The open boating community has been holding its collective breath this winter, waiting to see what will replace Royalex as the next wonder material for canoe hulls. The exhale became a huge sigh of despair when Esquif announced the other day that they are, sadly, shutting down production of some of the world’s best open canoe designs. Devastating news, for sure.
What does this mean for us? What’s next for the world of paddling? Do we need to go back to cedar strip/canvas canoes? Horse collar life jackets? Flannel paddling tops?
Nope. There’s another option. I’m sad, for sure, about seeing another Canadian family company stop production, but I’m also giddy with excitement because I think we’re about to enter a new era of paddling. The death of Royalex opens up the potential for an evolution in paddling. Let me explain.
Royalex has been awesome. It has allowed us to bash our way down rocky rivers and creeks, fling ourselves off of waterfalls, push our boundaries without much thought to style or skill. This is super fun. Hell yea. And we can still do that, using some of the great plastic creaking boats. But with the death of Royalex we river-runners have an opportunity to up our game.
I’m a creator and an instructor at heart. I teach people how to finesse their way down the river, read the water and use it to their advantage. Rather than guiding folks down so that they can get to the take out and put another notch on their belt, I want them to actually paddle the river- work with the water to get where they want to go, avoid obstacles and stay in their boats. For this we need a particular type of boat. And I’m gonna make you one.
I have long threatened to start making canoes. Well, now my urge to create is tingling. I’m about to start making composite white water play boats: carbon fibre, kevlar, fiberglass – materials I know well from paddle making. Like Royalex boats, they will wear out, they will break, but unlike Royalex they will be infinitely repairable. If you have had a paddle tuned up by me you know what I mean; your paddle has come back to you as good as new.
This boat will not be indestructible but it will be durable. And it will be repairable. And it will be high performance. And light. You’ll have to be ready to learn to paddle it. But it will blow your socks off once you get the hang of it.
Canoes that demand we paddle with skill and precision may be just what we need right now, and the huge strides in composite technologies over the past 20 years mean that what’s old is new again – but this ain’t gonna be your father’s old slalom shell.