PADDLING BUSINESSstream: How Crowdfunding, CAD And 3D Printing Are Making Small Scale Production More Viable Than Ever | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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Blue Sky Boatworks raised more than $312,000 on kickstarter to bring to market its unique 360 Angler and 360 Escape, pictured here. Courtesy Blue Sky Boatworks

Crowdfunding has played a role in a number of revolutionary designs, from TRAK and Oru folding touring kayaks to Kokopelli packrafts

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For years, Pyranha’s U.S.-based design team dreamed of making a longer, faster version of the company’s speedy 9R creek boat.They live and paddle in the American southeast, where Green Race bragging rights are the coin of the kayaking realm. But back in Pyranha’s U.K. headquarters, Managing Director Graham Mackereth was more concerned with the coin he’d have to shell out for a new mold.

“It’s a boat we wanted to do for so long, but we just couldn’t get Graham’s blessing,” says designer Robert Peerson. That changed after they took the idea to Kickstarter. When they reached the magic number of 100 pre-orders, ensuring the new boat would turn at least a modest profit, the team received an email from Mackereth.

“Well played, boys,” it said.

Development is now going full speed ahead, with the 12R expected to debut ahead of the Green Race in November.

While scale is a critical component of success for the bigger paddlesports brands, the story of the 12R shows it needn’t be the only route to success. Crowdfunding has played a role in a number of revolutionary designs, from TRAK and Oru folding touring kayaks to Kokopelli packrafts. In April, Blue Sky Boatworks wrapped up its Kickstarter with $312,076— more than five times its initial goal. The seed money will allow the unique craft from Jackson Kayak and former Wilderness Systems founder Andy Zimmerman to go into production.

Indeed, as kayak designs have followed consumer demand for stable hulls and wider cockpits, there’s a small but passionate market for all sorts of unique designs, from high-performance sit-on-tops to origami touring boats and Blue Sky’s Angler 360—a sort of twin-hulled plastic mash-up of a kayak and bass boat. It’s no coincidence these craft defy easy categorization. Paddlesports is full of niche opportunities, and new technologies such as crowdfunding, CAD and 3D printing make it easier than ever for brands—or even individuals—to bring innovative designs to life.

Don’t just take our word for it. Four of the industry’s most prolific trendsetters are betting big on small-batch manufacturing. Tim Niemier, who kicked off the sit-on-top revolution three decades ago, has been proselytizing small-scale production for years now. Niemier says he can bring a new plastic boat to market for about $25,000. That’s soup-to-nuts—everything from design and prototyping to molds and production boats. He offers those services for hire through his company, On Water Designs, and has applied the same approach to his own passion projects, including a rotomolded sailing catamaran and a reboot of his original Scupper sit-on-top kayak.

“We’re crowd-funding the ScupPro, and we only have to sell about 15 of the polyethylene boats to buy the mold,” he says. “We have a much more efficient way of making the mold.”

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Trak Kayaks found crowdfunding success with innovative folding design. Photo: Courtesy Trak Kayaks

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Oru Kayaks found crowdfunding success with innovative folding design. Photo: Courtesy Oru Kayaks

Corran Addison has taken the idea a step further, from small-batch to bespoke. His company, Soul Waterman, offers fully custom one-off composite kayaks starting at $1,700. The approach is rooted in Addison’s experience in the surf and SUP industry, where hand-shaped boards are the norm.

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Soul Waterman brings composite customs to the whitewater world. Photo: Courtesy Soul Waterman.

“In kayaking, the design process starts with asking how many paddlers you can appeal to with one boat,” he says. “Surfing doesn’t work that way. In surfing, every board is unique and it’s up to you as a shaper to reach into your bag of tricks and make a magic board. I wanted to do this in kayaking, and that’s how we came up with our custom boat system.”

The process involves custom CAD work and a fresh mold for every boat. The seamless composite construction is available in two layups—a tough Kevlar/PVC/fiberglass mix and a lighter Kevlar/PVC/carbon combination. The process strikes an attractive balance between customization and repeatability,Addison says.“With CAD,if you design a boat for some guy and his mate comes along and says ‘I want the same thing,’ you can do that. Or if he wants the same thing with just this little change, you can do that too,” he says.

“Finally the technology has arrived in kayaking that surfing has had for 70 years, where you can get a boat made for you.”

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Blue Sky

A design drawing for Blue Sky 360 Angler, a boat that has excited passions and defied description. Photo: Courtesy of Blue Sky Boatworks

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