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  A former designers perspective
  Posted by: salty on Oct-04-12 12:56 PM (EST)

FWIW? Ok first off I want to preface my comments with a statement of no right or wrong here, good or bad etc. These are "my" thoughts after years in the business instructing, guiding, designing,R&D,yadda yadda...

Sea touring unlike WW is very traditional and slow to change. Manufacturers need to design things that the market will buy. Too much innovation applied to a very traditional nostalgic audience is failure guaranteed. Ive had great discussions with owners, designers of many of the famous brands and we pretty much all agree that what we'd personally like to design and play with would not likely go over too well!

So what you have right now is a lot of essentially the same kayaks with different badges. Look, there's really only so much variation of any significance you can get within certain dimensional constraints. 16 long, 22 wide, x amount of rocker, this or that chine profile, coefficients, bla bla... I walk the shows and see the so called new stuff which is all cool but to me and some of my piers it's sorta another version of x,y,z.

So then the sales and marketing folk say we need more hatches, gizmo's, shelf appeal stuff, and what do we see??? Goofy seats, complex gizmo's and hatches all over! The big mega brands were/are the worst at this. R&D folk where I worked fought that and in the end simplified things, but the pendulum will swing.

Numbers: a thousand composite kayaks a year would be a decent number for a small company. Contrast that with a mega brands 150,000 plastic rec boats, sit atops, etc, at probably more margin per unit, and it's easy to see where the focus has been, and should be given the market place. Selling the commodity plastic "allows" manufacturers to keep a composite program.

So, right now there's lots of really great kayaks out there, and it really comes down to personal use and fit. Narrow it down to several models that would meet your needs then test and buy what fits the best. Many touring folk will adopt a preference for a certain brand secondary to their sphere of influence (instructor, club, etc)

I paddle a custom radical 14' surfy flat hulled, finned, surf tour kayak with two small storage compartments with valley round hatches. It defies all conventional sea kayak thinking and would probably never get past the "that aint a sea kayak" mentality and be a miserable failure. Yet to me it represents soo much potential to shake up that world and have some fun, as well as "maybe" get some younger athletes interested? Just look at the touring market demographics now in North America. Total geriatric gig, of which I'm closing in on!

So, contrast the huge changes in WW over the last 20 years vs sea touring?? The market place defines the products to a very large extent and I think sea touring will remain a very conservative, slow to change arena, and that is what it is.

The crazy stuff will come from very small, custom shops operated by weirdo's who'll never make a dime but may enjoy the hobby.

I still do some work in the industry and enjoy it. These are just my impressions. I personally like some of what I've seen from both Valley and P&H, and the Tiderace stuff seems cool as well. Sterling seems to be putting out some neat designs as well and I like seeing that happen. I remember him trying to get on board with JOI some years back and me telling him to do his own thing and it seems that's working for him. I hear rumour he may be pulling a world class designer i know into the mix as well, so I'd look for some cool stuff there down the road.

I think Valley is smart to thin things down for a number of reasons. BTW, and this is a "secret"... What happens when you discontinue a model?? Huge nostalgia develops! You some time down the road dust off the mould and offer a limited run special order:)

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