Vagabond Kayaks

My blog became quiet over a year ago… It is not that I had nothing to write about. I was just completely absorbed in a mission to launch a new kayak company, and once the company was launched, it was a roller-coaster ride to put all the little things in place to turn the startup enterprise into a sustainable company. The mission is not over yet and there is much work to do still, but I figured it is time to take a break and at least update my blog.

The goal was set high: I wanted to launch the new kayak brand with 11 unique kayak models plus 4 more Angler versions of some models, giving us a total of 15 models at launch. With “us” I mean myself, Lisa and 3 other partners who are long-time paddling friends of mine. To top off the ambition goal, I wanted to develop a complete new range of fittings for the kayaks, mostly because I haven’t found off-the-shelf fittings that I really like, but also because I wanted to give Vagabond’s kayaks a unique look.

It was not easy to decide which specific 11 kayak models to start with. I have so many ideas for different types of kayaks, to narrow it down to just 11 seemed an impossible task. In the end, I think we ended up with a well-balanced selection of craft that will satisfy many recreational paddlers, anglers and naturally whitewater kayakers too.

My goal with Vagabond from the start was to bring real innovation to the market. In the recreational market, there has not been real innovation to speak of for many years. Every year I look with interest at the new rec kayaks being launched at the main trade shows, and every year I am disappointed. The focus seems to be on an ever-increasing number of fittings added to the rec boats, often without any defined purpose. Rec boats in general are not fun to paddle at all. They tend to be sluggish and unwieldy. Rec boats have become progressively wider over the years, with the main focus on stability at the expense of speed. I will not deny it, I was caught up in the same vibe when I designed rec boats in the past.

The break from the paddling industry in general and from designing kayaks in particular has allowed me to look at kayak design with fresh eyes again. It was a bit frustrating sometimes to not be able to share the cool stuff I was working on, but at the same time, it also freed me up to focus on what I was doing without outside interference.

I’m extremely proud and satisfied with what I created with my team. Head over to vagabondkayaks.com to see the range of kayaks, and if you like what you see, go like our facebook page too.

Paddling my new favourite kayak on the Orange River - my orange Marimba
Paddling my new favourite kayak on the Orange River – my orange Marimba
Showing off the Kasai, the first Vagabond kayak I designed.
Showing off the Kasai, the first Vagabond kayak I designed.

 

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Moo Igloo design

The latest product that I designed for YOLO Colours just went in production. It is a calf hutch, or as YOLO calls it, a Moo Igloo.

The project was done in cooperation with the Wynn-with Dairy Farm, who approached me a few months ago and asked if I can design and manufacture a calf hutch. They needed it for their own calves, and it turned out that there is nothing like it available on the South African dairy farm market, although it is quite common in North America and Europe.

I knew right away that it is a product that will fit perfectly in the expanding YOLO range. Lisa agreed, and a few months later YOLO made its first delivery of Moo Igloos to the Wynn-with farm.

Yolo calf hutch 1

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Could Angus be the biggest con-artist in SA?

A few days ago I witnessed (via the interwebs) what was possibly the largest gathering of people ever in South Africa. Although exact numbers haven’t been released yet, the claim is that close to one-million people got together on a farm outside of Bloemfontein. To pray. And to listen to Uncle Angus, as he is fondly called by his followers.

Uncle Angus has interested me for some time already. My childhood, growing up in a religious cult, has made me very sensitive, to the point of being allergic, to con-artists of the religious type. These con-artists (short for confidence artists) are, in my opinion, more dangerous than other types. Why? Because with other types the penny drops for most of their victims at some point. But not so with this religious type. Their specific brand of conniving targets a much deeper sense of yearning that many people seem to have. It is a sense of fear and uncertainty, and, sometimes, hopelessness. And because these feelings don’t go away so easily, it creates a perfect target for conniving confidence artists.

They sell hope. They present their product, their solution, their hope, in an easy-to-understand package. The benefit of their product is purely psychological, eliminating the need for a money-back guarantee. The promises in their marketing campaign only kick in once you are dead. They entice you to keep using their product until the day you die because, lo-and-behold, great riches are waiting beyond the grave. I can’t think of a more perfect business model. Clients for life, literally. (more…)

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Compost Tumbler design

I’ve been working on a number of new products for YOLO Colours over the past few months. By “working” I mean designing the products, making prototypes for testing, getting tooling made (some in-house, some outsourced), sourcing suppliers for various components, and eventually manufacturing and assembling the products for YOLO.

YOLO Colours is Lisa‘s new company. Most of YOLO’s products will be rotomoulded or have a rotomoulded part as a main component.

The first of the new YOLO products to go into production is this Compost Tumbler. The model pictured here is the smallest size (45 litres), which is available as a single or double unit. It is now in full production, and it is the first of three sizes. The medium size (about 100 litres) will be launched in the next two or three weeks, with the large size (200 litres) following a bit later.

tumbler renderings

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Life after Fluid

During the past week, three different people made contact with me to ask about buying kayaks. They had no idea that I left Fluid Kayaks almost three years ago. I was surprised as the grapevine has informed most of the paddling community, in the absence of a public statement about it from me.

