Recently, Team Wavesport’s Bryan Kirk blunted and helixed his way to a first place finish at the 2009 U.S. Freestyle Kayak Team Trials in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. His boat of choice for that comp was the Project 54 Cx, an ultralight, ultrastiff composite concept craft from Wavesport. Only 50 of these $2,500 handmade freestyle machines were created, and Wavesport’s keeping a running list of where they end up on their website.
Bryan’s victory got Paddlinglife wondering—is there a future for composite playboats? Has WS started a trend that will ripple through the industry, or is the Project 54 Cx doomed after the first 50 produced? To find out, Paddlinglife caught up with Bryan Kirk, Team Dagger’s Andrew Holcomb and Liquidlogic’s Shane Benedict.
PL: So Byran, why did Wavesport decide to produce the Project 54 Cx?
Bryan: “The team at Wave Sport noticed a void in freestyle kayaking: an ultra lightweight, super-stiff boat made from carbon. Composites have been tested and proven in many other sports to be a massive advantage, so we wanted to be the first in the U.S. to put these materials and technology to use.”
PL: What advantage do you gain by paddling a playboat made from composite materials?
Andrew: “After watching Bryan I think the biggest advantage gained by composite materials is the amount of effort it takes to perform moves. It seems that you have to work about a quarter as hard to do a move in a composite boat when compared to the same move in a plastic boat on the same feature.”
Shane: “A well built composite boat won’t flex nearly as much which can lead to a looser boat for surfing or a faster boat that cuts through the water more cleanly, no drag from flexing. Weight is also a big advantage. Just the swing weight difference is a huge one let alone the entire difference in weight. I am sure there is a formula for figuring out the different amount of force necessary to move 3 extra pounds, or what ever it is, that would be different at the end of the boat, but all I know when it comes time to flick a blunt or helix around that swing weight difference is huge.”
PL: What are the disadvantages?
Bryan: “While there are many advantages to composites, the only disadvantages are cost and impact resistance. Plastic will take multiple rock hits much better. The 54Cx is meant to be paddled on deep rivers and surfed on quality playspots, especially waves.”
Andrew: “I think the amount of torque and shock absorbed by the body is the biggest disadvantage.”
Shane: “Damaging a composite boat is pretty easy and repairs take some semblance of skill. Over time the boat can get flimsy or soft in places if it isn’t taken care of. Kayakers are pretty lazy by nature. They want to get in their boat on shore and slide into the river. They want to seal launch and bang on rocks. I have to admit rock spins are fun. But a composite boat requires that you take care of it. Even sitting in the eddy and brushing up against a rock can chip your gelcoat and send you to the repair room to avoid the dreaded “delam” when the layers of glass and resin are broken down by water and force separating the layers and crushing the structure. Another really big problem with composites is price. A composite boat will cost you at least twice as much as the plastic equivalent and there ain’t no warranty.”
PL: Bryan, did the composite construction of the Project 54 Cx contribute to your victory at Team Trials?
Bryan “The weight and rigidity of the 54Cx allowed me to throw my normal bag of tricks with about half the effort. The tricks went faster and bigger, which got me additional bonuses and allowed me to retain the wave better upon landing a move. The boat was a definite advantage in competition.”
PL: Is there a future for composite kayaks like the Project 54Cx?
Bryan: “That still remains to be seen. We’re going to feel out the public’s reception of the 54cx and go from there. I’d guess that Wave Sport will incorporate these materials in the future simply because it could change the face of freestyle and what is possible, and people realize that they really do get what they pay for.”
Andrew: “I do think there’s a market for kayaks like this. Every sporting market has an upper end product line and kayaking should be no different. I believe there’s plenty of room for limited edition runs of boats like this. But I think it will be pretty small until they can hit rocks.”
Shane: “Liquidlogic has looked at this almost since we started the company but the interest really isn’t there to produce a line of composite kayaks. We went so far as to develop a set of prototype Pops to check it out and its an awesome boat for sure but it just didn’t make sense from a manufacturing stand point. Sure there are a hand full of people that will pay retail for a composite boat, but not enough.
There is a future, a present, and a past for composite kayaks, and its in niche markets of whitewater and surfing. I have a squirt boat, a surf boat, a carbon pop and I had a couple slalom boats and a wildwater boat. I love them and will always have one or two around.”
So here at Paddlinglife, it sounds like the jury’s still out on composite whitewater kayaks like Wavesport’s Project 54 Cx playboat. The performance benefits seem obvious, but are kayakers ready to spend $2,500 for something they’ll likely smash on rocks?