Chesapeake Light Craft Booth at the 2012 Canoecopia Tradeshow

By Lou Dzierzak

Held each March, the Rutabaga Paddlesports Canoecopia show is a rite of spring for Midwestern paddling enthusiasts. By 9:30am Saturday morning on March 10, 2012, the line of vehicles waiting to enter the Alliant Energy Center parking lot in Madison, Wis., was more than a mile long. "We call Canoecopia a pace car for the industry in terms of a barometer of how the year will be for paddlesports,'" says Mike Hooks, vp sales, Legacy Paddlesports. "This is the busiest I've seen the show in many years. We were just hammered."

For exhibitors attending, Canoecopia is more than just about sales numbers. Trend watching is one clear benefit. "Coming to a show of this quality for 13 years is a great way to track trends. If you came to this show in 2001 the room was packed from one end to the other with 18-foot long, 23-inch wide sea kayaks," comments John C. Harris, president and CEO, Chesapeake Light Craft. "In 2012, there are a lot of short and wide recreational kayaks. The biggest movement we see is in standup paddleboards."

Experienced paddlers also feel emboldened to offer product feedback. "One of the hallmarks of Canoecopia is you get a more discerning audience. They will challenge your designs. Why did you put this hatch here in that way? We listen to the feedback and constructive criticism," reports Hooks. "We've actually made product changes based on feedback we've received at this show."

Here are C&K‘s picks for the top five new pieces of trend-setting paddling gear at this year’s Canoecopia trade show:

The New Gear

Wenonah Mini Canak

New for 2012, the Wenonah Canoe Mini Canak is the little sister to Wenonah's popular Canak. Used with either a double or single blade paddle, the Mini delivers maneuverability in close quarters while still offering efficient tracking in open lake crossings. The Mini Canak comes with a floor mounted sliding seat, foot braces, and hatch covers. Pick from eight composite colors for the deck. (, $2699)

Slat Grills

Since Chris Weyandt wasn't happy with the cooking equipment he found on the market, he set out to solve that problem by building his own design. Made of hard-anodized aluminum and stainless steel, Slat Grill is a light, compact and practical cooking surface for wilderness trips. Easy to set up, with no tools required. It won't rust, is easy to clean and works with a wide range of camp stoves. (, $109)

Chesapeake Light Craft Kaholo SUPs

Chesapeake Light Craft has spent five years refining plans for their new build-your-own Kaholo SUP boards. The result is detailed plans and kits for two beautiful, hollow wooden boards that are stable enough for beginners and fast enough to keep up with your friends on a fast traverse across the lake. Available in 12'-6" and 14" models. (, $885 )

Bending Branches Black Pearl

With a comfortable grip design and just 14 ounces, the carbon fiber Black Pearl makes a long day on the water significantly easier on your arms. An aviation-grade carbon shaft and blade delivers high strength-to-weight ratio. Available in bent shaft (11°) and traditional touring blade shapes. (, $229)

Native Watercraft Ultimate Angler

The Native Watercraft Ultimate Angler model is specifically designed for fishing enthusiasts. The hull of the 14.5 Solo is stable enough to stand and sight cast. Angling specific rigging includes Scotty flush and side rod mounts, anchor kit and anchor trolley system. Adjustable seating support for thighs and lower backs keeps you comfortable when the fish aren't biting. Rudder optional. (, $1399)