Big Boy Boats? A Case for Soul Waterman’s Bigfoot (Q&A w/ Corran Addison)

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Big Boy Boats? A Designer at a Loss? The BigFoot by Soul Waterman (an interview with Corran Addison)

Soul Waterman founder Corran Addison is one of the most prolific kayak designers in the sport’s history, with kayak design stints at Prijon, Perception, Savage Designs, Riot Kayaks, Imagine, Corran Sups, and, now, Soul Waterman. He shares the title as innovator of the planing hull with Necky Kayaks’ Spike Gladwyn and Mark Kocina (who worked on the Rip while Corran tinkered with the Fury). Corran also came up with the cavitating hull, invented the Air Screw and other playboat moves, and was the brainchild behind the infamous “Goldfinger” ad for Savage Designs (“We’ve decided to up our image…now up yours!”). Recently, his flurry of kayak designs and equipment specifically for kids have opened up performance to a new generation at an early age.

Now, one of the sport’s most polarizing paddlers and designers who has shaped the sport over three decades sets his sights on a new playboat for bigger paddlers, the Big Foot. We caught up with him for his take on boat design, paddling with his son, and a kayak for all the oft-overlooked “plus” paddlers out there.

PL: How many years have you been designing boats? Did it start with your cut-down Dancer or were there glass experiments before that boat?

Corran: Becoming a kayak designer was never a specific moment. In South Africa in the 1970s you couldn’t just buy a kayak (or at least not easily). My dad decided he wanted to kayak, found a book in the university library on how to make a fiberglass kayak, dating from the 1960s, and he and his friends made their first kayaks before they’d even been on the water.

I was there as a 6-year-old bystander during that process, and so from day one “designing kayaks” and “kayaking” have always been one and the same thing. I can’t separate the two. I can’t do a single session without thinking about what my boat is doing, why it’s doing that, and how I can improve on it.

The first boats were pretty much like a downriver race boat, though they slowly got wider for stability and the need to carry camping gear. In 1982 that changed when we got two Dancers and for the first time we paddled something we had just bought. But pretty quickly I realized the Dancer could be better and by 1984 when I was 15 I did my first drawings for a new boat. It was short at three meters, and wide, and had what was the beginnings of a planing hull—growing up at the beach I would paddle wave skis in the surf, so I understood what a short planning hull could do. That boat eventually became the Corsica three years later when I brought it to the states and showed it to Perception.

PL: Your dad brought you up paddling. Since you’re now teaching your son to boat, do you have a different perspective than most on the dangers and rewards of boating and starting early as a kid in whitewater?

Corran: I’m not sure what dangers and perceptions others see, but in talking to my father he seems to have been oblivious to that, and understandably so. They didn’t know of anyone that had died paddling. On the other hand, I’ve lost many friends over the years, so I’m acutely aware that if you lack judgement, if you make bad decisions or get careless, there are consequences. As such, I’m very cautious with my son and have spent a lot of time developing safe and size appropriate gear for him. I always have two adults and we set up safety. And I’ve been teaching him in parallel to his paddling the safety aspect, so that they are inseparable for him, too. It’s made paddling much easier for him to learn, and at 7 years old is paddling better than I was at 12.

He also has a designer’s eye. When I was working on the Ride he was part of the design process, looking over my shoulder and commenting on the shape, telling me what he liked in his current boat and what he wanted. And I’ve let him loose in the CAD program to play with ideas as well.

PL: How is living up in Canada? It seems you have three seasons of fantastic boating and a terribly cold winter. Does snowboarding keep your kayaking needs at bay over the harsh cold winters of French Canada?

Corran: I think we have 15 seasons in Canada. Starting late fall to early spring it’s very cold and I don’t kayak anymore in winter. My son is fanatical about snowboarding so I’m quite happy to spend winter on the snow. But when the melt starts I’m back in my boat, starting about late March through to late October or early November if the days are warm enough. There is a river near the ski area so in the first spring run-off days the forest is snow-covered, as are the trees and rocks, and that’s usually my first day out after snowboarding in the morning. I’ll do that Class III run just for the beauty.

PL: What inspired you to look at the segment for larger paddlers and create the Bigfoot?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. Throughout my entire design career, every time I do a new boat there is the chatter from bigger paddlers about not fitting and not being serviced. I had that same conversation again, and I was pushed hard enough to at least look at population numbers and how weights have gone up over the last two decades. After looking at that, I did a few online polls asking about what sort of design bigger guys would want, and initially contrary to my feelings that it was a small market, I was convinced that it was big enough to give it a go.

While polling wasn’t uniform, overwhelmingly what was requested was something like a shorter Half Slice, or a river playful shape. There was not much interest in a pure freestyle or pure creek boat. About 50 people participated in the poll, so it seemed like while a big boat would most likely not be a profit turner, I could at least offer this under-serviced segment something that they have not had in more than a decade and not be a loss-maker.

PL: With the current options, most companies have a Half Slice that is a medium and a few have a large. Does the Bigfoot bring something new to the table for folks with long legs or that might be over 200 lbs.?

