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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: Paddles, PFDs, apparel and watersports accessory trends

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 paddle, PFD, apparel and watersports accessories that caught our wandering editors' eyes.

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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 paddles, PFDs, apparel and other watersports accessories:

The skinny on paddles
We’re still seeing new twists on adjustable ferrules. Aquabound ( showed us the new Turn Lock Coupler (TLC) for its paddles $150 and up. The company’s mission the past few seasons has been to shave every ounce of fat from its paddles, and the TLC adds just one ounce to paddles.

Cannon ( may have the most clean ferrule adjustment system on the market. No bulky locking rings on the outside of the shaft — just a simple cam inside that locks in place with a simple twist.

Building on our coverage of the surge in kayak fishing boats (click here to read), we have one more fish story for you — AT Paddles ( is offering kayak fishers the new Fishsticks paddles ($329), sporting a dark and subtle camo pattern. When a hardcore whitewater paddle company rolls out a model for anglers, well, you know the fishing thing’s huge.

PFDs and apparel
With the entire outdoor industry focusing more on environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, it’s no surprise that the biggest story in PFDs is the move to Gaia PVC-free foam. Foe example, you’ll see Gaia foam in Kokatat‘s ( new Ronin and Ronin Pro ($149, $199). Previous foams put harmful substances into the environment, such as dioxins and heavy metals. Gaia does not produce these, plus it release no ozone-depleting materials, and it’s softer and more resistant to compression than previous materials. Patagonia, Stohlquist, Astral Buoyancy and Kokatat are some of the companies going PVC-free and putting Gaia foam hangtags on new PFDs.

Patagonia ( — which has dropped the Lotus brand name — is using Gaia foam in all 10 of its PFDs. Two new models — the Rio Frio ($120) for general use and the Rio Serrano ($125) for sea kayaking — have a unique waist belt with side cinch buckles. The belt is not entirely attached to the torso portion of the PFD, so the upper portion of the PFD has some flexibility to move without riding up.

We saw several cool, new concepts with PFDs this year. Stohlquist ( displayed a great new fishing vest with rigid “drawbridge” pockets that drop down to provide a work surface for dealing with tackle.

Astral Buoyancy ( has taken the inflatable PFD concept to a new level with the Hybrid 200 PFD. This low-profile model offers 8.1 pounds of flotation with foam, but a bladder stashed in a small front panel can be inflated in just two breaths to add another 14.6 pounds of flotation. It should be a good option for sea kayakers and folks dealing with warm conditions.

NRS ( expanded its PFD line this year to include the Chinook fishing PFD ($75), plus the Vista for kids ($40).

Paddling apparel companies hanging on
For the past two or three years, the market has been challenging for paddle apparel companies, and this year Mountain Surf and Bomber Gear exited the apparel market. But the companies that hung in there are charging ahead.

Immersion Research ( has already sold through its first production run of its new drysuit ($650), and NRS launched its Inversion Kayak Drysuit ($675), made with breathable TriTon 210-denier fabric. The company also paid lots of attention to women paddlers, offering a Venus 3 mm wetsuit for women with a less-athletic build ($160).

Waterborne shoes
Mion ( made a splash with its Current sandal, though the first version has had some fit issues. The Current will be improved with a narrower toe box, and toes should not slip out as easily. Plus, there will be a better fit in the heel area, and Mion is replacing the footbed with a new one that’s won’t squeak and will dry more quickly.

NRS introduced its first water shoe, the Descent ($65), which appears to provide lots of support and a pretty grippy outsole.

When it comes to offering great traction, few do a better job than Five Ten (, and its new Picacho water shoe ($99) could also add some style to your footwear wall.

Teva‘s ( new Sunkosi water shoe ($100) has a sophisticated drainage system with several drainage ports and mesh screens. We’re interested to see how well this new Drain Frame works in not only shedding water, but also in helping ventilate the shoe. Teva also rolled out a good-looking P1 kayak bootie ($50). It sports a split toe for stability on rocks, a strap over the foot to keep the heel in place, and the high neoprene cuff can be cut down with scissors for warmer climes.

Chaco‘s ( classic performance sandals, now called Headwaters, are available for kids. They provide the same support as the adult version, and they have styling for girls and boys, in children’s sizes 8-13 and youth sizes 1-6 ($50).

Chota ( says boaters have been asking for a new waterproof boot, so it introduced a new Portage Boot with a sole that can be cleated.

Accessories from all corners
You may have read in the 2006 Summer Outdoor GearTrends® magazine that the “iPod effect” has hit the outdoor market. (See the story “iPod Effect” in the Summer Outdoor 2006 issue, page 72 or read by clicking here.) H2O Audio (, a company in San Diego, Calif., brought to the show an Outdoor series of waterproof and water-resistant housings for iPod machines and other MP3 players. The waterproof H20 Audio housing for an Apple iPod with Video is $89.95 retail. The water-resistant iPod Nano housing is $39.98 and has a Scroll Wheel that lets you control all of the Nano’s functions, even when wearing gloves. Yesss! The company also makes waterproof headphones ($39.95).

Baseball-style paddling helmets continue to be popular for confident paddlers, but the next trend is toward more voluminous batter’s cap styles. Check out Predator‘s ( new thermoplastic Ducati helmet ($69.95). It’s really just a style thing, and don’t be surprised if some people turn the helmet backward — that’s how the cool kids do it.

Looking for a new glove line? Check out Kokatat‘s new Hand Jackets, including a 3 mm neoprene glove ($43) for cold weather, a 2 mm glove ($41), and the lightweight fingerless model ($21) with a nylon spandex upper and synthetic suede palm.

Seattle Sports ( hopes to reel in anglers with its new fishing accessories, including anchor kits, deck bags and catch sacks.

Bending Branches ( showed us the new Kayak Kickstand, a wood and plastic paddle holder that attaches to a boat cockpit. It lets you lean on the paddle for easier entry into the boat — a pretty clever idea.

Yakima ( boat rack boxes will now include bow and stern tie-down straps, for no extra cost. Previously, the straps have been sold separately for $30. For 2008, Yakima will also overhaul the design of its boat racks to fall in line with its new, sleek rack styling.

Thule‘s ( Slipstream rack ($300) allows you to secure a boat to the rack, and then slide the rack back and forth to perfectly position the boat in the optimum place above the car. It’s nice to not have to drag your boat across the rack, you know?

Bags and packs
The roll-top look is fashionable in the cities these days, and Seal Line ( launched an Urban series, including a backpack ($119.95) and two tote bags ($59.95-$69.95) with roll-top closures. The company also redesigned its Boundary Pack with an improved suspension system and waist belt, and added a new Pro Pack that has a suspension system, waist belt and can be clipped on the sides like a traditional dry bag.

Outdoor Research ( introduced several new drysacks this summer, including six sizes of the roll-top Helium sack (398-3,364 cubic inches), made of a very light fabric with a waterproof coating and taped seams. The new Hydroseal DryComp AirX compression sack sports an air-permeable/waterproof fabric that helps purge air when you compress it. Smart idea.

North Water ( always seems to come up with cool ideas, and we dig the new Sea Tec Provision Pack. You can put food in the main body of the bag, and a piece of fabric (4 feet by 4 feet) can be rolled out to provide a clean surface for serving food.