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State of the Sea Kayak Sector

Johnson discontinues Necky, Eddyline sells to employees, startups look to the crowd

An Eddyline kayaker tours into unknown waters on Washington’s Antilon Lake. Photo by Aaron Schmidt.

In a barometer of the current state of the sea kayaking industry, the parent of one major manufacturer is scuttling an iconic brand; another's founders sold the company to its management team; and upstarts are entering the market via crowdfunding campaigns. But while all this spells shifting currents in the sea kayaking sector, it doesn't necessarily mean an ebbing tide in the industry.

The Chatham 16, a classic Necky composite performer, carves up the wave at Skookumchuck Narrows, B.C. Photo by Robert Zaleski.

Necky Kayaks Discontinued as Old Town Sets Course for Expansion
Once a giant and industry leader in high-value performance sea kayaks, Necky Kayaks — acquired by Johnson Outdoors in 1998 from company founder Mike Neckar — is officially no more, part of a move that has parent company Johnson Outdoors putting all its sea kayaking eggs into its venerable Old Town Canoes and Kayaks boating basket.

"Yes, Necky is going away, which is very sad for us who have been around for a while," says Old Town VP of Sales David Hadden. "All that said, it will give us a lot of opportunity to go after the day-tour market with our new Old Town boats, especially our new Castine kayak line."

Johnson announced the change June 15, planning to expand product offerings under its flagship Old Town brand. "Old Town is an iconic brand that has given people a great experience on the water for over a century," says Group VP Bill Kelly. "Moving forward, consumers and dealers will see a broader array of kayaks, paddles and personal flotation devices that carry the Old Town name and all that it stands for."

Already offering a complete line of rec and fishing kayaks, Old Town will now expand into the day touring kayak category with the new three-size Castine series, with shipping beginning this fall.

Necky’s Manitou 146R provides a recent example of the brand’s shift to shorter expedition kayaks designed with day-tripping in mind.

The company will also bid adieu to its longtime PFD-maker Extrasport brand, absorbing new PFD, as well as paddle, designs into Old Town as well. Both will be available in January 2018.

Johnson Outdoors also plans to up its investment in R&D and marketing behind its Ocean Kayak brand to increase innovation and speed-to-market of its new products. "We're very excited for the future of both the Old Town and Ocean Kayak brands," says Kelly. "While we are transitioning out of the Extrasport and Necky brands, we look forward to serving our customers with our great new products."

Eddyline Kayaks Sold to Management Team
Founded by Tom Derrer in 1971 in a small shop in Boulder, Colo., and now based in Burlington, Wash., Eddyline Kayaks is a longtime manufacturer of premier kayaks and paddles. While its sales are still strong, now it will be paddling into new waters without its founder and longtime leader.

Forty-seven years after forming the company, Derrer and his wife Lisa are retiring, recently selling the company to its management team. As part of the acquisition, Scott Holley has joined the company as president, joining the existing management team of Todd Keane, Tom Remsing, and Janet Sutton.

"From Eddyline's earliest days, we've been at the forefront of innovative designs and processes," says Derrer, touting the industry's first thermoformed ABS kayak. "This transition is the result of several years of discussion and planning, but we're thrilled our legacy will be entrusted to this unparalleled team.

"It was important that the company we love would continue with people we've known for many years, and who we trust to carry on the legacy we've created," he adds. "The company and its employees will stay right here in the Pacific Northwest, and we will continue to be supportive of the company's ongoing success under the new ownership team."

The new owners agree. "The team has been in place for several years and in that time we've experienced significant growth, more than doubling both sales and production," says VP of sales Tom Remsing. "Managing that growth while preserving the quality Eddyline is known is our primary focus. Going forward we'll put a renewed emphasis on innovation while preserving Tom's legacy of user-friendly, high-performance design."

The management team brings plenty of experience to the table as well. Remsing is in his 20th year with the company, first as the Northeast regional rep and later in his current role heading sales and marketing. Vice-president of production Todd Keane has been with Eddyline over 22 years, and VP of operations Janet Sutton joined the company in 2014 after 18 years in the recreational boating industry. Scott Holley, Eddyline's new president, joins the company after a career in consulting and transaction advisory work.

"I'm thrilled to join the Eddyline team," says Holley. "Together with the current management team, we've developed a plan to continue as one of the industry's leading paddlesport manufacturers."

Read more on Eddyline and Tom Derrer, and check out a recent visit to their factory floor:

Brands Embrace Kickstarter
While some companies are rearranging management teams and others are downsizing or eliminating brands, others are turning toward the social side of financing to bring new products to market.

This summer, Oru Kayak launched its third Kickstarter campaign, after raising nearly $800,000 in its first two Kickstarter crusades. In its successful 2012 Kickstarter launch, 730 backers gave the company $444,000 for the launch of its Coast kayak. In the company's second visit to Kickstarter, 238 backers pledged $356,000 to the company. Now, it's already $18,000 ahead of its third $50,000 goal.

Other kayak companies are taking note and following Oru's lead. Another company using crowdfunding is TRAK, which has been manufacturing portable, skin-on-frame performance kayaks since 2006. This spring it announced a Kickstarter campaign to help fund its next iteration: the TRAK 2.0, what it calls "the ultimate touring kayak" with innovations like carbon-fiber technology and technical backpack and travel bag systems. TRAK Founder and Managing Director Nolin Veillard feels the funding will help carry the company into 2018 and beyond by improving upon TRAK's unique features of having an adjustable rocker on the fly, polyurethane hull and deck, and fabric welding as opposed to sewn seams.

The original TRAK in recent use during a Jamaica circumnavigation attempt.

Upstart PakaYak–"the ultimate packable kayak" that packs a 14-foot kayak into just 3.5 feet—saw 497 backers pledge $546,000 to help bring its project to life. And Swell (founded by former Canoe & Kayak Publisher Jim Marsh) is also exploring Kickstarter to produce a new 14-foot, high-performance sit-on-top kayak called the Scupper. Designed by Ocean Kayak founder Tim Niemier, unique features include lowering the footwells below waterline for a more comfortable paddling position (and positive posture); one-way valves that drain water out, but don’t let water in; and a unique chine feature boosting secondary stability.

"We realized the only way to increase speed was to increase comfort," says Niemier, "so we focused on ergonomics to position paddlers' bodies perfectly."
The kayaks are expected to ship this fall.

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