ROB SAMUELSEN: GOOD TIMES ON THE BIG MUDDY

This CFO knows you work hard so you can have time to play.

By Tom Schlichter

Rob Samuelsen is a serious world traveler who strives to get the most out of every adventure he undertakes. The 60-year old Vail, AZ, resident has been to 48 of the 50 U.S. states, visited 40 countries, and lived in Utah, Indiana, Ohio, Ecuador, New York and California.

“I have an MBA in Finance and I’m a chief financial officer right now. Over the years, I have served as CEO at three different companies, one of which was public. I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional career, but mostly I work so I can play.”

And play he does. A certified canyoneer with significant climbing and repelling experience, Samuelsen also enjoys back-packing, owns a boat and drives a Jeep. “I have all the outdoors toys,” he says unapologetically, “I have a solid group of friends who love outdoors activities and we are always looking to challenge ourselves. Together, we’ve traipsed across much of this country. ”

Rob & his friends ready to retrace the journey Lewis & Clark took over 200 years ago.

With such impressive outdoors and business resumes, we were thrilled to learn Samuelsen chose the 11’ 2”, 26-pound Sea Eagle 330 Sport Kayak as his transportation of choice on a recent 108-mile passage down the Missouri River. He and his friends were planning to follow the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark more than 200 years ago, taking in the sights, reveling in the history and enjoying being on “The Big Muddy” for the four-day journey. As you might expect, the experienced paddle sport enthusiast did his research before making his determination.

“This was going to be my first time in an inflatable kayak,” explained Samuelsen, “so this was something new. Initially, I wanted an inflatable kayak (IK) for this trip because I planned to fly to the launch site rather than drive. As it turned out, we eventually drove, but having an inflatable Sea Eagle still proved a big plus because I could just put it in the trunk. At home, I could store it in the attic instead of the yard.”

Samuelsen also wanted an IK “that didn’t seem like a toy,” he stated. “I needed something that was a more serious expedition-type craft, more of a commercial grade kayak that could take a beating and keep up with the Kevlars,” he continued. “That narrowed the search to just a few vendors offering more serious expedition-type craft. Sea Eagle was on my radar at that point and then they put the 330 Kayak on sale. The price seemed crazy good, so I bought it.”

With a busy life, Samuelsen never actually got to try his new Sea Eagle until the day he set off on the big river, so he was real pleased when everything came together smoothly. He liked the stability when he first climbed in, loved how quickly it could be inflated and was happy with how well it transported. He would have liked a few more tie grommets for strapping in his gear, but he managed to get everything aboard by rigging a few extra tie downs and bungee cords.

“I’m a big guy, 6’ 4”,” says Samuelsen, looking back on the experience. When I look at pictures of myself in that kayak, it looks Lilliputian, so I’m already contemplating a bigger version. Sea Eagle’s 370 Sport Kayak is a little longer at 12’ 6”, so I’ll probably step up in the future. Still, I was very comfortable in the 330. I was really surprised at its stability and how well it tracked. I thought it might be a little “tippy” but it wasn’t’ at all.

Packed up and ready to go. Rob says the SE330 was comfortable, stable and tough, handling up to 37 miles a day.

So, how’d the trip go?

“It was wet, very wet,” said Samuelsen, “but it was fun and amazing, too. We launched at Coal Banks Landing in Montana and ended at James Kipp Recreation Area on the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. We covered as much as 37 miles per day, banging rocks and carving through all sorts of water. My friends were concerned I might pop my inflatable on the boulders and rough points, but it was absolutely fine.”

While the group had to deal with a lot of rain, they found the scenery spectacular, made great time, and viewed amazing sights.

“We saw a paddlefish that weighed a couple-hundred pounds moving upriver against the 4-mph current; that was something. We also got to see the White Cliffs and Missouri Breaks areas. The White Cliffs were astounding. Because of volcanic action, there are lines that split the white cliffs with vertical and horizontal black stripes. We saw a ton of swallows and swallow nests in the cliffs, too. We also saw big horned sheep, bald eagles, beaver and lots of deer on our route.”

Some of the many beautiful sites Rob & his friends enjoyed on their journey.

For their second night on the water, the team camped at a place called Slaughter Creek. Lewis and Clark had a base camp there – and the first skeletons of dinosaurs in the Americas were discovered there, too.

“It’s named Slaughter Creek because Lewis and Clark found hundreds of dead buffalo at the base of the cliff here. They assumed Indians had driven the herd over the edge while hunting but it turned out that a flood had actually washed the huge creatures away.”

It turned out to be a good thing that Samuelsen and friends kept moving right along, for significant flood waters were building upriver and headed their way.

“The first couple of days,” revealed Samuelsen, “we noticed small debris floating in the in the river. Every morning I’d post a stick in the water and see how much it had risen from the day before and we could tell it was going up. The last day we took out on a beach to set up camp and the following morning found our vessels all afloat – the beach was completely underwater. At that point, we started seeing bigger stuff like whole trees coming down the river so we decided to come out a day early and shuttled our vessels to our end point. That turned out to be a smart choice because they closed the river half-an-hour after we pulled out. A ranger told us that in another day our cars would have been submerged. Always better to be safe than sorry.”

All this bears out how important it is to be prepared on any expedition that takes you off the grid, points out Samuelsen. “You’ve got to cover all the bases before departing,” he advises. “We had a satellite phone and put tracking on so friends could follow us on Facebook. I gave a separate link for the map share to my wife and family so they could track us as well. Nothing beats having fun, but you need to do it safely. Always keep that foremost in mind.”

Editor’s Note: You can see some of Rob Samuelsen’s excellent photography on his website: www.backcountryexpressions.com. To read a more detailed account of his 108-mile Missouri River kayak trip, check out his newspaper column here. To view a short video of his trip, visit here.

50 Years of Selling Inflatable Boats – Part 2 – A Winding Road To The Internet

Camping

This is an early picture of our Sea Eagle 8 – note the headband on the young lady – a must have fashion accessory of the time.

By Cecil Hoge

At the time we had decided to launch our website, SeaEagle.com, our line of inflatable boats had shrunk from 12 models to 6 models. A major reason for this is that our supplier for supported fabric boats had been taken over by a competitive inflatable boat company. So our supplier of Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks and Sea Eagle transom boats, who at that time was Hutchinson Marine in France, got bought out by another French company making Bombard inflatable boats. The founder of Bombard boats was a man named Alain Bombard. He was a French biologist who became famous for taking an inflatable boat across the Atlantic Ocean.

After a few years of having the manufacturer of Bombard boats make our Explorer kayaks and transom boats, they got bought by Zodiac. At the time, Zodiac was the most famous inflatable boat company in the world and they politely told us they had no intention to make inflatable boats for a competitor. That temporarily put us out of the Sea Eagle Explorer kayak and Sea Eagle transom boat business.

SE1994

This was a 1994 catalog cover showing our GT 15 with a rather unique product we called “The Glass Slipper”. It was a fiberglass bottom that attached to the GT15.

So, in 1996, our line of inflatable boats consisted of the Sea Eagle 330 and 370 inflatable kayaks, the Sea Eagle 8 & 9 Motormount boats and the Sea Eagle GT-10 & GT-15. The GT-10 & GT-15 were unsupported special formula PVC boats that had truly excellent motoring performance at quite a reasonable cost considering the fact that they took 10 and 15 hp outboard motors. Because these boats had no actual inside fabric threads (the strength of materials came from the thickness and the special formulation of the PVC), they could not be inflated to the same working pressure as fabric supported boats. So they worked at around 1 psi instead of 3.2 psi. Nevertheless, because the material was a super thick, special formula material, they were quite excellent inflatable boats and we sold thousands of them in the years leading up to 1996.

My brother John Hoge first came into the business in 1989. John’s first focus was to upgrade our clunker computer system. In the late 1970s and the 1980s we had an IBM 36 with about 14 work stations. This mainframe computer got us through some ups and downs in business and, after we got it to work, took everything we could throw at it. It was a big computer, but it took almost 10 years to get this beast of a computer to work the way we wanted for our strange and quirky business.

This is a picture of our 1997 Panther Martin lure catalog cover. Our lure business was started in 1958.

I should point out that we had two businesses to keep track of and they both were quite different in their own way. Panther Martin was a trade business selling fishing lures to retailers like Bass Pro and Cabela’s and wholesalers servicing everything from Mom and Pop stores to WalMarts and Kmarts. Sea Eagle boats was primarily a mail order company selling directly to the public by classic mail order – about 70% of the business was individual orders going to individual customers, about 30% of the business was to small dealers and some mass merchants.

Because we had two different kinds of businesses, it meant that we sold products at different prices and at different discounts. And even in the early 90s we had over 800 different sizes and colors of Panther Martin fishing lures and while we had only 6 models of inflatable boats, we still had over 200 different kinds of accessories that we sold with the boats. If you add to the fact that we had already 1,000 items to keep track of, the fact that in the fishing lure business we had to pay the government excise tax in the boat business we did not, the two businesses represented a pretty complex computer problem. Complicating that was the fact that we were buying in different foreign currencies which were always going up and down. Keeping track of all those variables was a pretty tall order.

And then there was the simple fact that we had two different customer bases, with each company having sales divided between individual mail order customers and trade companies…so, in fact, we had four sets of different customers. All this meant that my brother John was kept quite busy in the first few years implementing a computer system to keep track of it all. Fortunately, it did not take ten years to get the new computer system working the way we wanted it. The new system was pretty much up and running and keeping track of almost everything in the first six months. Still, it was a mammoth job, taking a solid year and half of my brother’s time.

Strangely enough, the mix of the two businesses is roughly the same today. What was different in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s was that the Panther Martin lure business was the larger part of the overall business while today Sea Eagle boats is the larger part of today’s overall business.

I now need to mention an important fact: My brother and I had a father, named Cecil C. Hoge, Sr. It is quite common for sons to have fathers, but our father was a rather interesting man. In the mid 70s he had given official ownership of the two businesses over to me and my step-mother. I have a theory about that and my theory is that he decided to turn over the business because he realized that I would never amount to anything unless I had true responsibilities.

At the time, my father was really in the prime of his business life, so turning over the business to us was a really unique and noble gesture. And that is particularly true if you knew my father. He was a particularly active and intelligent businessman. He came at the world of business from a marketing perspective…something he picked from his father, Huber Hoge, who owned an advertising company in the 1920s called Huber Hoge, Inc.

I have posted a story about my father on my personal blog site called TangledTalesofanAmericanFamily.com. In a story entitled aptly: “Cecil Hoge, My Father” I give a lot of details about my father’s rather colorful marketing and business career. Should you want to learn more, please feel free to check it out.

Here is a brief summary of my father’s career. My father was happily going to the University of Virginia and living the original party life, when the Depression occurred and he realized that my Grandfather was going to lose his business. So my father left the warm and friendly clime of Charlottesville and headed back to New York to help the family. I believe my father’s first job was at a now defunct newspaper called the New York Sun. In the Depression, selling anything was hard, but my father found a way to become quite a good salesman for classified ads in the New York Sun considering the sad state of the economy.

My father told me some stories about those times. Almost as soon as he got back from the University of Virginia, he and his family got kicked out of the very nice apartment they were living. You would think that would be a catastrophe and no doubt it must have seemed like it at the time, but it turned out this happened to many formerly prosperous families. That meant that many apartment buildings in even the best part of New York City had very few tenants who could actually pay the rent.

What do you do when nobody can rent? You cut deals and that is what many of the best apartment buildings did at the time. So, my father and his family, which at the time consisted of 3 other brothers, a sister, a mother and father, moved from one fine apartment to another, each time cutting a better deal and each time running out of money and having to move on. It was a trend of the times.

