Talk about Drago. How healthy is this company? Do you feel you’ve carved a healthy niche in the industry? Is there any way that Drago could be next in line to go out of business or should we feel secure this brand is here to stay?
Dragorossi is a small brand in one of Europe’s largest rotomolding companies. Financially, it’s sort of a bottomless pit. However this does not mean that Eurotank will just throw any amount of money at Dragorossi. Not at all. One of the reasons that they are a successful company is they watch their return on investment very closely. But as long as Dragorossi is profitable, and successful, they will put the funds in that are needed. In Europe, Dragorossi does very well… we have a great line-up, and we have carved for ourselves a great niche. In the USA its been harder – with the dollar slumping from nearly 1 to 1 when we started Dragorossi to 2-1 last year. It has been difficult to sell into North America boats made in Europe (especially Italy). But with the climbing dollar, and ironically with the demise of Riot, we are already starting to see a change. Many see Dragorossi as the logical place to go to replace Riot as the designs are very similar in many ways, and with the recovering dollar, its also now financially possible. So in the last few weeks since the Riot news broke, we’re seeing a lot of dealers and paddlers asking about getting boats. The future will be interesting.
Talk about the health of the whitewater industry. It isn’t at it’s best right now. How should the industry go about regaining a foothold in the outdoor market?
This is really a tough one. There was a fairly in depth discussion about this started by Doug Ammons in AW Journal that makes for good and insightful reading. Also a parallel discussion about it on Boatertalk. The bottom line is that whitewater sales are down about 70% in 2008 from what they were in 2004. There seems to be this reduction in participation by the “old guard” retiring, but no development of the relief behind it, combined with a 4 year hiatus in any new designs and developments that have caught the imagination of the paddlers. So when we combine a shrinking market, with no new designs to encourage the remaining paddlers to change up their old boat, you have a free-falling marketplace. When your front line withers, you need a reserve. Otherwise you have the fall of France in 1940! We were so “into ourselves” during the sports glory years that we neglected to build a reserve of young paddlers. Then of course, the economy has played its part… and overall kayaking (even rec and touring) has sort of lost its media luster. So even here the constant imagery we saw in general media and generic advertising has dried up.
This seems to be the problem. The solution is far harder, and not as easy to identify. I really don’t have the solution. Is this something that the industry can sit down together and solve (TAPS), or would it be better if there was more “independent” competition fighting for the limelight – like we saw in the Wave Sport/Savage/Riot era in the late 1990’s? I really don’t have the answer. Part of that is I also really have not applied myself as much as I normally would have to finding it, as I have moved on to a fair degree. I’m building my surfboard company, which is growing really fast, and I’m more focused on finding solutions to issues that confront me there than in kayaking. The irony of this is with the recent explosion of Standup Paddlesports (now classified by the Coast Guard as a Canoe/kayak), and the appeal of SUP to kayakers (both recreational and whitewater) I am sort of drifting back towards the paddlesports community, and the problems facing it are becoming more of an interest to me.
Extreme. This word is old now but some would say it’s lead to a decline in the sport of whitewater. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, there definitely seems to be a correlation between a sports “mediocrity” and its wide base appeal, and “extreme leading edge” and a sports decline (or inaccessibility). The more a sport becomes “elitist”, or “extreme” (dangerous) the less the global participation seems to be. What’s attractive about snowboarding to the masses is not the 100 top guys dropping 100ft cliffs, but the relative ease, and associated imagery, that the sport can be learned and enjoyed. Most people go to the hill, and ride from top to bottom, sliding their turns with limited skill, having a good time doing it. The equipment is comfortable, simple and the sport is easy and quickly rewarding. Compare this to hard boot carving snowboarding, which is very difficult to learn, harder to master, and the equipment is uncomfortable (and expensive). Carving accounts for less than 0.05% of snowboarding. That’s a good lesson right there.
Kayaking is not inaccessible, and the “fear of water” is not insurmountable, as we showed in the booms of the late 1970’s and late 1990’s. But when kayakings image goes from “fun and easy” to “elitist and dangerous” that's when you loose both your current (and aging) participants and dissuade new ones from trying it.
The surfing angle. Standup paddleboarding definitely has paddling roots. Can this be a viable market segment?
Absolutely. I believe this is the next great boom for paddlesports. SUP is the “new” recreational paddling. It has all the shine and luster of surfing and the associated imagery, without the need for waves (which to be honest is what most people who try SUP will do). In whitewater it offers the challenge without the danger -you can make a class 2-3 run extremely challenging, which is rewarding, without the risk of running class 5 to get that same sensation. At the same time, again the surfing imagery is there, and as a race, we’re fickle. We like new. We like to try new stuff, and SUP is fun and new. I really believe that in the next few years we’re going to see a massive growth in paddlesports (particularly in rec and touring) from SUP.
I’m certainly staking a lot on it. Dragorossi is coming out with a whitewater SUP called the Cayuco http://dragorossi.com/cayuco.html which basically applies the technology that makes our whitewater kayaks work to a board, and with Imagine Surfboards I have rec and touring SUP called the Trainer http://imaginesurfboards.com/eng/trainer.html which also in turn has borrowed from rec and touring kayaks (deck bungees, end carry handles etc… all logical stuff for a “surfboard” designer who has designed kayaks for 20 years). I have more and more dealers who I used to work with when I was selling kayaks now ordering standup boards from me – they know me, and they need SUP’s so the choice is logical for them.