2003 was a sad year as one of the most innovative paddling outerwear companies in the industry bid adieu to paddlesports.
But now, after fighting through five years of strife, Bomber Gear and owner Rick Fanken are back with a new, recognizable partner and the same bomber gear. “We’ve always had top-end designs,” Franken says. “That’s the reason Bomber Gear was able to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix. We have a strong brand.”
Franken blames Bomber Gear’s fall on a faulty internal structure, including factory problems that caused a chain of events that brought the company down.
After Franken threw in the towel in ’03, he put the paddle away and started guiding climbing and working as a sponsored alpinist, making world-class ascents in Pakistan, Nepal and South America while raising a young son with his wife. When he returned home to Durango one day in 2005, he found the bank ready to foreclose on him. He had to act fast to save his assets for his young family. “I made a deal with the bank and started selling all the old inventory on Ebay,” Franken says. “I paid the bank back in 11 months. The response was overwhelming with people emailing me and calling, encouraging me to bring back Bomber Gear. It was inspiring.”
So Franken took a leap of faith, relocating to Steamboat Springs, Colo. where his wife had landed a teaching job and diving head first into rebirthing the company. He got a loan from close friend and 1999 World Freestyle Kayak Champion, Eric Southwick. He bought more old stock from factories that had produced Bomber Gear in Thailand, paying his bro back in less than a month. That success allowed him to start designing new products. “That’s what got Eric involved in the company and he’s a partner and co-designer now,” Franken says.
This season, Bomber Gear will introduce new sprayskirts, pogies, drytops, drypants and wet suits. Franken will continue to sell the products online until his following returns. “I’m trying to regain the industry’s confidence,” he says. “Right now, I’m just designing and marketing to the end-user but hopefully I can get back into shops. I don’t want to be late with product or not have enough to sell. But I’m super-stoked on our new stuff. It’s the same great design we’ve always had.”
Check out Bombergear.com for more details and look for Bomber Gear reviews from Paddling Life in the coming weeks.