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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Kayaks, canoes, paddles, paddling apparel, and paddlesports accessories

Could it be that, one day, we'll walk into one booth at the Outdoor Retailer trade show to see every single paddlesports brand in the market? OK, so maybe we're exaggerating, but we did spend an entire hour in the Confluence booth, and that was just to catch the highlights of new products. Even so, there were plenty of other important things to focus on -- like tons of great new products.

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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order), ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. 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, so if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for kayaks, canoes, paddles, paddling apparel, and paddlesports accessories:

Could it be that, one day, we’ll walk into one booth at the Outdoor Retailer trade show to see every single paddlesports brand in the market? OK, so maybe we’re exaggerating, but we did spend an entire hour in the Confluence booth, and that was just to catch the highlights of new products. This year at least one Goliath grew even larger, an issue that definitely created some buzz on the show floor this year. (See SNEWS story, Aug. 22, 2005, “Confluence might be getting a bit of attention it really doesn’t want.”) Even so, there were plenty of other important things to focus on — like tons of great new products.

Manufacturers are still concerned with making products more comfortable for the masses, and they’ve introduced lower-priced products with a greater number of features previously found in top-tier items. And we’re even seeing attempts to develop a new category — fitness paddling. Rather than bombard you with a comprehensive string of product descriptions, we’ve picked through the pile of info to highlight things that really caught our eye.

New Kayaks
As we just mentioned, customers tired of their old workout routine can now pick up a boat made specifically for “fitness paddling.” Perception has launched the Cadence 14.0 (for women) and The Rhythm 14.0 (for men), two Airalite boats designed to track straight and move swiftly. Beyond the hull construction, the boats have other features that aid in paddling fast and hard, such as seats that cant the paddler slightly forward for the best body positioning. Each boat retails for $1,600 and will be sold with a workout DVD and booklet that explains paddling workout programs. Look for a SNEWS® story in the coming weeks that will explain the new fitness program in greater detail.

For the past couple of seasons we’ve noted that outfitting systems have become a main concern for manufacturers, and the improvements continue. Perception and Dagger redesigned their outfitting this year with improved molded foam that offers an improved balance of cushioning and support. A nice touch is the lumbar support that adjusts to different heights, and the new thigh braces that offer a wide range of adjustment.

Speaking of Dagger, its new Approach 10 boat is an interesting concept. Good for rec boaters who are looking for a little more excitement, the Approach has a river running design that handles lower classes of whitewater. As the paddlesports industry looks for ways to get more people interested in whitewater paddling, Dagger is offering a boat that says, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go big to enjoy the sport.’ It’ll be interesting to see how well it sells.

Old Town‘s new rec/touring boats, the Cayuga 146 ($999 retail) and Cayuga 160 ($1,199 retail), are constructed using new technology where the boats are tilted while cooling to direct material to certain areas. This basically shaves weight without sacrificing stability. Cayuga boats have a three-layer set up along the hull and cockpit, and a two-layer construction at the bow and stern decks. The Cayuga comes in two lengths — 14 feet, 6 inches (more of a rec boat) and 16 feet (for touring). And the 146 is available in Hydrolite ($1, 699 retail), which is glossy like a composite boat, but also 20 percent lighter than many traditional plastic boats.

Larger paddlers who want to take overnight trips might like the new Necky Looksha V ($1,619 retail). It’s roomy and comfortable, but also built to cover large distances quickly. The boat has lots of primary stability, accelerates and glides well, and handles tides and wind chop up to 4 feet. Measuring 17 feet, 4 inches long and 23.75 inches wide, it weighs 65 pounds.

Ocean Kayak‘s Venus 11 boat is designed specifically for women who want to paddle flat water, moderate ocean swells or slow rivers. This bigger version of the Venus 10 weighs about 40 pounds and has women’s-specific features, such as a wider seat that’s positioned for a woman’s center of gravity. The Venus retail for $559, and Ocean Kayak is donating 1 percent of gross sales from Venus boats to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Riot is still expanding its offering of sea kayaks, such as the new British-style Brittany, measuring 16 feet, 6 inches and weighing 59 pounds. Made with Riot’s Cross Max process, the hull is stiff yet light, and the boat is positioned for a variety of pursuits, from flat water paddling, to fitness paddling, to crossing big seas.

