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The Early History of Plastic Kayaks

Posted by on October 19, 2012

The introduction of plastics to kayak design and manufacturing was a catalyst that helped take our sport from a quiet niche to the buzzing main stream. The roots of plastic’s inception in the kayaking world can be traced back to the surge in the popularity of whitewater kayaking in the early 1970s. Designers (often paddlers themselves) recognized that the high impact resistance and durability of plastic would make it well suited for the whitewater environment. At the same time, manufactures appreciated the fact that plastic allowed for more cost-effective production when compared to the more traditional materials such as composites and wood. These factors combined to usher in a wave of new and affordable kayaks to the market. Here’s a brief history of some of the earliest plastic kayaks:

Plastic kayaks first appeared in whitewater kayaking circles in the mid-1970s when two established plastic-forming manufacturers, Uniroyal and Hollowform, entered the kayaking market.  The Hollowform River Chaser represents one of the first plastic whitewater kayaks to hit the river (Taft 2001).

Hollowform River Chaser

Further advances in plastic kayak manufacturing came in 1976 when Perception Kayaks introduced rotational molding techniques for the production of polyethylene kayaks. In rotational molding, a hollow mold is filled with plastic pellets and then heated while being slowly rotated. This process melts and disperses the plastic so that it evenly covers the walls of the mold. The mold is then cooled and the result is a one-piece, plastic kayak! One of their first roto-molded (RM) models was the Perception Quest; a 13ft-long whitewater kayak. The successes (and failures) of the Quest led Perception to expand their RM whitewater kayak line to include the Mirage and Dancer.

Perception Quest

The advent of RM sea kayaks is less clear-cut. Valley Canoe Products introduced the 17 foot long Skerray RM in the mid-1980s (1984?) and boasts that they are responsible for the RM revolution in sea kayaking. It will take some detective work to verify things but my research shows that the Prijon Seayak seems to have appeared on the scene around the same time.

Valley Skerray

Not surprisingly, Perception was quick to claim a piece of the RM sea kayak pie with the (then Aquaterra) Chinook which was introduced in 1986 or earlier. Hydra also introduced their acclaimed Sea Runner at about the same time.

Perception (Aquaterra) Chinook

From there, the RM sea kayak market exploded! Improvements in RM manufacturing techniques allowed for companies to churn out plastic kayaks en mass and at a relatively low cost. There’s no doubt that this increase in availability and affordability to the consumer is what took the sport from a quiet niche to the buzzing main stream!

Check back for updates as I learn more about these vintage plastic kayaks!

Happy Paddling

-KayakDave

 

References:

1) Taft, “The River Chasers: A history of American whitewater paddling.” Alpine Books Press. (2001)

2) Billington Sea Kayak Archives maintained by Douglass Gray. Includes product catalogs and dealer information dating back to 1986.

9 Responses to The Early History of Plastic Kayaks

  1. Jay Oshiro

    Hello,
    I am seeking information on a tandem kayak made by Hydra called the Sea Twin. Do you know, or have a suggestion as to how I could find out, the production period for that kayak? I’m part of kayaking cooperative in Northern California and we are looking at possibly acquiring one. I’m somewhat skeptical given that I think the kayak is likely quite old. I started paddling in 1991 and my instructors “old beater” boat at the time was a hydra (river). I believe hydra was probably already in it’s decline by then. Any guidance you can give would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Jay

    • arrudad

      Hi Jay!

      You’ve presented a very interesting question that has sent me into the annals of kayaking history! There’s not much information online about Hydra Kayaks these days but I was able to pull records at the local paddling shop that go back to 1986 to learn more about the Sea Twin. It seems that Hyrda was very active in the industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s before fizzling out in the mid-late ’90s. We stopped dealing with Hyrda around 1995ish but actually had an old Hyrda Sea Runner kicking around until a few years ago!

      Obviously the company is no longer in business and no one else is manufacturing their kayaks at this time. If you were to find a Hyrda Sea Twin for sale it would likely be a garage ornament that someone is trying to get rid of. For example, here is a link one that is for sale in Florida. I guess the good news is that they’re out there!

      Another good option would be too look for a used Necky Tandem. We’ve been snatching up used Necky Tandems at the MIT Outing Club when they come up in the local classified ads (which happens fairly frequently). The Looksah T and Amaruk are excellent tandems for club use. Most of the used ones are an older polyethylene construction that’s pretty heavy but can really take a beating!

      Good luck and let me know if you’re able to find a Hydra Sea Twin!

      -Kayak Dave

    • Thomas Kuntz

      Hi Jay, I don’t know if you’re still looking for a Hydra Sea Twin. I have one and it has a rudder. Contact me if you wish.