Another trend is the fact that taxi cabs could no longer get full fare. My father told me that he might be coming back from a party, strangely dressed in a tuxedo or tails, with almost no money for a cab. What did he do? Knock on the window of each cab, and in those days there were plenty of cabs sitting on Park Avenue or Fifth Avenue patiently waiting for a lone fare to show up. So my father would knock on a cab’s window with one nickel in his fingers. As soon as he caught the attention of the cabbie, he would hold up the nickel. While many cabbies refused that as a fare, my father said he always found a cab willing to take the nickel. Those were the days of desperation and depression.

So, my father came from a prosperous middle-class family, went to the University of Virginia and after two years of thinking the prosperity would never end, he found himself and his family destitute. It was a story lived many times in many homes and apartments at the time.

“It took ten years out of your life,” was my father’s description of the Depression years. No matter, my father first sold classified ads at the New York Sun and then, because he was such a dynamic salesman, moved up to selling display ads. For those of you are not familiar with the difference between classified and display ads, classifieds were little one column one or two-inch ads with 30 or 60 words of copy and no picture, while display ads could be anything from 1/8 of a page to a full page. Display ads were called that because they usually included one or more pictures or drawings.

As the depression rolled on, my father moved up in the world first earning $20 or $30 dollars and then earning several hundred dollars a week. This was possible at the time because part of the pay came from commissions earned from sold ads. This newfound relative prosperity caused my father to get married and change jobs. For a while, he did a stint selling ads at Vanity Fair Magazine, which must have been pretty exciting since it was a very trendy magazine run by a gentleman who, according to my father, liked his drinks a little bit too much. The original Vanity Fair Magazine did not make it through the 30s, but my father did.

When World War II arrived my father said, “Suddenly, everybody had a job and the Depression was over.”

After the war, my father joined forces with his brother to re-institute his father’s advertising business. The new company was called Huber Hoge & Sons Advertising. This became a force in mail order advertising during the late 40s and early 50s. My father handled advertising for Double Day Books, Jackson and Perkins Roses, Arthur Murray Dance Studios and a number of other pretty prestigious advertising accounts.

In that period my father got the mail order bug bad. In doing so, he decided instead of running direct mail advertisements for other people, he could do a lot better running mail order ads for himself on products that he controlled. And that is what he ended up doing.

This is the little pocket adding machine that my father sold millions of in the 1950s. It added and subtracted with the aid of the stylus that is clipped to the side of the device. It sold for $3.98…a magic price in those days.

In the mid 50s, my father was advertising and selling a diverse selection of products…pocket adding machines, dress forms for ladies, paint brushes, art instruction courses, dance instruction courses, TV repair books, fertilizer for lawns and gardens and many other odd and quirky products. If you are looking for some common product thread you will find none. In fact, the common thread was that my father would try to sell anything that could be sold through mail order. And that is how we first got into the fishing lure business. Not because my father was an avid angler, not because my father knew something about fishing, but because he had an accountant who liked fishing and who told my father to run an ad on a particular fishing lure.

My father ran the ad as a favor to the very persistent accountant. Somewhat to my father’s horror and amazement, the ad worked and he sold over $1,000,000 of our original fishing lure called “Vivif” in the first year. That was quite a feat in 1956. In those days, one million dollars was real money. That experience convinced our father to go into fishing lures big time and shortly thereafter my father bought a company that had, among a myriad of fishing tackle products, Panther Martin fishing lures.

PM-Ad

This is one of my father’s first ads on Vivif, the fishing lure that launched us into the fishing lure business. It is typical of the “heavy copy” ad that my father wrote at that time. Because of the success of this lure, my father bought a small company that had Panther Martin fishing lures. That led to us selling over 110,000,000 lures.

The year before my father bought Panther Martin, it had sold about $8,000. The year after he bought it, it sold about $15,000. That was not a big success for my father, but Panther Martin lures turned out to be one of the greatest fishing lures ever made. Fast forward to today and we have sold over 110,000,000 Panther Martin lures. So from a small acorn came a large oak tree.

Over time, our father migrated away from some, but not all, of the many weird and wonderful mail order products that he had previously sold. By the time I came into the business in 1968, we had already become primarily a fishing lure business that happened to buy in that same year an inflatable boat business. By the time my brother came into the business, in 1989, we were a fishing lure business that happened to own an inflatable boat business. As I mentioned in Part I of this history of Sea Eagle Boats, Sea Eagle boat sales went up and down year to year. By the late 80s, it had a couple of years when it was actually bigger than our Panther Martin business, but most years, Sea Eagle was the smaller business. Panther Martin was a different kind of business in that its sales generally did just one thing: increase.

Now I also mentioned that my father did something very unusual for a man who had been pretty successful most of his business life – he turned over the business to me and my brother. The first few years of my brother coming into the business, the boat business was owned by me and my step-mother. That changed in 1993 when John’s mother passed away. From that point on John was my full partner.

After turning over his ownership in both companies, my father went on to a pretty successful career as a business writer. His specialty was mail order marketing and the evolution of mail order marketing into online marketing. He wrote and published 5 separate books on marketing. His first book, called “Mail Order Moonlighting,” sold over 100,000 copies. In 1983 he wrote and published another book called “Electronic Marketing”. In that book, in 1983 he predicted what he called “electronic catalogs”. This was really before the internet got going, but our father was already predicting its arrival.

SearsWard

This is the cover of a book my father wrote about how Sears and Roebuck ended up beating Montgomery Ward. It is an interesting tale that might be informative to Walmart and Amazon.

Given our father’s background and his new writing career and the fact that it was related to the type of business we were already in, my father could not help but make suggestions on how my brother and I should run Sea Eagle.

GT15

This is a picture of our GT15 Sportboat from one of our catalogs. As you can see, the price of this boat was quite reasonable and we sold over 5,000 over a 7 year period.

In the early 1990s, Sea Eagle was selling about 4,000 or 5,000 inflatable boats a year with most of them being our unsupported PVC inflatable dinghies, kayaks and sportboats…the Sea Eagle 8 & 9 motor mount boat, 330 & 370 kayaks and the GT10 and GT15 sport boats. While we have discontinued the GT sport boats and the Sea Eagle 8, the Sea Eagle 9, 330 & 370 remain popular models that we continue to sell year after year up until this day.

From my father’s point of view, our fishing lure and boat business had descended into traditional and rather boring businesses. We had a brief period in the 1980s when the boat business had surged ahead for a few years and surpassed the fishing lure business. But after that, the boat business again slowed while the fishing lure business kept growing. In my father’s mind, it was all kind of boring. He liked the frenzied activity of a promotional mail order advertising campaign and in the early 1990s, while we had direct sales of the inflatable boats that generated considerable sales, we had no one promotional program that drove the whole business forward.

Our father had one suggestion: “Get on that goddamn internet.”

As I have mentioned in my blog story on my father, he rarely took the Lord’s name in vain or cursed in any way, but when he got agitated about something, as in this case, sometimes the words would slip out.

Now I was the marketing guy who knew nothing about computers while my brother was the computer savvy guy who loved computers. So my brother led the charge in actually setting up and getting us online. We had many discussions on how to do this. One big question was whether to create an order cart where customers could place orders online or to just put up a phone number and an address to call or mail for more information. In the first year, we chose to forego the order cart and we just listed our phone number and address so customers could either contact us by phone or write in for a catalog.

One of the debates we had was whether anyone would order online in the first place. In 1995, when we started the process of going online, not many companies were taking orders directly on the internet. Amazon was just getting started – they came online in August of 1995 – and at the time they were thought only to be a bookseller. So, the first question was, would anyone actually order an inflatable boat on the web. The second question was if they ordered on the web, when and how would they order. That was important because while we could take phone orders or input mail orders during working hours, we had no way to take orders after working hours.

So our thinking was that we would probably not gain much having an order cart, but maybe we would get additional orders when people either called or mailed us. It still was an alien concept to us that someone would order in the middle of the night without being able to ask questions of a live person. We thought, in our infinite wisdom, very few people would actually order outside of working hours.

Why we thought this is still something of a mystery. After all, most people work during the day and therefore they supposedly would not have time to order during the day. But our long history in mail order boat business told us differently. All the orders we ever got was during the day and even when we had “800” phone numbers ready to take orders at night, we almost never got an order after 5pm.

1996Web

This is part of our original Sea Eagle website – it was pretty crude and simple!

In March of 1996 we put up our website showing 2 basic models – the Sea Eagle 8 and the GT15 – and giving an 800# to call us to get a catalog, if interested. It was about as simple and as low key as a website could be, but then in 1996 there were not many websites, and of those that were up, they were not very sophisticated. When someone called for a catalog, we would give any inquiries we got a special website code, which, if I remember, was MW096B. The MW was to indicate it was a miscellaneous web inquiry, 096 was the year and B was for boats.

For the next 10 months, we did not do anything but wait and see what happened. The first reaction in the immediate months after we started the website was underwhelming. So underwhelming that after a month or two we stopped monitoring how many sales were coming from it. We just let it sit and mellow.

And mellow it did. By the end of the year, to our surprise, we found that we had sold $56,000 in the first year on the web. Hmmmh. We pondered this a while and then surmised that even if we counted all the time it took developing the website, the sales were profitable. You see it did not take a whole lot of time to make a few single web pages with some images, some brief description of each product and an 800#. Yes, there were a few links to some other pictures and some more detailed construction features, but all in all, the website was amazingly simple. I do not know how long my brother spent on this, but I doubt it was more than 2 or 3 days, if that. So $56,000 for two or three of work was not bad in our minds

This led to making some further development of the website in 1997 and 1998. We added a few more products, we had some more description and pictures of accessories. We put in more links for explaining more features and benefits. In truth, the website was still very crude. In spite of that, the sales we tracked directly to the website went from $56,000 in 1996 to $108,000 in 1997 to $256,000 in 1998.

At that point, we still had not added an interactive order cart. We had a lot of discussions about adding an order cart. It involved quite a bit of extra work and we really wondered: would people actually be comfortable giving their credit card and placing an order. We were not sure. Another question that we continued to ponder was whether people would actually order at times when we were not open, when the customer could not call up and ask specific questions about our inflatable boats.

Now, we could see that if people ordered when we were not open, that could be a real benefit. That might be added business. However, we were still not sure if there would be an overall benefit for the consumer. Even though we did not have the same number of boats in those years, we thought our products were pretty unusual and because of that we thought answering people’s questions about our products over the phone was the most important thing we could do.

By the time we had sold $256,000 in one year on the web, our views were beginning to change. Web sales were becoming a significant part of our overall Sea Eagle direct sales and we could see that they were contributing to the growth of Sea Eagle overall sales.

March of 1999, we took the plunge and added an order cart. It took several weeks of hard work on the part of my brother to get it up live and running. At the moment of launching our interactive order cart, we still had several questions:

Would people give their credit card information and place an order directly on the web?

Would people order off hours without calling us and without asking us a lot of specific questions about the product?

Would online orders increase our overall sales?

We knew the answer to all three of the questions above within a month. It was a categorical “yes”.

In 1999, our web sales again more than tripled while regular in-house phone and mail orders also went up, but more marginally. Not only that, the fact that we had a website seemed to also help our trade sales. And most strangely of all, the fact that we had website sales seemed to attract the attention of other websites. So, in 1999, Amazon came to us and first starting selling our boats on their website.

This was counter-intuitive at first. We figured that our direct sales might be seen as a threat to their sales. But Amazon seemed to take a more benign view of it and think, if we could sell our boats on the web, then they could sell our boats on the web.

I have to say from 1999 on we enjoyed substantial organic growth each and every year thereafter. Now, as I have mentioned, in the past, the 1980s for example, we had some periods of great growth followed by dramatic slowdowns.