A continuing trend in paddlesports is the growth of kayak fishing, and Riot showed us three boats designed to reel in that market. The new Chaser is a compact boat at 9 feet, 6 inches, and the Trophy is a larger model that measures 12 feet, 10 inches. For kayak fishers who want to customize their boat, there’s the Tracker, a 10-foot, 6-inch model with plenty of flat surfaces for mounting gear.

With its whitewater boats, Riot spent the last couple of years injecting its outfitting with new technologies. Now it’s refining the thigh braces and foot braces to make boats lighter, with components that are easier to adjust. While whitewater boats don’t get the attention they once did, Riot continues to innovate. For example, the new Flair 47 river play boat has a tail that’s lengthened and balanced to make it easier to maneuver backward while surfing — just a nice detail to consider.

When a kayak fisher dies and goes to heaven, he just might find himself floating along in Hobie‘s new Quest boat. Most notable, it’s part of Hobie’s paddle kayak line, so you can maneuver the boat with your feet and leave your hands free for what God intended — casting and reeling. The boat measures 13 feet (add 6 inches with a rudder) and weighs 57 pounds. With a retail price ranging from $799 to $949, it has more trick features than we can list, but rest assured it stacks up against any fishing kayak you’ve seen.

According to the folks at Mad River, the Adventure 16 rec boat, launched two years ago, was the most successful boat introduction in the history of the brand (as far as units sold). So, this year it rolled out the slightly smaller Adventure 14, which should be another great solo or tandem boat for families.

Current Designs created the new Rumour kayak ($2,849 retail) for women and smaller paddlers, giving it a narrow beam designed for people up to 150 pounds. It’s 16 feet long, 44 pounds and designed for easy maneuvering and rolling. It looks like a good boat for day trips, with a bow hatch, stern hatch and day hatch. (A skeg comes standard.)

Wilderness Systems seems to have the perfect boat for any length trip. At least that was our impression while checking out new additions to the Tsunami line. For day paddling or an overnighter, there’s two new smaller Tsunamis, the120 (12 feet) and 125 (12.5 feet). Those going on longer trips can paddle the new 160 or 165. In the Gen 2 polyethylene layup, these boats retail from $800 to $1,250. They’re also available in Duralite or composite construction.

Prijon updated its 16-foot Seayak with a larger cockpit that’s 34 inches long, so the boat now fits a wider range of paddlers. We like the new convenient “day hatch” added to the front of the cockpit. And the rudder mount has been lowered to improve performance in the wind. For smaller to medium-sized paddlers, Prijon introduced the new Motion touring boat. At 14 feet, 10 inches, it has a chine that allows you to lean in while remaining stable, which makes this boat good for those learning technical paddling techniques. The new Combi 359 Tour is another boat that eases people in the transition from flat water to lower classes of whitewater. Designed to be compact, yet maneuverable and fast, this polyethylene boat measures 11 feet, 9 inches, has a volume of 87 gallons and weighs 51 pounds.

Prijon has realized that many playboats on the market simply need to be bigger to attract a wider audience. The new Wizard has a roomy cockpit that’s 34 inches by 18 inches and a volume of 58 gallons. Its design makes it a good choice for those running rivers and learning whitewater paddling, yet you can also cartwheel and play around.

Liquid Logic had traditionally built playboats for small and medium-sized paddlers. But the new Cross River 125 and Cross River 250 ($999 retail) are built for larger paddlers who not only want to run the river, but also get in some play time. These boats are roomy, with cockpits that are 18.5 inches by 32.35 inches, and weigh 31 pounds (125) and 33 pounds (250). According to Liquid Logic, the new Jefe boat may be the most researched creek boat in history, having been tested from the Pacific Northwest to Chile. While creek boats have become smaller and more piercing, the company says this is a “take care of me” boat that resurfaces quickly and has a design that provides control, stability and soft landings.

If the Liquid Logic guys aren’t in the office, there’s a chance they’ve gone fishin’. This year the company launched the Manta Ray, its first sit-on-top that, among other things, is built for kayak fishing. The designers brought all their kayak knowledge to bear on this boat, giving it a rockered hull so that it smoothly negotiates waves, and a bow with high volume for a dry ride. It’s available in lengths of 12 feet and 14 feet, with an optional rudder.

