The Emergent Hybrid Market

Why have many watersport crafts when you have one that can do them all?

We see a growing movement with the “Hybrid” market with designers merging craft concepts to create new products capable of going anywhere, doing anything.

A popular and logical blend is the merging of Stand Up Paddle Boards and Sit-on-Top Kayaks. Designed primarily for use on flatwater and gentle currents, these hybrids can be adapted for use in on-water fitness regimes, or outfitted for fishing. Other blends like AquaDesign’s WindSup Ibrid, combine SUP technology with Windsurfing, giving the user the option of attaching a second fin and a sail. Woosung’s Airrow merges Surfski speed and performance with inflatable SUP durability and user-friendly appeal, while Hala Gear’s ButterKnife Paddle can be used as a SUP or Kayak Paddle.

It is easy to see the attraction for the consumer. Hybrids mean spending less money on equipment, less hassle when it comes to storing your gear, and more fun. The versatility of hybrids makes them easy to share with friends and family in diverse environments. Tired of Standing? Sit-down and kayak. She wants the challenge of SUP, he wants the security a kayak? No problem.

The move towards hybrid products isn’t limited to paddle crafts, but continues in the apparel market. Kokatat’s Idol Drysuit features a waist zip so it can be worn as separates or full suit. Peak UK has long been known for their “topdecks” a drytop/spraydeck fusion used by whitewater paddlers for greater comfort and freedom of movement. This year Peak debuted their Racer ST, a ground breaking high performance item combining a spraydeck, drytop, and PFD into one streamlined piece. The revolutionary design places some of the PFD foam into the spraydeck, allowing the body to be more streamlined. “This enables greater performance,” Says designer Pete Astles, “as it’s easier to avoid slalom poles and facilitates faster times down the course. In fact, it sped Olympian Joe Clarke to Gold in Rio, so the project is already a massive success.”

Also on the rise is the Modular Kayak: puzzle like boats made with removable, interlocking sections. They offer advantages for easy transport and storability, eliminating the need for roof racks and large spaces. It is a way to mimic the benefits of the collapsible and inflatable market while maintaining the performance advantages of a hard shell. DragoRossi Kayak’s new Polo-Slalom model is a creative example of modular technology. The boat features interchangeable tip and tails to quickly convert it between the slalom and polo disciplines. Modular foam outfitting means it can be used as a K1 or C1. For clubs with limited budgets who want to offer as many opportunities as possible, the Polo-Slalom provides an affordable solution.

The 2016 winner of the “Coolest Gear of the Show Award” in the Sea Kayak Division was Lettmann Kayak’s Starlight GT 2, a high-end modular Sea Kayak with a removable middle section that can be paddled as a K1 or a K2. Lettmann markets their product with humor, imagining a scenario where a kayaker meets his dream girl, invites her into his (now) K2, only to have her leave him for a whitewater paddler. Luckily for the owner, he can simply remove the middle section, and go solo again. The tagline Lettmann gives the GT2 is “Whatever life brings to you- be prepared with the Starlight GT2!”

The desire to be flexible and prepared is growing. For any who travel with their equipment, the modular model offers huge potential, with high-end Slalom boat companies exploring the design possibilities of break-apart boats.

Can one craft truly do it all, and do it all well? It is undeniable that a hybrid craft will never reach the performance capacity of a high-end, highly specialized water craft. Those seeking to aggressively Stand Up Surf will never want the same features as those interested in multiday kayak expeditions, and it is unrealistic to expect to satisfy both needs.

However, for the entry level or recreational user, Hybrids open up a world of potential to introduce individuals to new sports and new ways to enjoy the outdoors.

By: Anna Bruno, Kayak Session, Paddle World and Sup World Mag editor.