From 1999 on, growth was different. It was both rapid and a steady. There was no falling back in sales as we got into 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2004…we just kept growing. Of course, we did a lot of correct things…we expanded the website, we added videos, we added new exciting products. And the growth came both in our direct sales and in sales to trade customers. What did change was our trade customers became almost entirely other websites, rather than Mom and Pop dealers. That was good and that bad.

We were suddenly exposed on lots of websites and the total awareness of our brand went up accordingly. But we were no longer in many physical stores and Mom and Pop dealers. Physical stores and Mom and Pop dealers had, in the past, provided a very important function. They demonstrated and explained our boats directly to customers in an environment where the customer could feel and touch the actual product. That experience has a whole lot of benefits.

If you compare the various ways we have sold our products…through dealers, through mail order, by catalogs, by ads, by phone, through our websites, through videos, through other people’s websites – each of these mediums have advantages and disadvantages. However, I have to say the advantages that the website brought, along with the other advantages of being on other people’s websites, resulted in the greatest change and growth of our business.

In 1997, another thing happened that changed the course of our business. A Korean lady named Kara called us, saying she represented a Korean company making supported fabric inflatable boats. She asked if they could quote making inflatable boats for us. We were dubious, but since we still were making plastic floorboards, we asked if the Korean company could make supported fabric boats that could use our plastic floorboards.

To make a long story short, in 1997 we began working on a new fabric supported series of transom boats that used the plastic floorboards we had first used with of GT-10 and GT-15 inflatable boats. We introduced the new fabric supported boats in 1998 and it turned out that the combination of our plastic floorboards and the Korean supported fabric boats produced really good transom boats that could take up to 30 hp engines at a quite reasonable price.

By this time, our Sea Eagle website was getting more elaborate and so we added 3 fabric supported transom boats to our lineup of 6 unsupported PVC boats. In the year 1998 our web sales went up dramatically and we also sold almost 1,000 fabric supported transom boats. So you can say that year we had a kind of double success.

20170123_152644

These are some of the Explorer kayaks that we introduced in 1999. These particular kayaks have been used in Peru by a company running eco tours using our kayaks. They have been in use for the last 12 years running rivers in Peru.

In 1999, we added 3 supported inflatable kayaks and an interactive order cart. The kayaks were really a re-introduction of our original line of Explorer kayaks that we had first introduced in 1976. So, once again, by 1999, we were offering a fairly full range of supported fabric and unsupported boats. And the redesigned Explorer kayak also was an instant success.

So you can say from 1996 on we had a lot of new things going on. Not only did we go online and quickly expand our web sales, but by adding two new series of supported fabric boats, we greatly expanded our line of inflatable boats. By 1999, we had 15 basic inflatable boats. And as soon as the order cart was up running, our web sales went into overdrive. And by having our full range of boats online, we also attracted a lot of new online trade customers. By the end of 1999, our web sales went up to $746,000. At the time, web sales still only accounted for about 30% of our direct sales and in addition to that, we had developed a pretty nice trade business of about $1,500,000. This meant our Sea Eagle business was now over $5,000,000.

Thus, began a whole new stage and evolution of Sea Eagle Boats. Many other changes and product innovations were soon to come. To learn more about that you will have to wait until I finish Part III of the History of Sea Eagle Boats.

 

 

SIDNEY STUFFLE: PUNCHING THROUGH TO BIG TIME FUN!

Easy Portage: An easy portage of the Jim Bean Distillery dam on the Elkhorn in central Kentucky.

By Tom Schlichter

Sidney Stuffle didn’t have a lot of help getting started with kayaking. Like a lot of people without friends or family who take to the water, the 26-year old from Tucson, AZ, had to mostly figure it out himself.

“That’s all part of the fun, I guess,” laughs Stuffle, who after just three years in the sport is already on his second inflatable kayak. “There’s not a big kayaking community out here in Arizona, so I didn’t have anyone to warn me to avoid the rough water starting out, either. As you might imagine, the first few trips were a little hairy before I got the hang of it.”

Salt River AZ: Looking over the front of Stuffle’s 330 sport kayak down Salt River Canyon on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. This beautiful Class III run is his favorite in the Grand Canyon State.

Since then, it’s been non-stop fun for the affable outdoorsman. To get his feet wet, Stuffle explored the typical barriers to entering the kayak game. “I wanted something safe, affordable and easy to transport,” he said. “With an engineering background, I could tell the Sea Eagle line was well constructed. A little more research revealed they were also the safest, most affordable kayaks I could fit in a car. I quickly decided on the Sea Eagle 330 because it felt sturdy when I got in and could be put in a carry bag, hauled to the water and inflated in only 10 or 15 minutes.”

A serious hiker, Stuffle had often focused on pushes to the tops of mountains and high peaks. Eventually, however, he realized he’d rather float through the valleys. Perhaps that explains his favorite stretch of kayaking water.

Big South Fork: Stuffle’s paddling buddy, Warren Maddox exits one of the more relaxing riffles of Big South Fork Gorge in his Sea Eagle 330 Sport kayak. This location is the continuous ¾-gorge on the Big South Fork (1100 CFS). Lower on the river is a long class 2 canoe camping stretch with comparable scenery and excellent bass fishing that Stuffle hopes to paddle in the future.

“I really love the Salt River Canyon right here in Arizona,” he says enthusiastically. “There are 2,000 foot vertical walls on either side and you are on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. It’s awesome terrain; secluded once you get going. It’s on some of those stretches where I actually learned to kayak.”

According to Stuffle, the Sea Eagle 330 is a ton of fun on the white water and big wave trains you’ll find over the first few miles of this stretch, known as the Mule Shoe. Inflated to 1 psi, the two-person, 11’ 2”, 26-pound inflatable “bends with the waves” to stay on top the whole time. “It actually gives you the feeling of doing ‘wheelies’ at some points. It’s an adrenalin trip for sure,” he says.

His new single-person Sea Eagle 300x Explorer, by comparison, measures 9’ 10”, weighs 30 pounds and inflates to 3.2-psi. “That one is more rigid,” explains Stuffle, “It rides lower in the water and absolutely punches through the waves and holes. It has sixteen self-bailing valves which are critical for runs that see continuous whitewater. Without those, you would be paddling a bathtub down the river after the first big hole.”

The beautiful Elwha river has recovered after two of the largest dam removal projects in United States History (see: DamNation, 2014 documentary). These shots are from the Madison Falls access where Stuffle went on to solo run the class IV+ rapid through the old dam site. “

To get the most out of either of these Sea Eagle kayaks, Stuffle cautions it is important to know which flows are safest wherever you go. Try to stay in the big waves and the main flows as much as possible, he suggests. The deepest water will help you avoid a lot of potential hazards like submerges trees, bridge pillars and large boulders. “Don’t take on more than you can handle or enjoy, either,” states Stuffle. “I start to feel pretty wet after 10 miles so I like to keep my kayak ventures less than that, but I have paddled up to 22 miles in my Sea Eagle 330.”

Earlier this year Stuffle camped on the Verde River, a class 3 – 4, Wild and Scenic River in Arizona. “It had plenty of rough passages,” noted Stuffle, “and I chose my 300 Explorer for that trip. It performed great – even though it was packed full of camping gear.”

On the beautiful Elwha River, Stuffle went on a solo run through class IV+ rapids passing though the site of a removed dam. “The 300x Explorer kayak punched every hole and breaker I went into,” he said. “The kayak would fill with water, then drain right away through the 16 self-bailing drain valves. Few people have run this rapid. I’m thrilled Sea Eagle made it possible for me.”

Stuffle also recently kayaked the Elwha, Hoh, and Queets rivers in Olympic Peninsula National Park. “It was so special to kayak through the old Elwha Dam site,” he relates. “This Class IV+ rapid really put me to the test, but the 300X Explorer Kayak was incredibly stable! I took out on the beach and carried the boat to the little Toyota Yaris I rented. What other kayak can you put in a Yaris?” he asked. Stuffle added that Alaska Airlines, Delta, and Allegiant were all really cool about the kayak, too. They let him carry it on as a normal checked bag, no questions asked. If you are taking your Sea Eagle on a flight, he suggests using two bags: one just for the kayak and one for your helmet, lifejacket, paddle and other gear.

Catching a glimpse of local wildlife can be one of the highlights of any kayak adventure and Stuffle has seen some interesting creatures in his travels. In Washington State, he came across numerous beaver and otter, then found king (chinook) salmon staging at the river mouth. Closer to home, on the Mule Shoe, Stuffle has spotted bald eagles, huge mule deer and a big male coati – a raccoon-like animal he said probably weighed over 40 pounds.

Future runs on Stuffle’s wish list include a trip downstream of Big South Fork Gorge on the Tennessee-Kentucky border that offers a 30-mile canoe camping run and some great fishing possibilities. He’d also like to kayak the Grand Canyon, but hasn’t been selected in the yearly drawing for permits.

“I’m looking forward to some family kayaking down the line, too” adds the paddling enthusiast. “My wife is pregnant and we have a young son, so I’m mostly getting out on my own these days. I can’t wait for them to come along.”

What to Do With Your Sea Eagle in the Winter

Our fearless leader, Cecil, loves going for a morning paddle no matter the time of year.

by Tonya Ferrara

School’s in session, the leaves are turning, cooler weather is coming in, pumpkin spice is everywhere and days are getting shorter.  Though we don’t want to think about it, sadly for many of us, boating season is coming to an end (insert sad face, bring on the tears and get ready to hunker down).  Here at the Sea Eagle headquarters in beautiful, historic Port Jefferson, NY, that means we won’t be going out on the water…as much.  Our fearless leader, Cecil C. Hoge, Jr. does brave the cold for a daily morning paddle in the local bay in his FastTrack or RazorLite or a quick trip around Port Jeff Harbor in his FishSkiff.  And we also must continue to test new boats and products so, on nicer days we’ll man up, bundle up and go down to the water.  And sometimes, the cabin fever just gets to us and we have to head outside.  I mean, we are an inflatable boat company after all and we do live on an island so…

Probably not the nicest of days, but it didn’t keep Hawaiian Dan from doing a quick test of the NeedleNose iSUP.

Though summer’s our busy season, we do sometimes get to have a little fun.

It’s not that our boats can’t take the cold, of course (see PADDLING WITH SEALSOn the FastTrack™ to Copenhagen and SAILING AMONG THE ICEBERGS).  It’s just that it can get a bit too nippy for us mere mortals. I mean, standing on a dock or beach or in a boat taking photos all bundled up in a heavy winter coat, hat, and gloves may seem glamorous but trust me, as near & dear to my heart as they are, it’s not always fun standing in bitter breezes taking photos and videos of our boats. But one must do what one must do for the sake of ingenuity, quality, and fun.

T-shirts & shorts to winter coats and gloves, as long as it’s not raining or snowing, we’ll take to the water.

Now, just to be clear, the cooler months are a fabulous time to go out for a paddle or to motor around.  Our bays are far less crowded – that means very few boats and no swimmers to navigate around. Also, the water is cleaner and clearer since motorboats are not churning up the bottom. Plus, the weather is brisk, so no danger of mosquito bites (fist pump!). And on sunny days the air is clear and refreshing.  So, as long as the water and weather conditions are favorable and it’s not snowing (except for crazy Hawaiian Dan that one time) or raining hard we can head down to the water for some photos or testing. And because developing new models seems to often take far longer than anticipated, we often find ourselves testing final prototypes in November, December and even January.

A warm autumn day is a perfect time to hit the water in the FishSkiff.