  2. brenda

    I own a Aquaterra chinook kayak. The plastic molded rudder bracket has broken and I need to find a replacement bracket. Do you have an idea where I can find one or who can make one?

    • arrudad

      Hi Brenda!

      Your best bet may be to contact Perception (they absorbed Aquaterra in the 1990s) directly and inquire about replacement parts for your Chinook. It’s a bit of a long-shot given that these kayaks haven’t been made in quite some time but its worth a shot! There may be some Chinook parts kicking around at local kayak shops too but I don’t know of any specifically.

      -Kayak Dave

  3. Scott

    I have a Hydra Seaventure which I believe is 16′ 2″ in length. I bought it used in 1994 if memory serves me….it has been a great ride, it is good on rivers with the rudder out and equally good on open water with the aid of the rudder….any idea when these would have been produced and what they might be rated at for weight?

  4. Bobbie kozlowski

    Hello, hoping you can help. My dad passed away and we have his old quest perception 13ft kayak like the one you have pictured I believe. He had it for as long as I can remember. I would keep it but I have one I like better, as I am sure you know you have to keep paddling this or it will just turn. Would like to sell it but not sure how much it is worth. Can you give a ballpark? And with much newer better models that seem to be a lot shorter is it still considered a whitewater kayak since it is so long? Thank you.
    Bobbie

    • Kayak Dave

      Hi Bobbie!

      I’m sorry to say that I’m unable to give you a ballpark quote on what this kayak may be worth. It really depends on a lot of factors including the condition and demand in the market. Right now, it’s tough for sellers to get a reasonable price for their used kayaks as demand is so low. It really all comes down to what someone is willing to pay for it and what you’re willing to accept for it these days. I would recommend contacting Joel at New England Small Craft in Georgetown MA or possibly Doug Gray at Billington Sea Kayak in Plymouth MA. These guys have been in the industry since it’s inception and might have a better idea of what one of the earlier kayaks might be worth. You’re correct in saying that whitewater boats have changed a lot over the years and 13ft is exceptionally long by today’s standards. However, this boat was designed for use in whitewater and that is where it will remain best used.

      Good luck and Happy Paddling!

      -Kayak Dave

    • Tyler MacDuff

      Sorry to hear about your “old man”. I lost mine in 2008. With regards to the Quest. I bought my FIRST one while at Humboldt State University, for $200 in 1994. I stupidly pulled out the foam for the theighs. I still need to replace them. I got the SECOND one for my girlfriend, in Flagstaff, for $100 in 2003. She never used it, cause she liked the “sit on top” Ocean Kayak, even though she said it was like a “water-logged” log. She died in 2008, as well. OK……Both have the foot pedals, and plastic seats. I bought the air things for stern and bow, to keep water out, if tipped. I was lucky enough to find two generic skirts that fit. No.1 is made of plastic, sort of like really thick milk bottle. No. 2 is a little different, in that it’s not as clear as no.1, but the shape is the same. I have never used no.2, but I’m keeping it, so a friend can go with. They both still need work, like foam for the legs, and…… I was toying with the idea of fashoning some sort of rudder system. I took a kayaking class, but due to the boat not being outfitted right, I had a lot of problems with the roll. I will get it……But in the meantime, I only use them (it) on black water. Besides, there are much better whitewater boats out there, if and when I want to get back into that. Better sea kayaks are out there, as well, but I don’t have $1500 on my 17′ touring, dream boat. Besides, I’m getting older these days (56) and I prefer the mellowness, and quiet of a nice lake paddle. So, for now, I will keep on using these boats, and probibly will never sell. The most important thing, in my opinion, is having a good (great) paddle, and a non restrictive life vest, and a skirt. I have all I use a good water skiing vest, and everything else.

      My advice to you, is get your Quest set up RIGHT, and get some good BLACK WATER paddeling time in. KEEP SAFETY AS YOUR HIGHEST PRIORITY!!!! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go out alone. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and is willing to “show you the ropes”!!! Also, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go out without a PFD (PERSONAL FLOATATION DEVICE)!!! I don’t care how good of a swimmer you are, (or THINK you are), you can tip where it dosen’t look like you too are far from shore, but looks are decieving. Try swimming a half mile in cold water. Not easy.

      The Quest was my first boat, and it was a great starter kayak. Someday, I will buy newer, longer, lighter, better, and more advanced boats. But untill then, I will keep on using the ones I have. If you are near Reno, I’ll be happy to go out with you. Maybe Lake Tahoe.

      There are my “two cents” on the Perception Quest. Feel free to give me a call. 775.453.1236 If I don’t answer, keep trying. No voicemail (haha)

      Be safe, Tyler
      Reno NV

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