15 years ago, I started Fluid Kayaks. As a passionate kayaker with an engineering degree, creating the company was a dream come true. For a good part of this time I was at the helm. Not only did I run the company, I also designed all of the kayaks in Fluid’s range (20-odd of them, with some of them winning awards for innovative design) as well as all the machines that Fluid uses to manufacture these boats. I was in charge of production and marketing for most of the period too.

The years passed and an unfortunate chain of events led to a situation where I felt that I needed to move on. This was partly as a result of decisions that I made – some good and others bad. It was also just time. For my personal growth and life, it was time for me to move on.

Deciding to leave Fluid was one of the hardest decisions of my life; a decision that was slow in coming and that took years to make. My personal life and everything that Fluid was had been interwoven for almost 13 years. In paddling circles I was known as ‘Mr Fluid’ and the company and brand had become an extension of my own personality. Or maybe it was the other way around…

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Canoe vs kayak… which is which?

A kayak is a craft that is paddled with a twin-bladed paddle, while the paddler is in a seated position.  The paddler typically has a spraydeck around the waist to keep water out of the vessel, but that is not necessary the case.

In the case of K1, K2 and K4 racing kayaks, the K stands for “Kayak” and the 1, 2 and 4 stands for the number of paddlers that the kayak was designed for.

Recreational kayaks general don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, although single and tandem kayaks are both very popular.

 

A canoe is paddled with a single-bladed paddle, which has a T-grip on the other end of the shaft, and the paddler typically kneels down in the canoe.

In the case of C1 and C2 racing canoes, the C stands for “Canoe” and the 1 and 2 stands for the number of paddlers the canoe was designed for.

Open canoes generally don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, as it depends largely on what the canoe is being used for. The same open canoe could be used to carry a family of 4, or to do a solo multiday expedition.

 

In South Africa, it is common for paddlers to talk about racing kayaks as “canoes”. In fact, most racing kayak clubs are called “canoe clubs”, which doesn’t help to put the record straight.

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Forward stroke technique with a wing paddle

I recently presented a strokes clinic for the younger paddlers at our local paddling club (Likkewaan Canoe Club). This article is based on the points I covered during the clinic, dealing specifically with the forward stroke technique with a wing paddle.

Young crowd
Explaining wing paddling technique to the next generation of paddlers

To understand the anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle, and to help you decided what kind of wing paddle to buy, have a look here.

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Anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle

Why use a paddle with wing blades?

Racers as well as recreational paddlers often think that wing paddles are “better” than other types of paddles. Let me correct this misconception right away. Wing blades are only better at doing a forward stroke, and only if the forward stroke is done with good technique. For all the other strokes one can do with a paddle (bow rudder, stern rudder, draw, low brace, high brace, boof, etc) the wing blade is pretty useless.

This means that wing paddles should only be used in conditions and with craft that allow you to make full use of the benefits of a wing paddle, and where other paddling strokes are not really required. Forget about using wing paddles with a whitewater kayak or with a wide, stable recreational kayak or sit-on-top. If your kayak is made for speed in a straight line, like a racing kayak, surfski or touring kayak, and if it is used primarily on flat water or on the open ocean, a wing paddle might be the right choice.

Fast boat = wing paddle
Using a wing paddle with my surfski

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3 days of growing

Kyla (11) and Ruben (8) are no strangers to outdoor life. They have done multiple expedition-style trips on the Orange and Vaal rivers, and camping has been a part of their lives since they were babies. Nonetheless, I knew that a 3-day backpacking hike in the Vredefort Dome during the recent school break with Lisa and myself would push their limits a bit. They were very keen when I mentioned the planned hike to them, and as the day of departure got closer, their excitement grew. I sensed some trepidation mixed with the excitement, which is a good thing. Going gung-ho into an adventure often backfires.

Each kid carried a little backpack weighing around 6kg, which included 2 litres of water. We managed to squeeze their self-inflatable matresses, clothing, breakfasts and lunches into their backpacks. Lisa and myself each carried a 2-person tent, and we also took the kids’ sleeping bags in our backpacks.

The route was put together by Lisa, using sections of her Forest Run route to give us a good blend of technical trails and jeep tracks. We went through beautiful forested kloofs and scaled a couple of koppie summits to enjoy spectacular views.

Entering one of many little valleys
Entering one of many little valleys

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The journey – Willem van Riet

This epic journey down the Kunene River by Willem van Riet and Gordon Rowe, from Matala in Angola to the Atlantic Ocean, through the previously unexplored gorge where the river cuts through the Baynes Mountains, ranks as one of the most important expeditions undertaken in the history of African river exploration.


If we had imagined that paddling down the Kunene involved blistering heat in a country of utter desolation, hunger, attacks by aggressive crocodiles and such back-breakings labour on the portages, perhaps we would have thought twice about our plans for exploring the lower reaches of this mighty river. Canoeists, like mountaineers, always set their sights on a bigger and tougher challenge, and after having canoed down most of South Africa’s largest rivers during the last six years, the Kunene had become my personal Everest. It was something I had to do; a final problem to be overcome. The idea of challenging the 750-mile Kunene, which first occurred to me when canoeing down the Orange, grew and grew until Gordon Rowe and I decided to have a crack at it. (more…)

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