By Jeff Moag
About a decade ago thermoformed kayaks turned the paddling industry on its ear. These kayaks fill the middle ground between rotomolded plastic kayaks, and lighter, more expensive composite boats. They’re the Mama Bear of sea kayaks—not too heavy, not too expensive. For most everyday paddlers, they’re just right.
I’ve paddled thermoformed boats many times, without giving much thought to how they were made. Then last spring Eddyline Kayak owners Tom and Lisa Derrer invited us for a visit. Eddyline pioneered thermoformed kayaks, and offered to show us how the process converts big sheets of plastic into boats.
The Eddyline factory is just up the road from Deception Pass, an iconic paddling spot not far from my brother’s place in Seattle. Everything seemed to fall into place: an overdue family visit, Deception Pass on a perfect flood tide, and a peek inside the high-tech boat shop.
We started with small talk—a cute story about how Tom and Lisa had met on a kayaking trip in Barkley Sound. “A friend of mine asked to bring Lisa along,” Tom deadpans. “He said ‘I think you’ll like her.’ He was right.”
They paddled to the same spot a year later, and Tom proposed.
“We founded Eddyline Kayaks to pursue a love of kayaking, and that has been consistent for the last 43 years,” Tom says.
Tom has always experimented with new materials and building techniques. He was the first to use vacuum bagging to make lighter, stronger fiberglass boats. The boats were great, Tom says, but the process was time consuming, expensive, and dirty.
Soon after Eddyline began using thermoforming to produce seats and cockpit rims, Tom realized thermoforming had great potential as a hull material. Key word: Potential. No one had yet made complete kayaks out of thermoformed plastic. Tom wasn’t even sure whether it could be done.
To find out, he had a large thermoforming machine built to his specifications, that now fills the back room of the Eddyline factory. The behemoth machine uses heat and vacuum to transform sheets of virgin plastic into kayak hulls and decks. The heating takes a few minutes, and the molding is almost instantaneous. The hot plastic is draped across the mold, and the vacuum pulls it flush.
We rolled our cameras as a yellow Raven sea kayak took shape. A handful of skilled workers rigged the deck, glued it to the hull, then attached the cockpit coaming, bulkheads and hatch covers. A worker inspected the kayak, and applied the Eddyline logo.
The whole process had taken only a few hours—leaving us plenty of time to catch the peak flood at Deception Pass.