With a nod to the new whitewater parks opening across the country, Wave Sport has launched The Project. With good hull speed, this spud boat is designed for shallow holes and smaller waves, and it comes in volumes of 45, 52 and 60 gallons.

Pyranha freshened up its whitewater line with several new boats, including the 4-Twenty for freestylers. At 6 feet (size S-M) or 6 feet, 3 inches (M-L), it weighs 28 pounds, making this a light boat with a hull designed for aggressive performance. For river runners who want to pull some freeriding moves, there’s the new Stretch. Similar in feel to the Seven O, The Stretch is a little longer at 6 feet, 10 inches (S-M) or 7 feet (L-XL). Another new river runner is the Burn, which replaces the H3. Pyranha says the Burn has been “tuned up a bit” and has a little more volume (70 gallons, size M; 79 gallons, size L) for extreme situations and better surfacing ability.

New Canoes
Mad River has resurrected an old Dagger mold to create new Legend 16 and Legend 15 canoes, built for paddlers who plan to encounter whitewater. Also, note that the vinyl IQ rail system is now the standard gunwale on all Mad River boats for ’06. Plus, the IQ cup holder is now standard on all IQ and IQ2 boats (except for the Adventure 14 and Adventure 16).

If you visited the Bell Canoe booth, the first thing you noticed was that those guys really do have the legs to pull off wearing a kilt. And we’re secure enough in our manhood to say that. But they weren’t sporting Utilikilts just to show off the calves. It was a way to promote the expansion of the Rob Roy line of rec touring canoes. Like its namesake, the new Rob Roy 12 looks smart and feisty in that deep green color, and it has a redesigned cockpit that sports a padded seat and integral backrest. Look for the line to expand in 2007 with a tandem version. Another new canoe is the Chestnut Prospector. This beautiful, 16-foot boat was commissioned by the Chestnut Canoe Company, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chestnut Prospector in 2006. Also in 2006, Bell will roll out a Royalex version of the boat.

Wenonah has more on its mind than new product. The company wants to increase the number of people participating in paddling, so this year it’s working with dealers to launch a new Half-Day Family Paddling demo program. Wenonah will create marketing materials, including a coupon that consumers can cut out and take to their local dealer for a half day of canoeing instruction. The program will also benefit local waterway conservation organizations. To participate, a dealer must have facilities available to demo canoes; it must carry a minimum of four Wenonah Demo models; and the dealer must supply qualified instruction at the start of the demo.

Paddle Apparel
This year Kokatat decided to update its Meridian dry suits, incorporating features from its successful Rogue dry tops. Made with three-layer Gore-Tex, the women’s and men’s Meridian suits have punch-through neck and wrist cuffs, plus pockets that are accessible while wearing a PFD. For warmer temperatures, a Meridian suit made with Tropos fabric is now available. Sure, it’s not quite as breathable as a W.L. Gore laminate, but it also costs about half as much. And speaking of lower costs, Kokatat introduced a version of the Rogue dry top with Tropos that will retail for $199. One more thing to keep an eye on: Kokatat has re-launched and expanded its UPF 40+ apparel line, and the new Paddling Trunks should fly off the rack.

Immersion Research has been working hard to reduce weight in its dry tops, and one result of that is the new X Jacket. It has a lighter inner tunnel that is water proof and breathable, plus ultra-sonic welded seams and Entrant three-layer shell fabric. As far as aesthetics go, we thought the medium-weight Men’s Comp X dry top looked great, with color combinations of crimson/gunmetal, honey/alfalfa/gunmetal, and blue steel/alfalfa/gunmetal. Another attractive piece is the Hooded Zephyr Jacket for touring. With this waterproof/breathable two-layer pullover, designers avoided using four-way seams that are difficult to tape and add weight. Nice touch. For women, the Long Sleeve Comp has been redesigned so that the back seam is longer than the front seam, which cants the arms forward for better mobility.

Uncomfortable PFDs are just no longer acceptable, and companies continue to offer products with improved designs. Just look at how Kokatat included beveled, articulated foam panels on the new Bahia and Bahia Tour PFDs. With other nice features, like ventilation panels, these PFDs retail for $89 and $109, making them good options for rec boaters

MTI Adventurewear launched one of the best new products we saw at the show this year. The PFDiva ($95 retail) has a clever “Adjust-a-Bust” system to comfortably fit cup sizes A through D. Inside the front of the PFD is a pocket that holds a series of pads made of memory foam. You just place the appropriate number of pads for your size, and the foam molds to your shape, so it fits without applying lots of pressure. And the pads don’t affect the buoyancy. We highly recommend that any paddle dealer give this a serious look. Also check out the new Youth Discovery PFD ($60 retail). Modeled after the adult Discovery, this is a good option for kids 50 to 90 pounds who don’t want to look geeky in a collar-style PFD.