Corran: I’m vehemently against the idea that you can take a medium-sized boat and scale it up or down for different paddler sizes. That’s not how bodies work. A 180-cm tall paddler that’s 80 kg doesn’t direct scale up 20% to a big paddler. They will scale up in weight far more than in height. So a 100-kg paddler will be 25% heavier than an 80-kg paddler, but a 190-cm tall person is only 6% taller than a 180-cm person. And often someone can be the same height but 30% heavier, so the weight is far more concentrated.

Just taking your cool M design and scaling it x1.4 simply doesn’t work (what everyone does). You have to design both bigger and smaller boats from the ground up to achieve the same intended design performance as your M.

So, once I decided to do the Bigfoot I had to start at ground zero for the actual design. I wanted something kinda like the new Glide, which is a very successful design that’s both easy to use, a fun river runner, but very playful. I looked at a few of the other new 8-foot Half Slice designs and took a few ideas from those too, but the entire geometry of the Bigfoot is entirely new so that it paddles as a boat should for bigger people.

PL: What features make the Bigfoot different?

Really, the design goal was a boat you can take down a Class III run with loads of waves and holes to surf, but then also go run a more challenging Class IV or easy V run, and still be able to handle itself—depending on paddler skill of course. Because of this, I didn’t go too squirty in the tail, so people under 110 kg will not have an easy time squirting it (but it can be), but once you’re over that it’ll be easy enough. Of course, the lighter you are the better suited it is for Class IV-V, and the heavier you are the better suited it is for playing Class III. No boat is going to paddle the same for a 90-kg paddler as it will for a 140-kg paddler, but it’ll paddle exceptionally well for that whole range, becoming more playful as weight increases.

But I also spent some time working on the shape of the stern that will allow it to be easily squished, making it more stern squirtable, without looking deformed. No more than direct sunlight on a hot day, and a weight on the back will squish it enough for paddlers under 110kg (242.4 lbs) to be easily able to squirt it if this is what they want, and the boat still looks store-bought. That was quite a challenge.

PL: It seems you didn’t reach your critical mass of pre-orders to pay for the mold from what you shared on Facebook. What do you attribute the hesitation to for putting down those deposits to pay for preorder shipping and lock in customers?

Corran: It’s honestly hard to say, but this is not my first experience with this. At Riot when we did the Glide there was demand for a bigger boat. So we did the Grind. We sold 1,800 Glides in 12 months and about 100 Grinds in the mold’s entire lifetime. It barely paid for itself. I did get 40 preorders initially (I required 50 to make this a go) in about two weeks, and given this I booked and paid for the mold to save delays later when the design was complete. But when I went to get the deposit for the boats, more than half cancelled.

In comparison, the Fanatix got 80 confirmed pre-orders in the same period. Even the Mini Me had more, and that’s for 2-year-olds. This is the lowest pre-order project we’ve ever done that we went through with. It’s hard to know whether bigger people simply don’t paddle, or if they’re paddling OC1, or don’t buy new boats, but the numbers are clear: whatever the reason is why big people don’t buy big kayaks, the end result is that they don’t buy kayaks. Jackson never updated the Monstar, and for a reason.

PL:  What do you feel is your biggest contribution to whitewater kayaking? 

Corran: That’s a tough one, really. I think just showing up with a planing hull would not have caused the necessary revolution. I think it was a combination of having the planing hull, and also winning almost everything I competed in, and aggressive marketing that all combined got people wanting that. It was the complete package. It might have caught on anyway, but I think it would have taken much longer. My “in your face” if you don’t have this you’re done-for approach was unlikely to be something Necky would have done. But you could also argue that I popularized extreme paddling in the usa. I remember the late Harry Roberts from Paddler magazine in the late 1980s saying, “I think Corran Addison, if he survives his penchant for running giant waterfalls, is likely to usher in some interesting and exciting new designs and ways of paddling them…” (I paraphrase from memory).

In the early ’90s I was pushing hard for an image change of whitewater from what I referred to as “grey-bearded, tree-hugging forest fairies” as the classic whitewater paddler, to young punk skater/snowboarder imagery. Savage marketing was entirely focused on youth as the future and rebellion against everything paddling was. Wave Sport, of course, also picked up on that and also ran with it quite quickly.

 

Video explanation of the boat design here.

Nick Hinds
Nick Hindshttps://paddlinglife.com/
Nick Hinds grew up in NC, spending time canoeing and c-1ing around the western part of the state since he was 11 years old. During his 4 years at University of Colorado at Boulder he added whitewater kayaking, so he could earn money teaching at Boulder Outdoor Center. Starting as an intern at Paddler magazine in 2003, Nick began his 20 year career in the Paddlesports Industry. He worked for 4 years with Eugene in Steamboat at Paddler, then 8 years with Canoe & Kayak magazine after moving to Seattle. Spearheading the guidebook for Washington and Oregon, in 2016 he helped publish Paddling Pacific Northwest Whitewater . After 4 years with American Whitewater and 3 with Werner he now handles advertising and marketing partnerships for Paddling Life.

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