Safety and Comfort First

If you do go paddling in the colder months, remember to dress properly.  Wear layers, you’ll warm up especially if you paddle hard, but its chilly out this time of year so it is better to overdo it.  Waterproof gear is a great way to go – gloves, jacket, pants, shoes.  You may even want to keep an extra set of clothing in a dry bag just in case. Also, be sure to know the weather and water conditions and to let someone know of your float plan – where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you plan to be back.  You can even fill out a U.S. Coast Guard Float Plan form with all your information.  Basically, use common sense when going out on the water no matter what time of year it is.

Most important of all, do NOT forget to wear a life jacket. It is always a good idea in spring and summer to wear a life jacket, but in fall and winter this is even more important. In our parts it is the law to wear a life jacket when paddling November through March. This is because the water temperature can be close to freezing and any exposure to cold water for more than ten minutes can put you in serious jeopardy of hypothermia or even death. So please always wear a life jacket when going out in the colder weather. This is particularly important because in the Fall and Winter there may be no boats to come to your rescue.

Don’t be a “NO.” Wear your life jacket the correct way all the time! Especially in fall & winter when hypothermia sets in quickly .

We also especially recommend the Sea Eagle Waterproof Kayak Blanket to keep you warm and dry.  This polartec lined waterproof blanket protects against wind, cold and the dreaded paddledrip that somehow works its way from your paddle to your clothes. Yes, even if we are pretty hardy people, it is nice to be toasty and dry while out paddling or boating.

I used the Sea Eagle waterproof blanket while riding in one of our Sport Runabouts one chilly winter’s day and let me tell you, this puppy works like a charm!  Obviously, I wasn’t paddling in a kayak, but it was a pretty brisk day when we headed out of Port Jeff Harbor into the Long Island Sound to get some photos of the FishSUP, I believe.  As we were heading through the channel another boat passed us going way too fast for the area and SPLASH! I got soaked!  Well, I should say I would have gotten soaked, but thankfully, I had the blanket covering my feet, legs and arms (yes, the blanket’s 53″ long, but I’m only 60″ tall so most of me was covered).

Staying warm & dry with our Waterproof Kayak Blanket – it’s not just for kayaks!

Safe Storage for the Winter

When we’re not out on the water, we keep our boats folded and in their storage bags, when possible.  The best place for them is in a temperature controlled room, but like you, we don’t always have that option.  So, we’ll stack the folded boats in our annex in a spot where they cannot fall or something cannot fall on them.  In frigid temps, our unsupported PVC boats (SE 330s, 370s & 9s) can become rigid and sometimes brittle, so it’s always best to store them where a sudden impact is not possible and where unfolding them is not necessary.

Piled up for the winter.

Storing an inflatable boat in a closet, garage or basement in a high place is best. But if that’s not feasible and you need to keep your boat in a shed, find a clean garbage can or plastic storage box with a tight lid – one that is big enough for your boat and inflatable seats to fit in completely with the lid firmly closed.  This will help prevent mice and other critters from chewing a big hole in your boat.  They might be little, but they can do some major damage, even rendering the boat useless.  At the very least, it could ruin a planned trip and cost you time and money to patch the holes.

A little rodent can do MAJOR damage to inflatable boats. Store your inflatable properly to keep it safe!

At Sea Eagle, we love…I mean LOVE being out on the water. We’re totally in the wrong business if we didn’t.  Sometimes, though, the weather just doesn’t cooperate here in the Northeast and we have to pack up our beloved inflatable boats, kayaks and SUPs and begin the countdown to spring or hope for the odd warm winter day. If you live in an area where the weather is warm and the conditions are perfect all year, you’re very lucky, take advantage of it.  If not, be sure to pack up your boat and store it properly, so when warmer days do come, you can just unpack, unfold, inflate and go!

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE – the week it only got worse, but all was good in the end

Catching a beauty like this makes any day better!

by Bill Marts

I had just received my new Sea Eagle FishSUP12.6 inflatable SUP and wanted more than ever to get to fly fishing for carp. I am new to fishing from a SUP. But I have day-dreamed, thought about, imagined, planned for and was making it happen on this trip. I KNEW it would be a perfect platform from which to hunt for carp. I, 99% of the time, sight fish for carp and shallow-water fishes (bass, bluegill, crappie etc.) and fishing from a SUP had to be the answer. It is all about stealth with shallow-water-flyfishing and sighting the fish. I also wanted to fish the SUP during a Carp Tourney I organized for Emerald Water Anglers, a fly shop in Seattle, WA. It was being held in Eastern Washington at Banks Lake about a month later. I wanted to know what I was doing at the tourney so I finally traveled to Eastern Wash (over by Vantage), the temps were near and at 100 the whole week. But, have to tell ya, I loved fishing in it. This was in preparation for the tourney. I had fished with the FishSUP the week before and got towed around (fun ride) by a few BIG carp before the hook straightened out on both fish and I was looking forward to trying again with stronger hooks. The FishSUP is designed for an electric motor, so I put one on. I was at the downwind leg, of my first drift of the week, fishing on my new SUP and, so far, it was great, casting to a carp here and there.

Heading out to find some carp.

Got to camp a little late and set up after sundown and looking forward to dinner. Then, I couldn’t use my stove because the wind was blowing soooooo hard. It got up to 60 mph (official) during night and morning. That was OK, my tent held up with no problems, except at 4:30 am, the fire trucks set off their sirens and flashing white and red lights in the campground with the announcement of a level 3 evacuation. GET OUT NOW!!! I could see the wildfire’s glow barely a couple hundred yards away. I got everything thrown, including my SUP, in my truck except my tent when they came by again and said, “leave the tent”. At least I got out OK. Everything was all good then until I rear-ended the guy’s trailer in front of me. Just little dents. Idling in my truck while looking in the rear-view mirror at the fire closing in on the campground. The guy in front of me was good about it.

I calmed down some and went to a nice place at Burkett Lake; made some phone calls to let everyone know I was OK; took a nap and decided to go fishing at another place. Good plan EXCEPT the truck battery was dead. OK…… I just joined AAA this year and they would come to where I was and give me a jump. Great! Three hours later he showed up and jumped the truck and the world was good again. Backing up, I didn’t realize how close the tow truck was to the rear end of my truck. UNTIL I hear this crunch and I look back in the side mirror to see my passenger-side tail light (the whole unit) hanging from its wires (good thing for wires). This kind of got to me and I yelled F*%$ so loud it was still echoing off the canyon walls two days later. All is well —— Just like Red Green, I go nowhere without Duct Tape. The tail light still worked. So, I taped it back on. Too late for fishing so I stopped into a small cafe in Mattawa. I was looking forward to a quesadilla and a cold beer. Slept out under the stars (my tent back at the campground) and it was great. Had my cot and pad. Had some tunes (Allman Bros Eat a Peach album). Had a cold beer. Watched the clear, star-speckled skyway late into the night. Had a great day of fishing the next day with a friend. Went back to the camp and they had taken my tent down and stored it at the ranger station. What a kind thing to do. Went to another lake campground where I was to meet another friend; set up camp again, settled in to have a hot dinner of brats and chili. BUT, I couldn’t get the stove to work. Cold dinner, but I had cold beer. So, it wasn’t a total loss. Beautiful night with calm winds.

Busted tail light won’t keep me down!

The stars are aligned again. My friend arrived at 9 am and we went out on the lake fly fishing for carp. Great fishing. Except for my broken rod on a huge carp. Not to worry, tho. I had a spare back in the boat. Got it rigged up and got back to fish. We both hooked more, that is- UNTIL I slipped in the mud in the lake in a hole and then pulled a muscle in my neck as I was looking UP at the water surface. My feet were doing that forward shuffle (like when snow skiing) and your upper body is leaning back and your feet are up in front of you like trying to walk up a wall. I was still straining, looking up, trying to get to the surface to gulp in some much-needed air. The oddest thought went through my mind while under water, I was thinkin’ “it would be so embarrassing if I were to drown while wading a lake in 3 feet of water. I finally came to the surface. YEAH!!! Another great day as hot as it was there, I am super cooled off.

Well, now it is lunch time, Thursday. Good lunch with a couple of cold pops. Went to one more place. Fish everywhere. Hungry fish. BUT, the mud was up to ankle-deep and was like walking in glue. Every step required rocking your foot back and forth to release the suction, I wished I had the FishSUP at that time but we were fishing out of my friend’s boat. The fishing was better every step forward. There were so many feeding fish that I finally figured it was better to stop and stand still and cast to passing fish. It worked! EXCEPT….. the longer one stands in one place, the more the mud sucks in/down one’s feet. I had been there quite a while and saw a particularly large carp just out of casting range. I took a step toward it, but only in my mind. My feet were Stuuuuuuck. I took another dip in the lake. Since I had some experience in this type of event, I only went in up to my chest. I got up quickly and tried to rock my way out of this predicament. My feet stayed put but my body went forward again. By now, I am very skilled at this game. I started to move but no fish around. All is good again. It is still hot and I am very cool. All in all a great day!

Packed up the next day to head home and it went smoothly. Got home in good shape. I THOUGHT….Later that night I discovered that I had been chewed on around both knees. Little round red marks. No big deal. UNTIL the next day when they appeared much redder and blistered. They broke later in the day. So, life is great again. But, I still have marks some 6 weeks later. Wonder what it was??

I am heading back in 6 days for 4 more nights of camping and carp fly fishing at the 2nd Annual Carp Jamboree. If only it can be as good as last week!


The 2
nd Annual Carp Jamboree, 2018.

Well, I went to Banks Lake at Coulee City Community campground (our headquarters) the next week three days ahead of tournament day of the Carp Jamboree with my brother (Boyd). We got camp set up by mid-day and some friends showed up early, too. Water was calm and perfect so we went fishing. The fishing was awesome. Next day was the same. Great water, skies (need clear skies for good sight fishing) and fish were on the feed. I was getting excited for the tourney. Friday was also good, but Boyd and I stayed in to prepare for other participants arriving and getting ready for a Carp Fly Fishing Clinic I was to give that late afternoon. It went well. The forecasts were for some winds in the AM, getting calm by afternoon. That is good enough!

BUT…..the forecaster forgot to tell Boreas (Greek god of north wind). The North and West winds blew hard bringing the air and water temps about 10 degrees lower than the last three days. No using the FishSUP this day. I just don’t know how to paddle against heavy winds. Where fishing had been excellent the last three days, now there were no to hardly any fish, unless you could go miles up-lake where the wind was not as much of a problem. I was not going to fish for any of the prizes, but I wanted to fish on the FishSUP. No luck this trip.

The winner, Matt Paluch, landed 7 carp this day. He took home the FishSUP 12.6 as his choice first prize. Other participants won rod, reels, fly lines, chest packs, hats and stainless-steel water bottles. Everybody got something whether they caught a fish or not. I had delivered to our camp, pizzas, chicken wings and salads and, of course, the keg was tapped and everyone enjoyed the party into the evening. Can’t wait for next year’s jamboree.

I am now waiting for the arrival for my next craft from Sea Eagle; the FishSkiff16. I will use it for guiding shallow waters in a silent, stealthy manner, next year. We’ll “Fish like a Heron”.

True story, Bill Marts.

 

It was a crazy week – wild fires, busted tail light, broken stove, broken fishing rod, bug bites…but at least the carp were still biting.

 

FOR J.P. GARZA, SEA EAGLE’S RAZORLITE® 473rl LEADS TO ADVENTURE

J.P. shared an expedition with friends on the Papaloapan River in Veracruz, Mexico.

By Tom Schlichter

“I’m all about adventure,” says J. P. Garza, 51, of Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico. “I love to explore and discover natural new places, especially by water in the southeast of my country and in Central America.”