Perusing the new paddles on the market for ’06, one thing stands out — the number of new adjustment systems for ferrules. Werner led the charge to improve this area of paddles with its Adjustable Ferrule System, which we think is still the cleanest system on the market. In April, Werner’s patent for the system was approved, and you can find it on all its Performance and Premium models. Beyond the ferrule system, Werner is offering a huge assortment of blade sizes throughout its lines, and all new paddles are available in standard or small diameter shafts. As for specific models, we liked the new Athena touring paddle (part of the foam core line), which has a smaller blade to allow a faster cadence. And the new Cypress is a nice addition to the foam core line, addressing the growing trend toward high-angle paddles.

Harmony introduced a new “Featherlock” adjustable ferrule system for its Adventure, Sea Passage and Tortuga paddles. With the flip of a switch, a paddler can not only adjust the feathering to any angle, but also adjust the length by as much as 15 centimeters. The company said it hopes this will not only give paddlers a custom fit, but also allow retailers to reduce the number of SKUs they’ll need to carry.

Current Designs added a new Lever-Lock Adjustment System to the ferrules of its Phantom composite paddles. After flipping up a lever, you have infinite adjustment to the feathering, and you can change the paddle length by 10 centimeters.

AT Paddles gets the Crazy BOB (SNEWS® Best of Booth) award again. No, they weren’t dressed in buckskins and swilling whiskey from the jug this year, but they were dressed like undertakers with a coffin-themed booth. Of course, we were dying to see the new paddles. Ha ha! “Dying” to see them…get it? OK, so we’re not very funny. But we’re all smiles over the new Ergo Tour Small Shaft Paddle. It’s great to see a company of hard-core paddlers recognizing that women and those with smaller hands also deserve a very high-tech paddle. AT is also working with new epoxy and plastic materials, which enables the company to bring paddles like the AT-4 to market at lower prices. (The AT-4 is now $249.)

Some of the best ideas are simple ideas. North Water‘s deck-mounted hydration holster is a water bottle holder that you can mount to the boat deck or wear as a waist belt. Since water bottles are now made in all sorts of shapes and sizes, the holster cinches down to hold a wide range of bottle designs.

Grateful Heads may have a hit on its hands (or its head, rather) with the new Slugger paddling helmet. Looking something like a low-profile batting helmet (OK, it looks better than it sounds), the helmet has a multi-density foam liner that takes multiple impacts. After speaking with the guys at Grateful Head, we came away with the impression that they aren’t just interested in making helmets that look cool, but they are truly passionate about increasing the level of protection for paddlers. A big thumbs-up for these guys.

For the “Creative Way to Save Money” award, we give a shout out to Immersion Research for its newly designed TuffSkin spray skirt. Rather than constructing it with Kevlar and neoprene, the company is using material from old tires, which costs less and brings down the price of the product. How does that ad go? You’ve got a lot riding on your tires…OK, so our humor’s a little tired…get it? OK, we’ll stop now, we promise.  

Northwest River Supplies knows that plenty of people travel with their paddle gear, so it created the new Kayak Paddle Bags, which appear to be bomber. Bags for one-piece paddles ($80 retail) and breakdown paddles ($70 retail) are constructed with a Cordura outer shell wrapped around soft foam. In the case, paddle blades rest against soft fleece liners, and they’re secured with straps. The bags also have carry handles and removable shoulder slings.

Have you checked out the paddling gloves from Harbinger yet? If not, they’re worth a look-see. The company has at least four styles of gloves made for paddling, including fingerless models. We’ve tried them on, and they fit well, with nicely articulated fingers. The KCR is a simple design, made of mesh and neoprene with an abrasion-resistant palm material. At the other end of the spectrum is the Stroke P.S. 2. Made of 2 mm neoprene, it’s more like body armor, with padding for the knuckles and back of the hand, plus Dura Grip rubber for the fingers.