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Greg Barton, Co-founder and Lead Designer, Epic Kayaks

Age: 54 // Years paddling: 44 // Years designing: 37

How did you start paddling? My parents were marathon canoe racers, and my brother, sister and I all started at a young age. Very quickly we met Marcia Jones Smoke, who had won a Bronze medal in Olympic kayaking, and began flatwater sprint racing. I became an Olympian as well, winning four medals, including two golds in 1988—the K-1 1,000 meters and the K-2 1,000 meters with my partner Norm Bellingham.

How does your racing background influence your designs? I believe that competition really separates what works from what’s a fad. That’s given us the confidence to innovate. Conventional thought is that sea kayaks should have a long, rockered bow to perform in rough water. Yet surfski paddlers use boats with vertical bows in water that is way bigger and more technical than most sea kayakers will ever encounter. So we gave our 18X sea kayak a vertical bow, and other features borrowed from racing, including lightweight materials and the TrakMaster rudder modeled on the rudders in surfskis.

Describe your design philosophy. My whole philosophy, and Epic’s in general, is that we want people to have more fun out on the water. In my view, you’re going to have the most fun if you’re paddling something that’s efficient and comfortable.

What’s your design process? I’ll talk with my business partner, 12-time world surfski champion Oscar Chalupsky and others on my team. We decide what kind of boat we want to make, and for what kind of paddler. Then I’ll start with the hull below the waterline—trying different shapes, checking the stability, and doing drag calculations. Once I find the sweet spot for the hull shape, we’ll start looking at other features—how does it need to handle, what conditions it will be used in. Finally, we build a prototype and paddle it. I’m more the hands-on computer guy, and I count on Oscar for his experience. My background is flatwater, and his is open-ocean paddling. It’s a nice blend.