Like him or hate him, no one can deny that Corran Addison has had a huge impact on the world of kayak design. His latest venture, Canada-based Soul Waterman, is now at it again, recently announcing the industry’s first-ever custom kayak design program. Until recently, he says, more than 70 percent of all surfboards were custom shaped for the surfer — for the user’s size, weight, style, and wave type. Why not do that for kayaks? “That’s unheard of in kayaking, because each kayak design requires a mold,” he says. “It’s a game changer. Over the last decades I’ve shaped a thousand custom surf and sup shapes. While many are size and volume variations of stock designs, quite a few were truly unique based on very specific requests from the user. I wanted to bring this level of design to kayaking.”
To do so, he’s developed a one-off method of mold-making — CNC cut from the digital design created for the customer. The Carbon Kevlar boat is then made from that mold, with the mold effectively destroyed once the boat is completed. “Each boat is truly unique,” says Addison, adding that the boats come in two composite construction choices: light or strong. “I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have so much experience as both a surfboard shaper and kayak designer. It goes straight from concept to finished product.”
We caught up with the iconic designer for more info on the process, the paddling market, and what kind of paddle he’s using these days.
C&K: You’ve worked for most every major kayak manufacturer there is, from Prijon to Perception, and also founded Savage Designs and Riot Kayaks. What’s new this time around?
Addison: A lot has happened since Riot. I helped start Dragorossi, and at the same time started Imagine Surf. I sold Imagine back in 2010 and moved to California to run it, and then it was sold again to the Pryde Group in 2012. At that point I left and started Corran Sup, which I then sold in 2014 to Kayak Distribution. It took all of six months to get bored, so I started Soul Waterman. Seems like starting kayak and surf companies is like cat nip for me.
C&K: How has the kayak manufacturing market changed over the years?
Addison: To be honest it hasn’t really. Hollowform started rotomolding plastic shells in 1972, putting plastic and foam insides in them, and in 2016 kayaks are made in exactly the same way – not a single change. Obviously the designs have improved, the plastic is better and the outfitting is better, but the as far as the base concept and method is concerned, not a single thing has changed in 45 years. That’s pretty sad when you think about it. The market has changed of course, and the whitewater “dealer” has gone full circle from being almost non-existent, to one on every street corner, to almost non-existent again as rec and touring overwhelms the marketplace. Whitewater has gone from inconspicuous, to booming, to irrelevant.
C&K: Seems everyone’s pushing fish kayaks, and you’re going back to the well of good old river running…why chase the whitewater market?
Addison: I’ve made my money. Now I just want to enjoy myself. I want to be excited about every single product I make. If I’m not personally vested in it, I don’t want to touch it. I have no interest personally in rec and touring or fishing. There are plenty of great companies servicing those markets, so it’s not like they need a new product. My heart is in whitewater, and always has been. I was literally up all night last night thinking about this new idea I had, and was at my computer by 4 a.m. working on it today. That’s exciting. Fishing just doesn’t do that for me.
C&K: You spent a fair amount of time making SUPs at Imagine and Corran SUP…how’s it feel to be making kayaks again? Does your stint making SUPs and surfboards help at all?
Addison: It was amazingly helpful. I’d made surfboards my whole life, but since 2010 I’ve shaped several hundred custom boards. It took my kayak design knowledge and turned it into something fluid. When you do that many shapes, it takes the hit and miss out of design. It’s like having done 800 “prototypes” in five years; you learn a massive amount, and the result is that my kayaks are better now than they’ve ever been.
C&K: Why is it important to have a custom kayak over a mass-produced model?
Addison: Well, I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. There is a place for both. The mass-produced model is something that’s tried and tested, is comparatively inexpensive, and almost unbreakable (when plastic). There is a lot of value in that. But no two paddlers are alike. Even if you found two paddlers who weigh the same, are the same height, have been paddling for the same number of years and live in the same area, they will still not paddle alike. Being able to create a kayak design that is perfect for that person’s specific physique, ability, paddling style, personal preference, and where they paddle will only help that person become both a better paddler, and enjoy it more. We’re not talking about adding or cutting the seam a little to adjust volume. This is a real bona fide custom designed kayak to each individuals needs.”
C&K: How do you maintain economies of scale to make it affordable?
Addison: Being efficient with time is critical. If it took me three days to do a design, like it used to, this would never work. I can create a completely unique and new design in three to four hours now, and I can adapt and modify an existing concept I have in an hour or less. We’ve also developed a one-off mold-making technique that makes the concept practical from a production pout of view. A lot of things had to come together to make this work. I’ve had the idea for almost a decade, but it’s just now that the technologies in the various critical areas have come together.
C&K: How much kayaking vs. supping are you doing these days?
Addison: It’s about 50-50. Only two years ago it was 90 percent SUP, but I’ve fallen in love with kayaking again. I suppose I needed that break — living at the beach and being a beach bum surfer/shaper. But I missed rivers and kayaking and that’s why I moved back to Montreal in the summer of 2015.
C&K: Do you consider yourself more of a supper, surfer or kayaker?
Addison: I consider myself a waterman.
The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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