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Bill Masters is a man of many ideas, and his latest one, “Evolution Kayaks,” isn’t likely to be his last. However, the new company mission statement and its initial product launch speaks to his entrepreneurial side and his inner drive to create.
On Evolution’s website — www.evolutionkayaks.com — is written, “Everything evolves, nothing stands still. Like rivers, life is full of constant change — endlessly flowing streams of tradition, chance and choice that renew and remake themselves in response to changing times. Like a river, a business is carved and given shape by all who have been a part of it from its beginning.”
Masters recently spoke exclusively to SNEWSÂ® to talk about his new “project” and the evolution that continues.
When we began the conversation wondering if there was any significance behind the name, and the logo, which looks like a variation of the Perception logo, Masters responded, “It is a game. That is what life is, a big old game. Evolution is a name that other people appear to be getting more meaning out of then I intended on the surface, and that’s fine.
“As for the logo, it stands on its own merit,” he added.
“The bottom line is, I like to create things,” said Masters, who has his name on over 32 patents, many of them boating related, but a number are for new technologies and manufacturing processes that will be used, no doubt, in his new company. In the last year, he has created designs and filed for associated patents on three kayaks, a motorcycle trailer and an industrial timer.
For Masters, his new company and the current line of three recreational kayaks (the Diversion 16-3, the Diversion 14-2 and the Diversion 12-1) are simply products of his imagination and came about as a result of partnerships and friendships with former competitors and associates.
“There has never been anything like these boats before,” Masters told us. “They grew out of a creation of art more than anything and yet at the same time, they turned out to be very, very good paddling boats.”
The fact that everything was created on the computer and using the Internet has Masters practically giddy. He first used naval design software downloaded from the Internet to design the hull about two years ago. Initially, he offered the design to Crescent Capital (you remember it, the company now known as Arcapita that sold WaterMark boats to ACS and Confluence?).
“They essentially told me I was too old and too obsolete,” said Masters.
Masters then ran into a friend, Eddy Smith of Grady White Boats, while down in Panama and told Smith of his idea and his need now for a CAD driver. After getting his designs put onto a CAD format, Masters had some rapid prototype models made and began carving them. Working with the naval architecture software, the look began to become more refined.
Again, turning to the Internet, he contacted a boat manufacturer in another country that made a prototype boat for Masters.
“That first boat design was managed all by email and the web and we argued a lot, but through it all we got a full scale model made and paddled it, and then began to create the necessary production tools,” said Masters.
His creations feature double step hulls and look remarkably like something Jules Verne might create — only with a cockpit to sit in rather than a submarine coning tower.
“The real innovation is found in the unique parabolic shape of the boat’s design and the way it performs, a lot like a parabolic (snow) ski,” Masters said. “Thanks to a thermal vacuum forming process that aesthetically creates unique curves and color variations, the cockpit, just like on a ski where the binding and boot are located, is parabolic, so the shape aids in turning.”
The innovation doesn’t stop there either, according to Masters. “The plastic we use is setting new standards for the industry, never before used in manufacturing of similar product. It’s repairable, lightweight, very stiff, extremely durable, with exceptional abrasion and ultraviolet resistance.”
Masters is now working with John Abbenhouse, and if that name sounds familiar, it should. He was the founder of Northwest Kayaks as a 22-year-old, nationally ranked whitewater paddler in 1978, although he eventually lost his company through the bankruptcy process.
According to Masters, he’s set Abbenhouse up with a large C&C (computer numerical cutting) machine and Abbenhouse is now creating kayaks for Masters.
So far, one retailer is carrying Masters’ boats, Sunrift Adventures (www.sunrift.com). It is no coincidence that the store is also located just a mile from where Masters lives. Both of his sons also worked there while growing up.
While Masters is already at work on several more boat designs, including a sit-on-top he tells us he has a unique idea for, he has no intention of becoming another boat manufacturer peddling plastic to retailers in the hopes of getting big. Been there, done that.
Evolution Kayaks’ headquarters are under construction just five miles from Masters’ home, and he said it will be one of the “Southeast’s largest, state-of-the-art facilities focused exclusively on outdoor lifestyle.”
“I want to turn this company over to someone else to run. I want to see Evolution turn into a company that manufactures for others in the industry,” said Masters. “Ideally, we will be developing technology patents through Evolution, and we will become the manufacturing and assembly arm and the distribution arm for smaller entrepreneurial companies with great ideas who now only have to worry about the marketing and sales side of the business.”
Masters tells us that one of his patents is for a machine that will allow him to take an idea for a boat from someone on Monday morning, and have a boat for them to paddle by Wednesday afternoon. He expects that on-demand level of prototyping and product development, unknown in the industry currently, to be a strong motivator for smaller companies to turn to Evolution for assistance.
One of those he might work with is his son, who has designed his own whitewater kayak.
“It’s a very radical design, and I might play with it a little. I would entertain working with anyone else in the industry, but I’m not going to be designing whitewater boats myself anymore. It is not my world now, although I do still paddle a bit for entertainment,” Masters said.
As for whether Masters will be at Outdoor Retailer with Evolution Kayaks, he remains coy.
“We’ll certainly be in the market with boats this year, but really it is setting us up for next year launching with broader distribution — although I really don’t know what my distribution model is going to be yet,” said Masters. “It really doesn’t matter to me if we sell 500 boats or 5,000 boats.”
“I am toying with the idea of being at Summer Market, but not if I have to run the company and be there to sell boats,” Masters said. “I like being retired.”
Retired maybe. Standing still, never.