Start keying up the Taps theme. Necky Kayaks, once a major player in the whitewater arena, recently announced that it is pulling the plug on the category to better focus on the more profitable rec and touring markets.
This means that once-classic models like the Jive, Switch, Witch, Chronic, Vibe, Mission, Crux, Orbit Fish and its best-selling Blunt—all spear-headed by unassuming surf- and whitewater-kayaker extraordinaire Spike Gladwin—will all be relegated to their perch on the museum shelf as collector’s items.
To find out more behind the move, PL went to Johnson Outdoors Paddlesports General Manager Nando Zucchi.
“We still have boats in stock, and still have Spike,” he says, adding that the company is still selling a lot of its most popular whitewater kayak, the Blunt. “But the numbers and profitability of that segment just don’t work. We can only be so many things to so many people, and we’re turning our resources more toward the touring and rec kayak markets. Compared to the sales volume you get in those markets, other than a personal desire to sell whitewater kayaks there’s no real reason to.”
Many of the company’s first whitewater models were co-designed by both Gladwin and company founder Mike Neckar, who sold the company to Johnson. In later years, Gladwin took over, and boaters were more than glad with the winning results.
Zucchi adds that the signs of a souring industry first started appearing when whitewater boats began getting trendy and having shorter and shorter shelf lives. “It’s hard to make a profit when a mold is only good for one year,” he says. “And then half of the people who buy them want them on a pro form.”
With retailers the first to realize the difficulty in making money in the whitewater sector, they’re not holding the decision against Johnson at all. “I can’t blame them at all,” says Pete Van de Carr, a retailer in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “It’s a tough market.”
“Necky had some of the most underrated whitewater kayaks ever designed,” says Spencer Cooke, who paddled for Necky from 2000-2005. “Spike’s a brilliant guy. He’s a surf kayaker by nature, which gives him the designer’s edge.
“But it seemed that Necky never really had its heart in the whitewater game, and when Johnson bought them it just got worse,” he adds. “For some reason the corporate structure just didn’t mesh well with the other elements involved. Spike and the Necky team paddlers remained passionate and connected with the boating world, but Necky’s niche in whitewater suffered. It seemed to be only a token that they had a great designer, not a real effort to sell boats and satisfy the market. It’s a bummer to see it go by the wayside.”
Zucchi is the first to agree, and knows they had a great product. “People are more upset for nostalgic reasons,” he adds.
With that in mind, until the company changes its decision, which Zucchi says isn’t an impossibility on down the road (the Web site currently lists specs for the Mission and Crux), we offer the following eulogy for a great brand that churned out a great boat. And by coincidence, its first boat was the Rip: