Kayaks don't just show up on the boat rack of your local shop. There's a whole lot of blood, sweat and beers that goes into the latest design. For a blow-by-blow description of how a boat concept becomes reality we talked to Liquidlogic designer Shane Benedict. He focused specifically on the brand's Remix XP, an innovative crowd-pleaser that can run whitewater as easily as it can navigate ocean rock gardens.
– Doug Schnitzspahn
THE INITIAL SKETCH
For Benedict, the most important part of the design process starts over a few beers with Liquidlogic's marketing director Woody Callaway and rough sketches on cocktail napkins. More important than the sketch is the niche the boat will fill. "You have to narrow down the variables of the design, focus on the goals of the boat and figure out where you want it to fit in as far as performance and sizing go," he says. With the Remix XP, Benedict and Callaway decided to create a more accessible, versatile kayak. "We were looking to make a whitewater boat for everybody," Benedict says.
Working from those tattered sketches, Benedict fires up the computer–usually nursing a headache–and creates a 3D image of the basic design. Traditionally, most designers made these drawings by hand but now have gone to computers simply due to the flexibility a virtual drawing provides. "I can roll it around, create different iterations and bring four or five different models to a meeting. Before, I had to spend far more time creating a hand-drawn model and would have to go back to the drawing board to make changes," he says. For the Remix XP, Benedict took the company's Remix whitewater model and made the boat wider, put more stability in the edges, and added a spring-loaded skeg and a day hatch.
When Benedict hand-sculpts a boat he starts with a solid block of foam and a chainsaw, moving to smaller tools and coaxing the shape out of the lump the way Michelangelo would when creating a statue. Benedict fine tunes, shaving away parts or filling in with putty similar to auto body filler. The resulting plug is then sent to a foundry to create a prototype. "It's an artistic process. The details start to show themselves as you move along," he says. But when time is of the essence many boats go directly from the computer to a mold maker, where the computer relays instructions to a giant Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router that carves the boat to spec out of a foam block. The process isn't as intimate and can be cost-prohibitive for smaller boat makers, but it can save weeks in the design process, allowing more time for testing.
Whether hand- or CNC-shaped, the foam model is used to create molds and plastic prototypes. The prototypes, made with inexpensive and less-durable plastic than production models, are put through the paces. "The way we test depends on the boat. You want to put the people in the boat who it'll cater to," explains Benedict. "A high-performance playboat goes out to our [sponsored] team but we also put non-sponsored athletes in it to get a variety of feedback." Benedict brought the Remix XP out with friends and family on overnight trips and took it on the road to instructional groups so he could get input from its target audience. The feedback helps Benedict tweak the design, on both the computer and by hand. "The first prototype of the Remix XP was horrible," he confesses. "I put a friend in it and had to take it away because I was scared for him."
THE FINAL MOLD
Once the design has been perfected through testing, Liquidlogic creates a two-half aluminum mold—"like a giant plastic bunny," says Benedict—then pours in a powdered plastic and cooks the mold for an hour. "The whole manufacturing process is done right here," says Benedict. "The boat comes out of the oven and is immediately outfitted. It takes about two hours per boat."