Garza has traveled most of these regions by roads, terraces and trails, not only by car but by mountain bike as well. In fact, until recently, he considered himself a serious cyclotourist. These days, however, he prefers touring with his Sea Eagle RazorLite® 473rl inflatable kayak (IK). He has paddled over 3,000 kms (1,900 miles,) he says, never repeating the same river, lagoon or sea shore.

“Water is a resource that abounds in this area,” explains Garza, “and it offers a different perspective when exploring and enjoying the natural world. Rivers are the oldest paths of my country and while many have forgotten their importance these days, they have served as the main means of communication in the jungle since the pre-Columbian era. That’s why their shores host old churches and abandoned ancient cities – and it’s why I think waterways are the best and most interesting means to discover and learn about the natural beauties and historical places that we have.”

Garza stresses such adventure and contact with nature must be accomplished with respect for the environment and an ecologically healthy approach. If it can also be inexpensive, so much the better. Inflatable kayaks, he says, are the perfect fit as they allow him to achieve all of the above. Being able to maintain a decent speed without the noise of an added motor lets him quietly cover plenty of water and leads to more wildlife encounters.

The Champoton River in Campeche, Mexico, says Garza, is a beautiful stretch you can really only see and enjoy fully by way of an inflatable kayak.

“Using my IK, I come across a lot of wild animals on these trips,” reveals Garza. “Some, like a jaguar I spotted in the Belize River, few people ever get to see in a natural setting.”

Another important reason for kayaking on these expeditions, states Garza, is that it allows access to places larger vessels can’t navigate due to rapids, shallow waters or other obstacles. What you can’t push through on the water, you can sometimes bypass by carrying your IK, he explains.

In his expedition search for the beginning of the Champoton River in Campeche, Mexico, Garza had to back-pack in his Sea Eagle RazorLite® 473rl inflatable kayak.

“Many of the places I explore have never been navigated,” continues Garza. “I do serious expedition tours, so I need a kayak that’s inflatable to have the freedom to transport it in any way: taxi, bus, Uber, car or even carrying it on my shoulder. Using my Sea Eagle RazorLite® I have navigated rapids, flat waters and the open sea. It’s extremely versatile, easily portable and – inflated at 10 psi -incredibly hard. Its overall performance is as good as a hard shell kayak yet it remains as portable as a regular IK. Sleek and narrow, it goes real fast but remains tough enough to take far from the nearest road with no concerns about getting back. Stability is another issue that kayakers are always worried about, but not me. My RazorLite® handles anything Mother Nature dishes out.”

Given his need to travel long distances – not always an easy task in the areas he explores -Garza especially appreciates that he can simply pack up his RazorLite® and bring it anywhere. He also loves that it folds into a small square that can be easily stored. Storage room is at a premium in many Mexican homes, he notes, so being able to put it away neatly is a real plus.

“My Sea Eagle RazorLite® weighs only 35 pounds,” says Garza, “and it packs-up nice and tight. It can also take a beating and keep on going. My girlfriend Xiomi and I took it close to the Guatemalan border recently and paddled over 400 kms (250 miles) down the Usumacinta River to the Gulf of Mexico. We needed the fastest two-person inflatable kayak in the world to travel such a distance in only five days and the RazorLite® was it. On the last day of the expedition, Xiomi and I had to paddle over 100 kms (70 miles) from Jonuta to Frontera City as there were no places to stay the night. I’m convinced the Sea Eagle 473rl is the only two-person IK in the world that can cover so long a distance in a single day.”

The Usumacinta River, which flows though southeastern Mexico and northwestern Guatemala, provided Garza and Xiomi with a more than 400 kms (250-mile) IK adventure.

It would be almost impossible to do the expeditions he and his girlfriend undertake twice a month using a hard shell kayak, believes Garza. “The logistics would be too complicated, especially when you have to cross international borders. For us, it doesn’t make sense to waste the extra time, money and effort to travel with a hard shell. Many traditional kayakers don’t know about the latest IK technology. They don’t know how fast and how tough these kayaks can be, especially with drop-stitch design like Sea Eagle uses in its RazorLite®. Hopefully, my fellow kayakers are starting to see this when they view my adventures on social media or read the articles I write in magazines and Mexican newspapers.”

As for the RazorLite’s speed, Garza finds it exceptionally fast. “My girlfriend and I entered a 37 kms (23-mile) hard shell kayak race with it and finished third overall. We were the only IK in the race. The RazorLite’s sleekness is one reason for its great speed; another is that it is so steady and solid it feels like a hard-shell kayak. It’s as tough as they come, and very responsive. It lets you get in a lot of exercise without feeling like you are doing that much work.”

J.P. and his girlfriend, Xiomi, recently took third place in a 37 kms (23-mile) kayak race. Their Razorlite was the only inflatable in the field.

Garza says there are places in Mexico and Central America that can be reached only by kayak such as the lost archeological site Arrecife, which is hidden in a small islet in the north of Cozumel. The entire Champoton River, from its remote beginning to its terminus at the Gulf of Mexico, is another example. Here Garza had to backpack in to find the narrow creek which served as the river’s origin. (You can see a clip of this trip on JP’s Facebook page, here.)

“I push into places other people rarely see and I find that tremendously rewarding,” surmises Garza. “When you get into these places, you never know what you might see. Last winter Xiomi and I navigated in Expedition Gran Arrecife Maya, paddling more than 500 kms (310 miles) from Majahual, Mexico to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Over 17 days we used our inflatable kayak to explore the second largest coral reef in the world. We saw amazing islets and breath-taking scenery. There were many kinds of wild animals here including sea turtles, dolphins, alligators, monkeys and a great diversity of fish.

“I think if more people kayaked, they might have a better appreciation for the environment and all things beautiful, peaceful and wild. That might help them to be more conservation-minded – and that’s something we really need in today’s world.”

At Sea Eagle, we couldn’t agree more.

Ingenuity Opens New Doors for Disabled Paddlers

At the SportsAbility event held in Tallahassee in April 2018 by the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, attendees were able to experience the joy of getting out on the water on an iSUP thanks to Tom Weldon who designed an amazing device to allow those with disabilities to paddle safely. Tom is pictured here with Maxim Davis. Photo courtesy of FDOA.org

By Tom Schlichter

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to get back on the water and paddle,” says David Jones. “It’s taken a lot of experimenting over the years, but we finally have something that works really well.”

Jones, president of the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA; www.fdoa.org), is a 63-year old hemiplegic who cannot use his left arm. He loves to be on the water and, up until this summer, had greatly missed being able to fully participate in paddling situations. With the help of fellow FDOA member and friend, Thomas Weldon, however, Jones is thrilled to be back in the game.

“I’d made several unsuccessful attempts to kayak using different types of paddles and adaptive strap-on devices,” explains Jones. “None of them worked out very well so I basically gave up on paddle sports. With help from Thomas, however, we finally figured out something that works – and it’s opened a whole new world of things I can do, places I can go and groups I can join to have fun on the water. Just recently, for example, I took a trip with Thomas on the Withlacoochee River in northern Florida. It’s such a beautiful place – one I couldn’t have fully enjoyed until now.”

With the help of Tom’s invention and SportsAbility, this young man is able to feel comfortable and stable enough to paddle the Sea Eagle NeedleNose solo. Photo courtesy of FDOA.org

In addition to the awkwardness of most adaptive paddle devices Jones tried out, he found that simply getting in and out of a sit-in style kayak presented plenty of problems, especially during the course of activities. Still, after outfitting yet another sit-in kayak with new adaptive gear, Weldon convinced his buddy to try again. That’s when he came up with a radical idea. While following Jones on a Sea Eagle NeedleNose™ 14 (NN14) inflatable stand-up paddleboard (SUP), Weldon thought of switching the setups to put the adaptive gear on the inflatable SUP. That, he suspected, would be easier for Jones to maneuver, balance, and mount or dismount.

“Worked like a charm,” said Jones. “Thomas went home and built an adaptive apparatus to mount onto the Sea Eagle SUP and it turned out to be great as a sit-down device. He started by securing a sit-down kayak-type seat on the board that enabled me to sit and brace myself so I could paddle with one hand. For the paddle, we used an Angle Oar (www.angleoar.com). It’s an adjustable, double-bladed oar attached to a pedestal that sits between your knees and rises about 18 inches from the floor. The oar pivots on the center of the pedestal. As you lift it with one hand it puts the paddle in the water on the opposite side. So, you actually use a rowing motion to dip the blades with a kayak paddling rhythm.”

Getting ready to hit the water! Tom’s making sure everything is set for Sunil Patel. Photo courtesy of FDOA.org

To make the SUP extra-stable, Weldon added small outriggers which also responded to foot pressure for improved steering. Attaching everything to the paddle board proved easy since the NN14 had plenty of D-Rings conveniently positioned around its perimeter for securing accessories.

“The seat configuration, along with the Angle Oar, proved a perfect matchup for the Sea Eagle SUP,” continued Jones. “We used it very successively on a river run and plan to use it now on a regular basis with a paddling program we are about to start. Because the NN14 is an inflatable that weighs just 27 pounds we can load several in a truck at once. That makes the logistics of getting them all to the launch site relatively easy. Once there, each SUP takes less than 10 minutes to inflate.”

Tom and Sunil loving the great outdoors! Photo courtesy of FDOA.org

Of course, helping the physically challenged enjoy the great outdoors is what the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association is all about. According to Jones, the program has a mailing database of roughly 16,000 members and offers a series of outdoor adventure trips throughout the year. The program includes paddling sports, water sports and a variety of other outdoor activities. Twice a year the group hosts a major SportsAbility event, drawing between 1,000 and 1,500 participants to each gathering. Their year-round Miracle Sports Program has about 200 active participants, an ALLOUT adventure series offers a variety of outdoors opportunities including hunting, and a program designed to provide resource information for those with brain and spinal cord injuries serves several thousand more.

In addition to paddling, Jones loves to fish. That has led him and Weldon to consider exploring the possibilities of building an adaptive paddle device for Sea Eagle’s inflatable FishSUP™ 126. That paddleboard is wider and even more stable than the NN14, and it is easily tricked-out to be an angling machine.

“We definitely have to look into that one,” says Jones. “Who knows, being wider and super-stable, it might even eliminate the need for outriggers. Wouldn’t that be great?”

GOING MOBILE WITH THE SEA EAGLE 385ft FASTTRACK™

Colt Creek State Park, FL, happy and calm to start the day.

by Tom Schlichter

Suzanne Daigle had wanted an inflatable kayak for a long time. She wasn’t quite sure where to start looking, but she did have a pretty good idea of what she needed.

“Fortunately,” she said, “a friend steered me over to Sea Eagle and it turned to be a perfect match. What great advice!”

Daigle, you see, was planning to sell her house, buy an RV, and drive around the country checking out places she had always wanted to visit while finding new spots to investigate along the way. It didn’t take long for her to do some research and narrow her potential kayak choices down to a few Sea Eagle models. As soon as she sold her house, she was on the phone to place an order.

Suzanne’s Fast Track conveniently fits under her RV, so if she decides to stay near the water for a few days she just tucks in and adds a lock and chain to keep it safe and conveniently in reach. Keeping it under the RV also shades it from the sun which, in the long run is good for the kayak shell and color retention.

“For me, that was a symbolic moment – I had the proceeds check from my house sale in my hand, ready to deposit and was already making the call to Sea Eagle from my car. I was heading out on the road with no turning back. It felt exciting, refreshing. It would be the adventure of a lifetime. Having that new inflatable kayak and RV was just the starting point.”

Initially, Daigle, who works full-time as a business consultant, both nationally and internationally, was thinking about a different kayak model but the Sea Eagle customer representative who answered the phone helped her find an even better match for her new lifestyle.

