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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: Canoes, kayaks and other floating trends

With an expanded convention center and a new spot on the trade show floor, paddlesports companies didn't lack wares to showcase. Take a looksie at the latest trends and products in canoes, kayaks and other things that float.

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Was it just us, or was this show expansive!? Our dogs are still barking after all the aisle-walking trying to hunt down booths that had moved and trends that were moving even faster. What follows, then, is a very select summary of product that caught our wandering editors’ eyes and it is by no means complete! So if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on Kinetic Koffee shots to see you, too tired to care from wandering for miles up and down aisles, didn’t think your product was trend-setting, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for canoes, kayaks and other things that float:

Reeling in the kayak fishers
We half expected to see Gone Fishin’ signs hanging from booths in the paddlesports section of the Salt Palace Convention Center this year. The kayak fishing trend is so strong right now that most boat manufacturers feel compelled to offer at least one boat for that market. Just one example is Wenonah, which launched its first fishing boat, the Altura ($1,699), this year. This 15-foot sit-on-top is a Kevlar/fiberglass composite, and it’s decked out with all the rigging you’d expect in a good fishing boat.

We’ve seen companies rooted in the whitewater market, such as Riot, gradually expanding to other offerings, such as rec/touring boats, and the fishing sector is now a major focus for expansion. Consider that this summer Riot added a fourth fishing model, the Trophy EXP ($899).

Hobie‘s been playing in the fishing category for a while now, and its new Revolution boat ($1,599) is an impressive addition, built for speed, stability and maneuverability. It sports three tackle buckets, hinged hatches and a pretty trick rudder system. We also like that the company offers a boat hauler with inflatable wheels. You can expect Hobie and others to launch many new fishing accessories in the future, as a boatload of players are trying to capture that part of the market.

Legacy Paddlesports showed off the new Ultimate 12 fishing kayak, which has a catamaran-style hull so people can easily stand in it. A real highlight is the seat that slides back and forth, making it easier to access gear on the boat. The seat is made of a 100-percent recyclable material that drains well and allows air to pass through easily. The material, also used in sunshades, won’t degrade from sun exposure.

Different strokes for different folks
It’s really sunk in with boat companies that they need to reach out to a wider audience to get more butts in boats. This year, we saw a great variety of non-traditional boat designs for people of all abilities and body types. It’s clear that families, women and children are becoming an important part of the customer mix.

A good example is Mad River‘s new Synergy sit-on-top canoe, which allows beginners to feel secure with the stability of a canoe, while they also get lots of storage capacity and the performance of a sit-on-top kayak. It’s available in models 12 feet long ($750-$1,135, depending on outfitting), and 14 feet long ($850-$1,235, depending on outfitting).

Kids and smaller folks should take a look at Wilderness Systems’ Tsunami SP (small person’s) boat. The 12-foot SP created quite a bit of buzz at the show, and the boat, which holds about 180 pounds total, will retail for $700. One important note on Perception: The company is introducing a new base hull design that will translate into all of its touring, sit-on-top and recreational boats. The new V-shape hull design will have soft-to-moderate chines, and will allow people to move between boat types and get a familiar feel with each.

Another nod to kids is the Wenonah Raven ($1,099), the company’s first full composite boat for youngsters. Made of fiberglass composite, the Raven measures 12 feet long and 20 inches wide. For smaller guys and women, Wenonah launched the Willow ($2,799), a British-style sea kayak. Measuring 15 feet, 6 inches long and 22 inches wide, it’s built to be very responsive, but also easy to handle.

Old Town is catering to families with products such as the new Dirigo Tandem Plus kayak ($1,099), which is designed so that kids can sit in various positions throughout the boat — and it even has a snack holder.

Necky said it studied the bone structure and body shapes of women when designing the new Eliza touring kayak ($1,299). It created a shorter and narrower cockpit, so women could paddle comfortably, and the boat has an overall design built for cruising at 3.5 knots, which the company said is a comfortable pace for many women.

You’ve heard the old “Jaws” movie line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Well, Bell Canoe‘s North Shore canoe ought to get the job done. The sucker’s 20.5 feet long, and it can accommodate families, three buddies who all want to fish from the same boat, or those hunting Great White sharks. (OK, we totally made up the shark thing.) Anyway, a KevLight version weighs 54 pounds, and the Black Gold lay-up is 60 pounds.

Whitewater boats certainly weren’t a focus of this year’s trade show, but the trend continues toward more versatile boats, such as Pyranha‘s new Recoil ($899), built for running rivers and also mixing in some play time.

With a generation of whitewater boaters getting older (and thicker!), the other trend is whitewater boats for more hefty folks. Dagger’s new Agent playboat is available in three sizes, including a 6-foot, 4-inch model ($925) that will hold a person weighing up to 225 pounds. Riot‘s Astro 58 playboat has enough volume to fit a person up to 230 pounds. The company didn’t just increase the length, but also changed placement of the planing surface, putting it more toward the rear, to improve performance.

The guys at Prijon told us that “big is back.” And their new boat for big-uns, the Hercules ($1,199), handles big and steep water.

Hobie has some new competition in the pedal boat market. The new Wavewalker company in Everson, Wash., has launched boats that you pedal in a circular motion, like a bike. They’re also unique in that they have a recumbent seat. While Wavewalker boats aren’t as evolved or refined as Hobie boats, they’re speedy and fairly nimble on the water. Though billed as being quiet, we could hear the gear mechanism during our tests at the Open Air Demo. Right now, there is a one-person, 13.5-foot model ($2,495; $2,695 in camo), and soon there will be a 17.5-foot tandem ($3,495; $3,695 in camo)

We were impressed with the attention to detail in Wave Sport‘s new Habitat creek boat ($1,000), especially its safety and outfitting features. The roto-molded bow pillar makes it easy to exit the boat if pinned, and there are many bomber grab handles. What’s really cool is the integrated backpack carrying system, which you should definitely check out.

That loud “whomp!” you heard on the show floor was people whacking Liquidlogic‘s new MFT boat material with a hammer. Produced by Milliken, MFT is a tough-as-nails, but super-light thermoplastic composite material. As many as 28 layers of the stuff is used in the new Sojourn 14 touring kayak, which weighs only 34 pounds! A similar ABS boat would weigh about 50 pounds. The MFT material was clearly one of the most impressive things we saw at the show, and you can expect to see it used throughout the Liquidlogic line.

Speaking of innovation, we have seen the skin-on-frame boat future, and its name is Trak Kayak. Trak, a new brand, made its debut this summer with one of the most innovative things on the entire show floor. The boat, which can be assembled in about 10 minutes, has an aluminum frame covered with a shell fabric designed for military fuel bladders and for controlling oil spills (it has a history of holding up to sea water). Jacks attached to the frame easily stretch the fabric taut. Plus, the inner jacks adjust the curvature of the boat along the keel line for paddling in various conditions. Too cool. And, get this, jacks actually bend the side-to-side arc of the boat to serve as a rudder. The big trick will be getting a version to market that sells for less that the current price tag of $4,575.