Innova Kayak Founder Tim Rosenhan Dies at 68

Inflatable kayak pioneer leaves long-lasting legacy

Innova founder Tim Rosenhan on why he sells kayaks. Rosenhan died Oct. 24.

By Eugene Buchanan

The paddling community lost one of its most passionate and innovative members when Innova Kayak founder Tim Rosenhan died unexpectedly Oct. 24. He was 68.

Rosenhan had gone to Twisp, Washington to help clean up the remains of a friend's home lost to last summer's Methow Valley fires. He had been working with a chain saw, and collapsed while taking a break for a glass of water.

Located between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., near the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea, Innova Kayaks was owned by Rosenhan and partner Paul Neutz, who began importing high-end inflatable touring kayaks to North American from the Czech Republic in the early 1990s. The Innovas were made in Neutz's hometown of Prague.

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Tim Rosenhan was a kayaker, businessman and environmental activist.

The two later partnered with a factory in Neutz’s hometown of Prague, which has been building such boats since 1950. Legend has it that before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the communist government demanded all kayaks be made from bright materials, so that potential escapees could be spotted more easily.

Rosenhan was a popular member of the paddling industry who served as president of the Trade Association of Paddlesports. At Innova, he helped spearhead such IK designs as the Swing I, Swing II, Safari, Seaker and popular Helios I and II models, spurring the growth of IKs for touring. All are made of easily recyclable and durable rubber (on Earth Day 2010, Innova rolled out the industry's first inflatable kayak and canoe recycling program).

Those who did business with Rosenhan were impressed by his integrity and commitment to paddlesports.

"I first met Tim when Innova was still in its infancy," says AIRE sales manager Chris Callanan. "I went into our first meeting to sell him advertising for C&K magazine, thinking inflatables were only for whitewater, and I left realizing the value of portable boats for all kinds of flat water paddling.

"I also realized he had a depth of knowledge on a variety of topics," he adds. "Over time our annual meeting turned into a three-hour lunch where we discussed sales challenges, the paddlesports industry, sailing and even motorcycles. He was passionate and opinionated about many things, but he was also a listener.

“Many people's goal in paddlesports is to sell more products; Tim's was all about making the industry better. He was a gem and he leaves a void that won't be filled."

Adds Mark Hall, of Riot Kayaks: "He was simply a standard one only hopes to follow. You couldn't find a nicer guy to be around and learn from."

Rosenhan was an avid sailor throughout his life.

Rosenhan earned an engineering degree from Dartmouth, and later joined the Marines where he became a flight instructor in F-4 Phantom jets. After the Marines he worked as an airport planner with Seattle's Reid Middleton Inc., where he was responsible for revamping the runway and airport terminal at Friday Harbor, Washington–a hotbed of sea kayaking in the Pacific Northwest. Later earning a Masters in architecture from the University of Oregon, he returned to Washington's Skagit Valley where he developed an affordable farmhouse design for Skagit Self-Help Housing.

An avid kayaker, scuba diver and mountain climber, Rosenhan was also a sailor who loved cruising the San Juans with his family in his 41-foot Choey Lee-built sloop Glory. An ardent activist, he also served on the Guemes Island Environmental Trust, petitioning the Skagit County Board of County Commissioners to adopt a seawater intrusion policy protecting senior water right holders from losing potable water.

Rosehan is survived by partner Cheryl Willis of Bow, Wash., as well as family members Rich and Kari Rosenhan, Maia and Max Hanson, Rosalyn Francis, Nicholas Osborne, Janet, Dave, Joel and Jeff Maxwell, Loalinda Bird, Russell Perkinson and Iovanna Reeves. Donations can be given in his name to the Heritage Flight Museum, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland and Samish Island Community Garden at P.O. Box 334, Bow, WA 98232.

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