“He took the time to ask me about the kind of things I wanted to do on the water and what I thought was important in a kayak,” revealed Daigle. “After a bit of conversation, he suggested the 385ft FastTrack™ Pro Carbon Package. It turned out to be a sweet fit for my new lifestyle. I’m an organizational transformation consultant. I work hard to help businesses give their employees a greater say in important decisions. I wanted to live my personal life the way I invite organizations to step out and take more risks.”

Two things Daigle knew she wanted in a kayak right from the start was the flexibility to handle both small and large bodies of water, and the feel of a “good kayak” ride. She had previously owned a hard-shell sea kayak that she took on New York’s Long Island Sound and even used to paddle across the Hudson River. These days, based in Florida, she hopes to paddle on the Gulf Coast, tuck in and out of inlets and bays, plus poke around on rivers, lakes and ponds.

One thing Suzanne Daigle really loves about her Sea Eagle inflatable kayak is that she can pull it out of her RV and be on the water in ten minutes. It’s perfect for big water or small – anywhere, any time.

“I’m not planning on whitewater rafting,” Daigle explains, “but I still want the flexibility of a smooth ride in gentle waters as well as the stability and ruggedness necessary for wide open spaces. A little extra room to carry stuff along is necessary, too. I like to bring my breakfast on the water, a towel and enough gear that if I happen to find a little deserted island to relax on I’ll be able to just hang out for a while. The 385ft FastTrack™ has plenty of room, a pair of clip-on dry storage bags, and a great set of paddles that are both exceptionally strong and lightweight.”

Daigle says she is still just getting to know her inflatable, but she’s real happy with it so far. She said she was “blown away by the quality” of the kayak and its accessories. She loves the comfort of the pro high back seats and how easy it is to inflate and deflate. On a recent trip to Lake Placid, FL she paddled on expansive Lake-June-In-Winter before transitioning to a smaller lake and found her FastTrack™ easy to transport, paddle and maneuver in both situations. She’s had it out in strong winds, on quiet mornings, and even on a Florida pond that held a few alligators.

“My brother, an ER doctor, was very concerned that I launched on that one,” she chuckles, “but I felt quite safe since the Sea Eagle is so tough. The company has a video where someone drives a Jeep over one of their inflatable kayaks and there’s no visible damage at all. In that same video, they repeatedly put the claw of a hammer to the hull and it just bounces off. That’s one rugged inflatable, so I haven’t felt worried at all.”

On her most recent trip, Daigle found herself all alone on a beautiful lake, which she instantly realized was exactly why she wanted a Sea Eagle in the first place.

“Sometimes, I just want to get away from it all, to explore, to relax – whether I’m going around the corner or across the country. With my new kayak, I just pull it out of the RV, take ten minutes to inflate it, and go. It’s so easy – no renting, trailering or dealing with anyone else. I’m fully self-sufficient when it comes to kayaking now. That gives me a tremendous feeling of independence.”

As for setting up, transporting and storing the 385ft FastTrack™, Daigle reports it’s been a breeze. She viewed videos on the Sea Eagle website that explained how to easily assemble, inflate and fold-up the kayak for storage, which got her up and paddling in no time.

“Really,” she says,” “it’s nothing you can’t handle. I decided on the Carbon Pro Package because it had everything I needed. It has two tall-back clip-in seats with good back support, two double-end paddles with carbon shafts and asymmetrical blades, two stow bags, a foot pump that works just fine, a slide-in swept-back skeg, plus a repair kit and carry bag. Buying everything together as a package deal saved me about $500 over buying each piece as an accessory.”

One accessory Daigle did add recently is the EZ Cart, which can make transporting a little easier if you have to cover some distance between the car, RV or truck and the launch site. This innovative thinker, however, took the wheels to another level.

“One day my brother-in-law said he saw someone towing a kayak behind their bike,” she reveals. “The first chance I got, I was doing the same. A few straps lashed to the rack on the back of my bike and I was on my way towing my kayak like a pro. So, here I am in my early 60’s, riding my bike, hauling my Sea Eagle inflatable kayak and ready to hit the waters wherever it takes me.. I’m thinking to myself: ‘Wow! I can kayak anytime, anywhere.’ That is so cool. Just pull my Sea Eagle out from the RV and go.”

Where is Daigle headed next? She claims to have no specific destination in mind yet but travel she will.

“For now,” she says, “it’s mostly where my business leads me – maybe out west. I’ll just take things day by day – but wherever I go you can bet my Sea Eagle FastTrack™ is coming along for the ride.”

50 Years of Selling Inflatable Boats – Part 1 – The Early Years

This old, somewhat wrinkled picture shows me about to be crushed on a 10 foot wave. To get some perspective of this shot, the kayak I am on is one of our original 10′ 8″ Pyrawa kayaks. Seconds later the Pyrawa was upside down and I was headed for the beach feet first, pronto.

By Cecil Hoge

It is remarkable for any business to survive for any extended period in this age of endless changes and endless challenges. To survive 10 or 20 years is an accomplishment. To survive longer is more remarkable and to have survived 50 years borders on the mystical.

No matter. It is with great pride that I can say that I am, and our business is, in its 50th year of continuously selling inflatable boats. Given that fact, I would like to provide a kind of personal history of our company.

The Early Years

When I started in my father’s business I had no intention of working in the business. In fact, one of my conditions, in the beginning, was to work only on the night shift so I could keep the day free to seek my dream profession. The profession that I hoped to be successful in was writing. And while I have managed from time to time to get some things printed, I cannot say that I ever succeeded in my dream profession.

What happened instead was somewhat more strange and perhaps, more predictable. I began in 1968 when our business was mostly a fishing lure business. I first worked on our fishing rod production line, managing a bunch of hippies from 4pm to 10pm, Monday through Friday. Since I was a kind of a hippie at the time that was not very hard. Rod production was not our main business in those days, but it constituted a reasonable amount of sales.

This is a not very terrific picture of the product we produced – The AutoCast Rod – a fishing reel gets attached just above the black handle and a fishing line goes from the reel through a couple of eyelets into the cup, where, theoretically, it is tied to a fishing lure.

The product I was helping produce was called the AutoCast Rod – see the picture above. It was a specialty fishing rod that could cast a lure 30 to 40 feet automatically. It was not push button automatic, nor was it digitally automatic. On this product, you attached a spin cast spinning reel and a fishing line with a lure at the end of the line. Then you had to pull back a lever about 18 inches, snap into a notch and then when you were sure your lure was in the little cup at the end of the rod, you would release the lever from the notch and the cup would spring forward and cast the lure and the line about 30 or 40 feet.

This product was just one of a long list of strange mail order products that my father had chosen to sell. As such, it was pretty successful. Sold primarily to mail order catalogs that mostly do not exist today, this product was a good seller. At the time I came into the business, this product enjoyed an increase in sales from 20,000 units per year to 40,000 units per year. It turned out that although most people did not want to use it, there was a select group of people who really did like it. Those people who did like it were mostly paraplegic or physically handicapped so they could not cast or fish otherwise.

What compelled my father to get the right to sell this product I will never know, but for about 10 years it was a good seller. I remember we sold it to Madison House, a mail order company selling a vast number of quirky mail order products, Lillian Vernon, another mail order house that also sold quirky mail order products mostly for women or for the home and to several other mail order companies.

So, it fell upon me to manage a group of about 10 misguided hippies in an effort to boost our fishing rod production and meet the mail order demand from the catalogs we were selling to. During the day, my step-mother ran a production line for the same product and they were producing 300 to 400 rods a day. That was not enough to meet the demand this product suddenly enjoyed. That was because several new catalog companies had recently put the product in their catalogs.

The fishing rod production line consisted of about 15 drill presses and assorted sawing and drilling and riveted instruments, all of which had been jerry-rigged by the original inventor of this product. I have to say that the guy had been pretty smart in what he did. Basically, a rod started out as some metal and plastic parts that had to be cut and drilled and inserted or riveted and then passed further down the line. As it went down the line other parts had to be added or inserted, such as screws or springs or fiberglass rods or plastic cups. Eventually, at the end of the whole line an odd-looking fishing rod was produced.

In this production process, I quickly learned that the amount of production possible could vary incredibly. When we started out my intrepid team produced a whopping 7 rods the first night. It seemed that everything went wrong that evening. Being a competitive kind of guy and hating the fact that the day shift was producing over 300 rods while we had turned out a measly 7 rods, I quickly reviewed my production team and the process we were using. Something was wrong for sure, but at first, I could not figure it out. The next night, I was able to get the production up to 26 rods, so, something was still wrong.

Now, at first I worked on the very first drill press, but then I noticed that things quickly bogged down at the second drill press. Then I worked at the second drill press and found out that things bogged down at the third production station.

To make a long story short, I moved to the end of the line and just started to go faster than the 10 hippies in front of me. Now, my 10 hippies were actually pretty good guys and in their own way, somewhat competitive, so pretty soon the whole line speeded up. By the third night, we produced about 120 rods. I kept employing my technique of going a little faster at the end of line, occasionally haranguing some of the more lackadaisical free spirits and pretty soon we were producing 500 to 700 rods a day, thus putting pressure on the day shift, who also improved their game to 500 to 600 rods. So, within two weeks, we were producing 1200 rods per day and catching up on back orders.

All of this was a fascinating lesson for me. For one thing, it taught me something about how a real production line worked and about how different the results in running a production line could be. For another, it taught me something about working with people. I felt I got more from my guys by pulling them up to higher production then by pushing or shouting or complaining. One last thing I learned – I found making a difference was interesting. You could say that by learning how to produce a pretty good quantity of something I found the process interesting.

One of our original Pyrawa inflatable kayaks, still alive in our showroom today. I bought this one back four years ago for $100 after the customer had used it for over 40 years.

Now, as I mentioned, at that time we had two businesses, a fishing lure business, which was our main business, and a brand new inflatable boat business that my father had just bought ownership of. We started the inflatable boat business with only one product – the Pyrawa Inflatable Kayak.

When my father first told me he was going to buy this strange business two months after I started working in the business I thought it was truly strange. I had never heard of such a thing…an inflatable kayak that comes in a bag and inflates into a ten and a half foot long kayak…truly strange. At the time, one thing though was true…I loved anything to do with the water…and so, when my father told me about this strange new business, I was intrigued.

My father’s interest in the new business was simple. He thought he could sell these new inflatables by mail order for two simple reasons: there was a company called FolBot who was selling a folding kayak by mail order and, like folding kayaks, inflatable kayaks fit in a box. Now, I really liked water. In particular, I liked riding waves in the ocean. I had used a 16′ boat with a small 5 hp motor in my early years when we had a house in Bellport, Long Island. And since our house in Bellport was only a quarter mile from the Great South Bay, I could easily walk to where my little boat was anchored and motor across the Great South Bay happily at the age of 8. In addition, I had sailboat and iceboat experiences, both of which I really liked. So, you could say I was all in when it came to the question of boats.

This is me in the surf with an early version of our Sea Eagle surfmat…a product I developed around 1976 because of my long-term interest in mat surfing.

That did not mean I was all in on inflatable boats, which I knew almost nothing about, but I was certainly happy to experiment and see what these weird kind of kayaks could do. To my amazement, they could do a lot. I quickly got the hang of inflating them. I quickly got to understand their strengths and weaknesses. The Pyrawa inflatable kayak was just the first kayak we started selling.

The first thing I did was try this weird new product out on the water. To my surprise, it actually worked. It took only about 5 minutes to inflate and was pretty easy to paddle and, most amazing of all, after deflating it, it was actually possible to get it back in its bag. This further piqued my interest and made me decide to try working in the business on a more full-time basis during the day.

The first couple of years, we sold the Pyrawa inflatable kayak with considerable success. My father named the new company Leisure Imports, Inc. At the time it was thought by “the smart money” that Americans would shortly be working only three or four days a week. And while that theory did not quite work out, our business did pretty well.

