Graham Mackereth has always been ahead of the curve. The Pyranha founder developed one of the early plastic kayaks – the Freestyle – and was one of the first boat manufacturers to sponsor a major river expedition – Nepal’s Dudh Kosi (1976). He’s watched kayaking go from fiberglass to plastic, and from 12 feet to six.
At 57, the industry vet – and former Olympian – can paddle to work in four strokes across the Bridgewater Canal near the Pyranha headquarters in Runcorn, England. His company has advanced into other arenas as well, adding P and H sea kayaks to the fold in 2003. To put it simply: the dude knows the paddling industry. Paddling Life caught up with one of the sport’s icons at the recent Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah.
GM: The Mirage and the Dancer
PL: Uh, Mirage and Dancer what?
GM: You mentioned the first plastic boats and the Mirage and Dancer were the first commercial plastic kayaks. We built the Freestyle to really advance kayaking, make boats more maneuverable. The sport needed a boost at the time.
PL: Oh, ok. That was in 1982, a turning point for paddling, when everything was going from fiberglass to plastic. What about now? What do you think about where the sport has gone now?
GM: Unfortunately, I feel like the corporate aspect is driving the industry down. (These entities) seem to be too concerned with the big box and not about the sport of canoeing (paddling). They don’t always understand it. Canoeing is a huge and complex game and they seem to be dumbing it down.
PL: What do you mean, dumbing it down?
GM: Don’t get me wrong, corporations have brought valuable things to the table too, but right now, too many people are buying cheap kayaks and thinking that’s what it’s about. There’s too much product being pushed into Dick’s (big box) and it’s killing the specialty retailer. These are the people that have the most valuable knowledge and can get people to keep coming back to the sport by trading up. Canoeing is in direct competition with the X-Box. We’ve got to really show people how cool the sport is. The powers that be don’t see that.
PL: So if you were offered a corporate buyout, would you take it?
GM: We haven’t gone corporate because we don’t want someone telling us what to do. We don’t want any outside influence. We’re excited about paddling’s future and we want to be part of it and have control.
PL: So how much do you get out nowadays?
GM: At least once a week, sometimes more. It varies. I paddle the Bridgewater Canal in my Struer Hunter as often as I can. It’s a veneer racing kayak I’ve had since I was a 17-year-old sprint racer. I actually took it to the Munich Olympics (1972) so it’s a pretty special boat. Our slogan at Pyranha is “For enthusiasts, by enthusiasts,” and we really mean that.
As told to Joe Carberry
Editor’s note: This was the first in a series of sitdowns with the heads of today’s major boat manufacturers so you could put a face to the kayak you’re paddling. Look for more “big cheese” interviews from companies like Confluence, Legacy and others in the coming weeks.