After three long years, a bankruptcy, reinvestment and startup and more waiting, Equif Canoes owner Jacques Chasse has finally produced sheets of the long-awaited, magical material he’s been calling T-Formex. And not only has he produced sheets of the material in his factory, he’s actually produced real canoes—a Pocket Canyon to be specific—with the stuff. Yes, it seems that the most drawn-out drama of modern canoeing history may be coming to an end—but only if T-Formex proves to be as good or better than Royalex.
In 2013, when plastics giant PolyOne announced it would cease production of Royalex, the long-time favored whitewater and recreational canoe hull material, the paddling community was sent into a boat-buying frenzy. Outfitters bulked up their fleets while enthusiasts like me stocked up on favorite models. Everyone wondered about the future of the sport.
By summer 2013, Chasse claimed he was developing a new material perfect for paddlers. The following summer, when Chasse quietly handed me a two-inch by two-inch piece of T-Formex, he told me it would be 10 percent lighter, 20 times more abrasion resistant than Royalex. It’s difficult to know with a paint swatch-size piece of material, but it certainly was more difficult to peel, dent or bend than any old piece of Royalex I had kicking around our boat garage.
Canoes to be. T-Formex sheets at the Esquif factory.
While Chasse has pulled back a little on these claims, and is already hinting at a T-Formex 2.0, he now says the first generation will have qualities similar to the material we’ve become used to paddling, and manufacturers have used in building canoes.
Like Royalex, T-Formex is manufactured into sheets using foam core, ABS plastic and another outer material Chassé hasn't disclosed. These are layered together to create a reinforced, multi-laminate sandwich that can withstand years of abuse. Switching to T-Formex will not require any re-tooling of former Royalex-boat building operations—Esquif's or anyone else's. The same workshops that produced Royalex canoes could produce 20 to 25 T-Formex canoes per day.
Alternatives to Royalex-Like Materials
While Chasse has been working to bring T-Formex to market over the past three years, other manufactures have been creating alternative durable hulls to fill the Royalex void, including Nova Craft Canoe, Mad River Canoe, Echo Paddles and Boats, Trailhead, Composite Creations, H2O Canoes and Wenonah to name a few.
It seems this material innovation has been good for canoeing. We’re seeing lighter and tougher composite materials and blends of materials. We’re paddling popular models in newer materials and realizing that lighter weight and stiffness make our favorite boats even better. While the cease of Royalex production and long wait for a replacement has opened the door to new ideas, many of the manufactures have been hoping and waiting that Chasse to succeeds so they can fire up their ovens and crank up production.
T-Formex Is Better Than Royalex
Will the final version of this new material be as good as Chasse originally claimed? Will it be better than Royalex? Will T-Formex save your ass and let you paddle out after a horrible wrap on a remote river? Will T-Formex save canoeing by once again offering a less labor intensive and consequently less expensive manufacturing process? Hard to tell from these photos.
Some of these questions are going to take years of sales reports, solar radiation and some seriously poor lines through shallow rapids to know for sure. In some ways it already is better. Why? Because today Esquif made boats out of T-Formex and that's got to be better than no boats at all.
The really good news is that with today’s announcement of actual canoe production we can begin the T-Formex beat down this weekend when a new T-Formex Esquif Pocket Canyon (pictured here) arrives at the Rapid and Canoeroots office tomorrow. Yes, we’ll be ignoring the weather office's winter snowstorm warning and be putting the T-Formex to an initial test.
Esquif's brand new Pocket Canyon, made in T-Formex. Is this a Royalex reaplcement?
When Will T-Formex Canoes Be Available?
Chasse told me that Esquif has produced 50 sheets of T-Formex, which in the realm of the thousands of Royalex boats that used to be produced each year seems a scary small number. “Because we assemble T-Formex sheets here in our factory we can begin producing boats right away. We don’t have to wait for a supplier to deliver the next batch of sheets,” said Chasse.
Chasse expects expects Esquif to be shipping canoes to dealers by the middle of May. I asked Chasse which models he’ll produce first, thinking the old way, wondering which sheets he had in stock. But because Esquif assembles the sheets themselves they can build canoes to order. The first 50 sheets are red and after that expect to see blue, yellow, green, tan and a camouflage patterned hulls.
How Much Will T-Formex Canoes Cost?
Among other advantages of strength and durability, Royalex canoes were so great because they were comparatively inexpensive to produce compared to other materials. A big jump in material cost would either increase the final suggested retail price or eat into manufacturer and retailer margins—neither would be great for the canoe industry. According to Chasse, the 2016 suggested retail of T-Formex Esquif Canoes will only see a five-percent increase over 2015 pricing.
For a guy who has been waiting three years to make this big announcement, Chasse seemed incredibly calm on the telephone this morning. “Yes, I’m relieved. The big part is now down,” admits Chasse. “It’s been a challenge and a lot of hard work.”
After three years, his next step is to fill a list of orders of Esquif canoes and then start producing sheets of T-Formex to supply other canoe manufactures. A few months from now the canoeing world may feel, well… saved… and a little boring.
Learn More About the Esquif T-Formex Story
Rapid and Canoeroots mags are excited to get the new T-Formex material on the water to test.