We had a French partner in this new venture, a gentleman named Guy Rabion, and he was located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He concentrated on managing a small warehouse there housing the kayaks and trying to develop trade accounts.

At the same time, my father let me write ads and create brochures to sell our new inflatable kayaks by mail order. The combination of running ads and selling kayaks directly to consumers worked pretty well. Taking FolBot (a folding kayak company) as our mail order model, we ran in a number of magazines and newspapers at the time…Canoe & Kayak, The Wall Street Journal, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, the New York Times to name a few.

Generally, we ran small ads asking for customers to mail in inquiries in order to receive a brochure. Now, this process was very slow. We generally had a telephone number in these ads, but, believe it or not, most people sent us letters requesting a brochure. Then we would send out the brochure which listed the prices of the kayak package separately and then sold the kayak with two paddles and a pump for $99. This offer proved to be successful and the advertising not only sold some kayaks, it created an awareness of Pyrawa inflatable kayaks nationwide.

It did not take too long for me to be in business before I began to really get interested in the process of selling inflatable kayaks by mail order. In particular, I came to like the process of getting photographs taken and then using those photographs in a brochure. This process had some not so hidden perks. For one thing, I would have to gather together a whole bunch of models – since I had a number of good-looking male and female cousins, they proved to be our basic models for the first several years. Because a friend of mine, Freddy Havemeyer, had decided he wanted to be a photographer, he became our first photographer. And of course, taking photographs meant we would have to be outside on the water, in the sun, working while paddling. Life was good.

After a year or so on the night shift, I moved on to a day job in the office. There I began to learn the intricacies of the two businesses that we were in. I found the lure business kind of boring and the process of importing fishing lures so complex that I even questioned whether we should be in the business. My father, who had zero interest in fishing lures, had started our fishing lure business because of an insistent accountant who loved to fish. He wanted my father to run an ad on a new lure that he had had fishing success. My father was not enthusiastic about this idea, but he agreed to run an ad that he was sure would fail. It did not and within a year, my father had sold over one million dollars of the fishing lure. That was a lot of money in 1956.

On the basis of that success, my father went on a fishing lure business buying spree. One of the companies that he bought was called Rockland Tackle and it had a lure called Panther Martin among many other products. At the time, Panther Martin was only selling $8,000 a year, but because the lure had a reputation of really catching fish, my father decided to promote it in one of his heavy copy advertisements. You may not be familiar with a what I call a heavy copy mail order advertisement. It is basically an ad with a very large headline, a few small pictures and about 750 words of advertising copy. This type of ad had done wonderfully in selling my father’s first fishing lure, which was called the Vivif. But, perhaps because the fishing stories were almost too unbelievable, even though they were absolutely true, the ad on Panther Martin failed. What the ad did do however was create some awareness of the product on a national basis and get it in the hands of some fishermen.

That proved to be enough because each year thereafter the sales of Panther Martin improved. So it went from $8,000 to $15,000 to $26,000 to $54,000 and so forth for about 10 years. By the time I came into the business, Panther Martin was selling about $250,000 of lures per year. You could say that it thrived by benign neglect because we really had not paid much attention it or promoted it after the first year. Now about all this product did was catch fish, so for me, not being an avid fisherman, that was boring. Moreover, since it was made in Italy, I found the paperwork required to import the lures very confusing and troublesome. It seemed to me we were always fighting with customs trying to get different shipments cleared and sent to us.

Today, I am quite proud of that business and I do not find it boring, but back in the late 60s and early 70s it was a different story. I was more interested in the boat business. I quickly transferred most of my efforts to that side of the business. Here was something I really found interesting…real boats that you paddle and play with, that you have to get photographed (meaning you had to organize more paddling and playing) the only real challenge was the actual writing of ads and creation of brochures.

pyrawaadlarge.jpg

This is one of my father’s original Pyrawa ads in 1971. Notice that we did not even include a telephone number in the ad and we added shipping charges if they used a credit card. That was because at the time almost all people buying things through mail order actually ordered through the mail and because credit card companies charged around 7 or 8% extra. It would take another 10 years for the telephone to be accepted as a method of actually ordering products and for people to have the courage to actually give their credit card number over the phone.

My father wrote the first ads that we ran on the Pyrawa and they proved successful. “Instant Canoe Can’t Crash” was the headline. In the first year of the business, my father created the ads, ran the ads and directed our small mail order business for boats. Along the way, he taught me his theories on the strange art of mail-order advertising. Given the fact that my father had always been a workaholic and that he ate, drank and slept advertising, I had been brought up around advertising all my life. Because of that background, writing mail order ads did come naturally to me over time.

It took me many year to learn how to write good ads and good brochures, but by small and slow steps I learned to work with layout artists, who would first create a draft drawing of what an ad or a brochure should look like. After agreeing on a layout, I would have to write the copy for the ad. That consisted of a headline, body copy and an address. Then the layout artist would take my ad copy and selected pictures, choose some type and order it from a type-setter. About a week later, the type would come back and the layout artist would paste it onto what was called a mechanical. The mechanical did not show the actual photo pasted in place. Rather a photostat of the photo was pasted into place. The whole process of making one small ad took about three weeks and two trips into New York City, where the layout artist was located. Since our office was in St. James, Long Island, about 50 miles from New York City, just the driving back and forth to the city took 5 or 6 hours, depending on traffic.

This was my first really successful ad for Sea Eagle boats. We sold over 6,000 Sea Eagle IVs from this ad. Notice that we now had an 800 number and no longer were charging extra shipping on credit card orders.

Today, this entire process takes us about twenty or thirty minutes to create an actual ad. Best of all, we can see immediately what the ad really looks like. Everything is done on either my computer or Tonya Ferrara’s computer or on Navneet Syal’s computer. Both Tonya and Navneet have been working for some time now on catalogs and ads. The only difference is that Tonya works out of our Port Jefferson office while Navneet works out of his office in New Delhi, India. Interesting, both can turn out an ad in 20 or 30 minutes. All I can say is that it is a good thing that I do not have to drive to New Delhi to see each ad Navneet completes.

So, in the beginning, I learned about the one inflatable kayak that we were selling and how to create ads and brochures to sell that kayak. As time went on, I began to visit our supplier for the kayaks in France once or twice a year. This was particularly interesting for me. Since we had a French partner in the business, he took me around France introducing me to different suppliers. At that time, we had a kayak supplier, a paddle supplier, and a pump supplier. Each was in a different part of France and that meant that we had to travel all over France seeing these three suppliers.

Since we were also in the fishing lure business and since our fishing lure supplier was located in Milan, Italy, I would always also visit our fishing lure supplier on these trips. That really meant that each time I went to Europe, the trip took 2 or 3 weeks. These trips, while always very busy with things that needed to be done, also gave me an opportunity to sample European wines and meals and take in some of the nearby sights. This was another aspect of our business that I came to love.

While we started with just one kayak, the French partner we had bought out, was also importing a whole range of other inflatable kayaks and boats from a company named Pennel e Flipo. In the beginning, my father did not try to sell these other boats, thinking to concentrate first and foremost on the inflatable Pyrawa kayak which seemed to have the most promise. After a couple of years of successfully selling the Pyrawa inflatable kayak, we decided to offer some these other Pennel e Flipo boats…they included a fairly expensive inflatable kayak and a small transom boat. This also meant that we had to add Pennel e Flipo to the list of suppliers that we visited each year.

In the beginning years, we had almost no say in how the products were made. Rather we were told by our suppliers how they made the products and why they made the products they made, but we got no real input in changing the products. We were expected to sell what we were given. That was our job. After several years we began to make suggestions about product changes, trying to change certain features to make the products better accepted in the U.S. At first, we were told that changes could not be made, but as we bought more products and the volumes of different models went up, our suppliers began to become more flexible about what they could or could not do.

One irony that occurred over time was the fact that when I went to Europe, the people that I mostly worked with were engineers. That was strange for me since I had been a philosophy major at the University of Virginia. At college, I had looked down at engineers, who I wrote off as limited, one-dimensional creatures without imagination and without a general understanding of the way things really were. The feeling was reciprocal because all the engineers I knew in college wrote off philosophy majors as totally impractical people who would never get a job and who had no practical understanding of how things had to get done. So, given this previous tension, it was somewhat ironical that I ended up working mostly with engineers. And strangely, as I got to know the breed, I came to like and truly respect engineers.

About five years into working in our inflatable boat business, a crisis arose. Our supplier for the French Pyrawa inflatable kayaks went bankrupt. Now under French law, when a company goes bankrupt, the largest creditor has a right to take that company over. Since Pennel e Flipo, the other French company who we were importing from, was the largest creditor, they exercised their rights and took over the production of Pyrawa inflatable kayaks.

We thought this crisis was huge because by this point we already were selling over 5,000 Pyrawas a year. Most of those sales went through Sears and Roebuck, but we had also managed to sell it to an up and coming customer called L.L. Bean. Sears was selling 3,000 Pyrawas and L.L. Bean was selling almost 1,000. The remaining Pyrawa sales were through our own mail order efforts. In any case, we felt that by that time, Pyrawa had become a fairly well-known name in the inflatable boat business and we were terrified by the fact that we might lose the right to sell our best-selling product.

So, Pennel e Flipo took over the production of Pyrawa inflatable kayaks and we continued selling these kayaks under the name Pyrawa. Then another shock came along. As we approached the end of the 2 years, Pennel e Flipo informed us that also under French law, if a bankrupt company was able to reconstitute itself, it could take back ownership of the company and their previous production. Dumutier Decre, the original French company we were dealing with sent us a telex (this was in the days of telex, even before faxes) saying that they intended to re-constitute their company and again produce Pyrawas. Now, Dumutier Decre was about 1/20th of the size of Pennel e Flipo and they had already gone bankrupt, so this did not give us a lot of confidence. At the same time, Pennel e Flipo told us that they would be happy to produce kayaks for us but it would have to be under a different name.

That meant we had to decide which company to go with, the smaller company that had gone bankrupt but had the rights to the Pyrawa name or the larger company that could produce kayaks under a different name. Since Pennel e Flipo was the stronger company and since they were already producing some other models for us, we went with Pennel e Flipo.

That meant that we had to decide on a new trade name. This was both the hardest thing and the best thing to do because, in the end, it meant that we would own our own trademark name. That still did not solve the problem of what name to call our boats. I came up with the idea to call our boats Eagle Inflatables. I liked birds and I thought they had a lot in common with inflatables because they both worked with air. That was my thinking.

“Now, that is a classy name.”

I called our trademark lawyer who immediately told me that Eagle was too generic a name. Worse, he said it was boring. In haste and embarrassment and frustration I blurted out “Sea Eagle“.

The lawyer said, “Now, that is a classy name.”

And that is how we came to call our boats Sea Eagles.

Once we chose the new name, I cannot say the transition was very easy. It seemed to me it took about 10 years for the name to really get some traction, but traction it did get over time. That taught me something about inflatables and trademark names. Inflatable boats get their reputation by not doing things. Specifically, by not puncturing after use and abuse, by not having seams come apart, by not having hull materials come apart or degrade in the sun, by not drowning people. That took years to prove and so it took years to establish the reputation of our Sea Eagle boats.

I have to say that was quite different than our other company. Panther Martin lures established their reputation by catching fish and conveniently an angler could catch a fish within minutes of first using one of our fishing lures. And if fishermen or fisher ladies began to catch fish on a particular lure, they were hooked on that lure. Quite simply, the most important thing in a fishing lure to a fishing person was its ability to catch fish. And yes, it was important over a long period of time that the paint did not chip off, that the gold or silver finish did not tarnish, that the lure held up over repeated use, but the most important thing was that lure caught fish. And since we had a lure that almost always caught fish, we never had much trouble establishing the reputation of our Panther Martin fishing lures.

