ticketed for not wearing a PFD while on their board.

Canoes get more attention

The canoe scene has been low-key at the show for while now, but we noticed a slight increase in development this summer. Mad River Canoe reportedly scrutinized the quality control for all of its boats to bring them up to a more acceptable standard, so look for improvements there. For 2011, Mad River is also introducing two new pricey, but ultra-techie Ultralite boats -- the Explorer 16 (MSRP $2,869-$3,089, www.madrivercanoe.com) and the Malecite (MSRP $2,749-$2,969), which are made from Kevlar infused with foam. The foam not only helps reduce weight (Explorer is 45 pounds, Malecite 43 pounds), but also, because foam is replacing resin, the hull is more rigid.

Wenonah also went high-tech, outfitting several boats with the new Barracuda layup, which combines aluminum, Kevlar and foam. Basically, it allows a boat as long as 17 feet to weigh just 43 pounds, and the layup is available in the Spirit II, Minnesota II, Prism, Fusion and Wee Lassie boats.

We also heard lots of good things about the performance of Wenonah’s new Canak (MSRP $2,699, www.wenonah.com). Designed for camping trips along lakes, this hybrid craft has a solo canoe hull and kayak deck, and has wide hatches, so you can easily pack and unpack containers for portages. One thing to note -- the seat is higher than a traditional kayak, so it’s relatively easy to board and exit the boat.

On the lower end of the price-point spectrum is the Old Town Saranac 146 canoe (MSRP $549-$579, www.oldtowncanoe.com). Built to be affordable but also high quality for families, this thermoformed boat will be available in three versions -- a standard edition, an XT model with padded seats and seatbacks, and a version for anglers (MSRP $549-$599).

Convenience is Job 1 with rec & touring boats

The great thing about the many years of growth in rec and touring boats is that kayaking is much less a pain in the ass… or in the hips and lower back. Current Designs’ three new Kestrel kayaks, the 120X, 120X Roto and 1240X (MSRP $799-$1,999, www.cdkayak.com) include a seat that pivots like an office chair to adjust better to the action of your hips, rather than simply changing the height of your butt. Kestrel also made these boats really roomy, because previously there wasn’t a big enough Kestrel for larger people.

We saw a number of new entry-level boats that give newbies more options that don’t break the bank. Necky’s Vector 13 (MSRP $899, www.neckykayaks.com) is just a nice, affordable flatwater boat with an added bow hatch so people can travel a bit longer and farther.

Perception also recognized that retailers want more high-quality, entry-level boats, so it launched the Impulse 10.0 (MSRP $399, www.perceptionkayaks.com). It sports molded-in handles and cup holders, a seat pad with backrest and adjustable foot braces -- nothing groundbreaking, but still, helpful things to suit the family.

Of course, kayak fishing is still propelling boat sales, and one of the most popular boats for Jackson Kayak was the Coosa Elite (MSRP $999, www.jacksonkayak.com) designed by pro kayak angler Drew Gregory. Intended to tackle everything from Class III rapids to lakes, ponds and inshore and offshore fishing, it has a wide platform for standing, plus a Hi/Lo seat adjustment and a half dozen other smart components.

Oh, one mini-trend to point out -- we saw a couple more tandem boats this time around. Apparently, tandems are selling well, so you have new things such as Hobie’s new Mirage Oasis (MSRP $2,699, www.hobiecat.com), a pedal-driven tandem that measures 14 feet long. Hobie also launched the new Odyssey (MSRP $849-$1,199), a paddle version of the Oasis (meaning no pedal system).

A hush falls over whitewater

With the lifecycle of whitewater boats getting longer and longer, it seems fewer new models are introduced each year. Combine that with low whitewater participation numbers and fewer dealers making a profit off whitewater boats, and you have a very hushed market. However, we did see a couple of new models worth checking out, like Pyranha’s new Varun (MSRP $1,099, www.pyranha.com). This versatile river runner/playboat was inspired by the Molan (it has two-way rails for better grip and control during moves), and it’s a bit forgiving (i.e., wide, but easy to roll), so beginners will feel comfortable in it.

Jackson Kayak updated the Hero and launched the Super Hero (MSRP $999-$1,149, www.jacksonkayak.com) to offer boats that are more stable (the cockpit is moved back a bit), and it’s constructed with about 1.5 more gallons of volume than the previous Hero.

Also, Wave Sport (www.wavesport.com) is cooking up the next version of its Project X boat, but the company reps said if they gave us the full details they’d have to kill us. So stay tuned….

--Marcus Woolf

Don’t miss Part 2 on the latest trends in paddlesports apparel, accessories, PFDs, paddles and more on Aug. 23.

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.

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