Monday, January 4, 2016

Death of the longboat.

It is a weird thing when a fear you have, but have never verbalized, is spoken by another. For quite some time I have thought that I was seeing declines in people who paddle long boats (with long boats being any boat over 12 feet in length). Now, it is quite possible that my perception if the decline is simply my location. I am in the center of North Carolina - fishing and rec boat central. I started feeling this way several years ago, every now and then something will occur to remind me of my fear.

It started several years ago (maybe as many as 5) with the Werner Paddles rep. I asked her if Whitewater was the bulk of sales for her company, she laughed and said no. She informed me that whitewater paddling was and had been on a steady decline.

I thought about it and realized that despite the fact that I live about two hours - give or take - from the North Carolina mountains, which could arguably be called the Yosemite of white water paddling, and an hour from the US National Whitewater Center - the training site for the Olympic paddlers - that I knew fewer and fewer whitewater paddlers. Certainly I still see people with whitewater boats, but the retail paddle shops are carrying less and less white water gear. I think the decline in white water is one of perception. I think to the laymen who wants to get into paddling, this is what they think white water is like.

Russell Davies 2015 from Rogue Specimens on Vimeo.

She went on to tell me that it was kayak touring either. She said that their biggest market was, by far, kayak fishing and rec paddlers. Of course, this was 5 or so years ago, it may have changed. Something else that changed was big box stores like Dicks, Sports Authority and even Walmart are now selling recreational kayaks.

It used to be that to buy a kayak you were looking at spending a minimum of $1000 to get a complete kit: kayak, paddle, and pfd. Now you can get a complete kit for $399. Companies like emotion kayaks created an explosion of low cost, competently built kayaks.

The next warning sign I saw - and continue to see - is over at Reddit's Kayaking subreddit. I regularly see people asking for opinions on a first kayak purchase. They are almost never long boats or touring boats. They are almost exclusively rec boats and fishing boats. Probably once a week I see a post like this.

I'm in the Finger Lakes area and travel to the ADK every summer, so I get out on the water quite frequently. I've been kayaking for about 2 years now, borrowing from friends. I've only ever used 2 types, and I'm not exactly sure what brands, but I think one was a Pelican (not sure what style), the other was an Otter. I'm 5'2 about 110lbs, so I'm not looking for anything too large, just a good standard Kayak. I'm going to check Craigslist first, but basically I'd like to get the names of a few reputable brands so I can narrow down my search. Any advice would be great, thanks! Edit: I went out to look at some local stores to see what was in stock, and everyone I talked to tried to push 12' options vs 10' there reason, besides extra footage=$$? Personally I think a 12' is just too big for me, but I could be wrong. Thoughts?

I am assuming that sales people were recommending longer boats and this person wasn't asking why.  This makes me a little sad. This person isn't in a position where they are comfortable asking for more information, and they don't fully understand what they are buying (if they don't understand that 12 is going to be better than 10 for lakes). 

But none of these things where what made me hear my internal voices become loud and clear. About a month and a half ago I was loading my kayak on the roof of my car, when I saw a beautiful Porsche drive into the parking lot at the lake I was working in. I made a joke to the person I was with, something along the lines of "well, there isn't a kayak inside that thing!" and as the car moved past me I made eye contact with the driver. We knew each other. It was Andy Zimmerman. 

For those of you who don't know, Andy was the founder of Wilderness Systems, which he started in a garage in the town I live in. After he sold Wilderness (and his no compete was expired) he founded Native watercraft and Liquid Logic. This is a man who is engrained into the DNA of paddling in North America. His fingers have had an impact on just about every boat made. I have met him 3 or 4 times, and each time we've met, we have ended up having a really nice conversation. 

This is Andy and me having  one of those conversation. He is a great guy and has a great insight into the world of paddling. I once asked him if he had a photo album of every boat he every produced. He said no, he had a garage. I would love to get into that garage. In passing he mentioned that no one buys long boats anymore. When he said it, someone as connected to the industry as he is, it made me shiver. (on a side note, I have long contended that the Wilderness systems Tempest is the most popular touring kayak in North America, I asked Andy that and he said "of all time? I don't think so. I think it is probably the sealoution simply because there were so few boats to choose from when it came out". That is the kind of insight I am talking about. 

Several days later I was on Facebook, and another acquaintance of mine, Mark Hall who I think currently works for Boreal designs (or he may just do distribution for them, I am not sure) mention that despite the death of the long boat, Boreal was committed to making them and was releasing 2 or 3 different long boat designs this year. 

While I applaud Boreal - and I have paddled their boats with NOLS and they are wonderful boats - It is saddening to hear from another source that long boats are dying. 

The death of the long boat is just so disheartening. It is like the death of Ferrari, or Mercedes. I am glad that so many people are paddling, I just wish they would do it in kayaks that would show them what a kayak is capable of. A boat that glides through the water, and rolls fluidly. A boat that fits like a glove instead of a bucket. My fear is that most people will never know what they are missing. They think that this is a kayak. 

And while technically it is a kayak, it is the worst possible representation of a kayak. But I am not going to give up. I am going to paddle a long kayak until they pry her from my grip. I am just going to keep paddling. 

* Note - A lot of my perception is probably regional. In the Pacific North West, I would bet that long boats are the norm. On a recent trip to Toronto I saw a rack of probably 200 longboats. Which I always like to see. 

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand this feeling. I work for a good sized outdoor retailer and when I started carried a decent number of mid-level long boats ranging from 12 to 17 feet. In the three years I've worked there, the longest boat we carry is now the 15.5 foot Necky Elias. I love this boat and currently own one but it's sad to think that it's getting harder and harder to find great long boats.