The problem was much more difficult with our Sea Eagle boats because it literally took years for a boater to agree and recognize that they had a really good inflatable boat. And again, mostly that recognition came from things the product did not do. So not puncturing when it went down a whitewater river was a good thing. Holding up for years under the sun in all kinds of weather was a good thing. Safely allowing people to get across lakes, rivers and bays was a good thing, especially when no one drowned.

There was another pretty big difference in the two businesses we owned. Panther Martin went up 20 or 30% every year for about 20 years, year after year. Whereas Sea Eagle would have a great year followed by a lousy year followed by a great year followed by another lousy year. That was because our fortunes changed year by year based on what customer(s) we added and what things were happening in the general economy.

For example, in 1973 there was something called the Arab Oil Embargo when Arab countries literally stopped selling us gas and oil until we agreed to pay four or more times the previous price. That meant that the cost of our inflatable boats went up 87% in 1974. This was because the hull material of our boats was oil-based. We dutifully tried to pass on these price increases to our customers. At that time, it was primarily Sears and Roebuck and L.L. Bean. Well, you may be able to realize they were not too enthusiastic about an 87% price increase. But that is what we did. And you may be able to imagine when that 87% price increase was passed on to consumers, the consumers were not enthusiastic, at least for that first year.

Needless to say, sales in 1974 were somewhat more muted. Strangely enough, although they did go down about 40% that year, we did sell boats at the higher price and thereafter the higher prices were basically accepted and our sales went up the following year. I might add that the Arab Oil Embargo also created a recession and stock market collapse in 1974, so there was lots of excitement. No matter, we soldiered on.

The boat business, unlike our lure business, was like an accordion. When you stretched out your arms, it was quite wide. When you put your arms together it was quite short. So our boat business would expand and contract year to year with us never knowing whether it would be an up year or a down year. Fortunately, through the tough years, our fishing lure was always there to support us, so we were able to survive.

Over time, we went through a vast number of changes. Strangely, it turned out that our move to Pennel e Flipo was not a good move. While they were supreme manufacturers of material, they were not gifted at inflatable boat production, so sometimes our kayaks had defect problems. As soon as we were aware of the quality problems, we began to look around Europe for a new supplier. In doing so, our French partner came across an Italian company called Adamoli Sintectiche Resine. They turned out to be both a less expensive producer and, strangely, a higher quality producer.

So, we moved pretty much all of our production to them. That proved to be a great move for us because they had truly good products at very reasonable prices. In short order, our line expanded to 3 inflatable kayaks, 2 inflatable dinghies, a small transom sportboat and a number of inflatable pool toys, among them the Sea Eagle Surfmat and something we called the Floating Island. This was an 8′ around inflatable island that you could lounge on in a pool or a pond or a lake or off your boat. This wider selection of products also meant more trips to Europe for me to visit both our boat and lure suppliers, both conveniently located in or near Milan.

In the beginning, our boat supplier was unwilling to make separate products or new designs for us. but they recognized that we knew more about inflatable kayaks than they did and they knew more about inflatable dinghies and pool floats than we did. I remember that the first thing that I was able to convince them to change was the design of an inflatable seat for our kayaks. This turned out to be the same design we still use today for our SEC kayak seats. These were simple inflatable PVC seats, but at the time they represented a big step forward. The next thing we convinced them to do was put deluxe one-way air valves on most of the main air chambers. Previously, we had only simple pipe valves, which, although they worked pretty well, were a true pain to use.

Little by little, we came to change the products that Adamoli Sintectiche Resine made for us.

In the summer of 1975, my French partner got a call from a young Frenchman, a guy named Louis Michel Janny, who told our partner that he had developed a new kind of material that he thought could be used to make inflatable kayaks. Our French partner called me and I suggested maybe we meet in France. When my partner called him, Monsieur Janny suggested something simpler and quicker. He would come to the States, meet with us and explain his project. And that is what he did.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, he came, we were intrigued by his new material (a special kind of PVC material with polyester grid fibers) and we arranged to come to France that summer. So off to France we went and within two months we developed the first series of what is now our second longest continuous series of inflatable boats…our Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks. In this case, because our new supplier was not very familiar with inflatable boat production, we had far more input into the final design of this series.

The first Sea Eagle Explorer 380x.

Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks were what I called a modular design. By that, I meant that it was made up of separate components, that when assembled, became one whole kayak. Specifically, it incorporated unsupported PVC spray skirts with unsupported inside PVC floor with a supported fabric outside hull. The fabric allowed the outside hull to be quite rigid and puncture resistant while the modular spray skirts and floor provided a finished look to the kayak at a very moderate price.

Since we were able to get this new series into L.L. Bean in the first year (1976), we were able to sell over 1,000 units in that first year. The majority of the sales went through L.L. Bean, but we also sold these kayaks through our own mail order sales and through a fairly intricate dealer network that we had begun to build up. Since these kayaks were fairly expensive for their time ($599 to $699) the sales of a 1,000 units was a big deal for us.

Here I am taking one of the first 380x Explorer kayaks down Dick Creek Falls on the Chatooga River in Georgia. I and a group of friends went down to Georgia and ran the Chatooga and Nantahala Rivers for five full days to test out this new series. It was fun! Notice the classic style flat-bladed wooden paddle that was state of the art for us at that time.

At the same time, we were selling a continuous quantity of 330 and 370 Sea Eagle kayaks, which in those years were orange and blue in color. In addition, by this time we also had a couple unsupported PVC inflatable dinghies, the Sea Eagle 6 and the Sea Eagle 8. So, by 1976, we had about 7 inflatable boats, a number floating pool toys, and inflatable boat accessories.

As we made our way through various economic crises, our sales were sometimes up and sometimes down. In the late 1970s, we also began to sell traditional inflatable transom boats taking outboards up to 25hp. By 1980 the number of models that we offered had increased to 10.

In the early 80s, another recession came along with a period of fast-rising gas and oil prices. Since our boats were PVC based, an oil derivative, this meant that our inflatable boats were being affected each year with sharp price increases. At that time, the leading sellers of inflatable boats, Zodiac, Achilles, and Avon all had to dramatically raise their prices. In 1982, I made a simple color change to our unsupported PVC boats, going from orange and blue, to gray and blue, and we introduced a new improved series of motormount boats which were called Sea Eagle Heavyweights. These boats were really our Sea Eagle 6, 8 & 9, now in gray and blue and now made with a new formula PVC in a thicker gauge. Now, these boats were virtually identical to our present Sea Eagle 9, but at the time, the color change made our boats look far more serious and the heavier gauge, better quality material really changed the way these boats were perceived. It also dramatically improved the way these boats performed.

In short, in spite of a raging recession, we were able to sell 10,000 of the Sea Eagle 6, 8 & 9 in 1982. This represented a huge increase in sales for us and it allowed us to gain a significant market share of the inflatable boat business. In that year, our Sea Eagle boat business finally surpassed the dollar sales of our Panther Martin lure business. This was quite a switch for our family business since the lure business had always been the larger of the two.

Our classics in the 1970s…Sea Eagle 4 & 5 dinghies, Explorer Kayaks and tenders and, of course, our original Pyrawa inflatable kayak.

But the boat business still proved to be an up and down affair. We expanded our boat range in 1983, adding more kayaks and more transom boats and the business grew a little bit, but as the 80s continued and prices continued to go up, the sales started to fall back. At the same time, our fishing lure company was chugging along as it had always done, growing each and every year. By the end of the 80s, the lure business was once again our main business.

The two businesses continued into the 90s with some years the boat business being the bigger business and other years the lure business being the bigger business. I have to say all of these years the boat business was always a struggle, with up and down years. That period lasted until 1996. In that year, we launched SeaEagle.com on the internet. This was at the insistence of our father who kept harassing me and my brother to get a website up and running. It could not have taken place without the aid of my much younger brother, John Hoge. John had just graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he learned to be proficient in the art of computers. Because it was the early years of the internet, we did not quite understand what we were doing, but we forged forward anyway.

I will save the story of our internet experience and further development on new and different Sea Eagle models for Part 2 of this history of Sea Eagle Boats.

To be continued…

 

ANGLER’S RULE #1: NO BANANAS! JUST SEA EAGLES!

Waiting on the humans in Darren Lowe’s latest Sea Eagle acquisition, the 14sr Sport Runabout.

By Tom Schlichter

“I guess you could say I’m hooked on inflatable watercraft when it comes to fishing and boating,” says Darren Lowe, 50 of Bunker Hill, WV. I have three different Sea Eagle models already and each one has a purpose.”

No kidding. Lowe owns a Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat™ pontoon boat, 380x Explorer Kayak, plus a 14sr Sport Runabout that his wife got him for Father’s Day last year.  According to Lowe, different scenarios determine his choice of vessel for the day.

“I was raised on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi so it wasn’t until I had a family and began selling raw materials to the chemical industry that I began to dabble in freshwater fishing,” he explains. “By then, my sales territory included Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, a stretch that offers some stellar sweet water fun with smallmouth bass. Once I started catching bronzebacks on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers with my son I instantly fell in love with river fishing. The only problem was that traditional hard shell kayaks left me feeling cramped after a long day on the water.”

Nice bronzeback caught on the 375fc FoldCat.

Lowe began searching for something more comfortable. He wanted a vessel he could take along as he traveled his sales route – one that wouldn’t look like a big yellow banana on top of his car when he pulled up for a business meeting. Since his background was in polymer chemistry, it made sense he would be intrigued by the possibilities of polymer-based based inflatables.

“On the recommendation of a friend,” continues Lowe, “I went with the Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat™ pontoon boat for my first choice. I liked that it could accommodate two people comfortably, which made it perfect for fishing with my son or taking out clients that also enjoy fishing. I also liked that it could fold up, pack into two bags, and fit in my car. Because of my familiarity with the polymers used in its construction, I figured it would also be pretty rugged – and it is.”

As time went on, however, most of Lowe’s friends and fishing clients eventually purchased their own boats and kayaks. Finding himself fishing alone more frequently prompted him to pick up the 380x Explorer Kayak in 2016.

Another great catch. This time a largemouth bass from the Explorer 380x kayak.

“I bought the Pro Motor package and then added the fishing seat so I could have the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and mobility,” states Lowe. “I love the raised seat because it lets me see deeper into the water and allows 360° rotation so I can cast in any direction. Most importantly, though, it’s really comfortable and I can take it anywhere in the back of my car because it packs down into a single bag plus the seat. It’s also fast and easy to inflate. I can park my car and be on the water in 15 minutes.”

Before he ever had a kayak, Lowe got around on his favorite waters in a 16-foot bass boat so he still had some affinity for runabouts. That’s why his wife, Martha, surprised him with a Sea Eagle 14sr Sport Runabout last spring.

“Can you believe that?” asks Lowe with a chuckle. “What a terrific gift!” Lowe doesn’t use that one as a break down vessel, of course. Instead, he made a trailer for it and uses it for taking his grandkids fishing and tubing. “Rough water, skinny water, and anything in between,” he says, “the 14sr is up to the challenge. I have a 25-hp outboard on the back so I get plenty of range. I also have the swivel seat for comfort and fishability.”

When he first received the 14sr Lowe wasn’t sure if he should pick up the optional plastic floorboard kit or stick with the inflatable one that came standard. Being that his grandkids range from seven months to seven years-old, however, he’s decided the inflatable floor is perfect for the moment.

“It’s kid friendly,” he says, “so no big deal if anyone falls down or bounces around a little bit.”

Little one catchin’ a little one! Making memories on the 14sr.