LIGHT AS A FEATHER ~ The next level of kayak building, atFeatherWeight. By Chicago Toughill

There is a new movement taking over the kayaking scene – carbon boats. At the tip of the arrow are two friends whose passion, vision, and art are finally paying off. That arrow is coming straight out of Canada, and this will be the year on the Ottawa to prove it. 
Wanna fly high and find that inner stoke that comes from the next level? Looking for a green company that will build you THE boat you’ve always wanted, in days? Well… I think I found your guy. Meet the Revolution of modern boat building, Ben Fraser of FeatherWeight. 
The guys at FeatherWeight are truly organic. They do it all from the heart. They don’t have any money in big advertising campaigns or grandiose spreads at sports shows. Not that those folks are evil. It’s just that, like all revolutionaries, FeatherWeight is built on a dream. I think in a very short time they will be very far from dreaming.

Ben describes the roots of the company on their Facebook page.
“FeatherWeight started over 5 years ago as a couple garage warriors. At the time the paddling scene was getting a fresh kick from a group of paddlers in France tearing their beautiful home waves apart ripping composite kayaks. The paddlers were exceptionally talented but there was a visible difference in the way the boats surfed on and reacted with the water underneath them. The stiff hulls and light weights made for faster surfing, bigger bounces and quicker rotations.”
“Disappointed by the cost of importing boats from Europe, and the unavailability to buy them in Canada at the time, David Nieuwenhuis and I began to make our own composite kayaks. (I also helped Anthony from Titan with a few prototypes when he was getting started). Dave’s buddy Gergelly passed on some basic vacuum bagging knowledge, helped with the first couple boats a bit and lent us materials a couple times when we were hard up. Some years Ben Marr would come and help out to bring down the cost of his boat.”

“The kayaks we built then were basically copies of our preferred boats of the time. We would make small changes then mold and paddle them. As time went by we became more experienced with the tech aspect of construction and less satisfied with the latest available designs Thus began the slow process of creating our own boats. Each year we would make some changes and try them out. 
“All this time later I am pleased to provide paddlers with the opportunity to paddle my unique design, “The Feather”. Featuring a lifted Step Chine tech pulled from powerboat design that provides edges to carve with when needed but that are lifted out of the water when not. Conceived by a paddler for paddlers. Constructed of the finest aerospace grade materials and professionally built by a local company Ottawa known for making military grade composite components. No more working in cold garages, or trying to find time to produce boats between paddling missions, the company is now fully functional and able to meet the needs our customers in what is likely an industry setting standard of 10 days from order to shipping a completely custom composite kayak.”
“While Dave is no longer helping to run the company (he is a new father and the proud owner of an organic sheep farm) he will continue to provide our trademark individualized artwork on each of the hulls. Each and every FeatherWeight hull is unique and built to a spec tried and tested by the best paddlers in the world. Designed with knowledge that only years of being on the river can provide. 100% Canadian made our boats last for many years. Quite a bit cheaper and greener than plastic in the long run. When you buy a FeatherWeight not only are you buying unique art and the finest kayak on the market, you are supporting local paddlers and businesses.”
Ben designed The Feather to carve hard and go big. Being situated with the Ottawa River in his backyard really helped him to find out what some of the best boaters in the world wanted in a new boat. The raised rail, which only engages when needed, was one huge innovation. Another was the one piece construction (“comes out of the mold in one piece, 0 joins, 0 wasted resin, no weak spots”) with a proper cockpit rim, the only carbon boat to boast this. The unique Corrugation Technology is ridiculously stiff and strong. “FeatherWeight boats last for years, being almost infinitely repairable, making them cheaper and greener long term than plastic.”

The unique artwork that Dave creates individually for each boat also makes FeatherWeight special. The cartoony art reminds me of Hunter Thompson’s artist Ralph Steadman, or a Pink Floyd album. This only adds to the coolness of the FeatherWeight product line. 
I caught up with Ben to find out more about FeatherWeight and the new Feather.

DBP: Tell us more about yourself as a boater. Where do you go play when the work is through? How did your favorite stretch influence your designs?
BF: I love big waves, mini bus, high tension, Skook and Blackmass are top favourites but even Pushbutton in its wave form is amazing. The Feather is built to maximize enjoyment on the water. Feel more secure getting to and from the wave and drive it like its stolen on the wave.
DBP: Top rank Canadian boaters like Ben Marr and Devyn Scott are busting huge moves in the Feather! This must be very gratifying, seeing your hard work help these amazing athletes take the sport to the next level. Tell us a bit about the pros you are working with. 
BF: Benny and Devyn are both good friends of mine so it’s really cool that they are loving the boat. Not much more gratifying than the best boaters in the world wanting to paddle your design! 

DBP: You are blessed to be located in the epicenter of such magnificent whitewater and boating talent! This Spring should be HUGE for you! Will there be any of your boats in the White Water Grand Prix?
BF: Ontario and Quebec are indeed a world class paddling Mecca. I spend every winter poised for spring here. It’s what gets me through the cold dark months. I believe this will be my 14th stakeout in a row! For sure we will have boats in the Grand Prix next year and the Ottawa XL event this year. (Ottawa XL is an open qualifier so if you want a shot at the big times here it is) 
DBP: The old adage about carbon boats was that they were brittle. That’s ok on the local park and play, but could be catastrophic on a remote mission. How does the Feather handle a beatdown, when the inevitable WALLACE serves up a swim to the kayaker and the swamped boat meets up with some rocks? 

BF: Even plastic boats can be broken when filled with water. I recommend packing any of your boats with as much floatation as possible if you think swimming is a possibility. The Feather is made for performance and without a doubt there is a trade off. I could build a composite that’s stronger than plastic but it starts to get close to the weight of plastic at that point. Yes they are breakable, but it’s worth it. It’s like owning a downhill bike. You really only use it downhill but nothing else will perform the same way in its element. If your past day to day swims it’s a worthy investment to risk to fun ratio. I want everyday I spend on the river to be the best day possible with the most progression possible. My boating improved at a ridiculous rate once I got into the right boat. Of the close 30 boats we have put out I think only 1 is off the river. Repairs are easy and just add a small amount of weight without any impact on performance. Our Corrugation Tech (envision a cardboard like carbon structure inside the bottom of your boat) makes boats so strong we don’t even use pillars. 

DBP: The price tag is pretty big too, especially for broke dirtbags. This might make it more difficult for an average boater to spend 2 to 3 times as much on a boat, or even 4 or 5 times as much if they go get a used plastic kayak. What is it that makes carbon boats more expensive to build, and do you ever foresee a day when the costs get more comparable to other kayaks?
BF: They are expensive, I have to save up whenever I want a new boat. It’s worth it. Many boaters who can get plastic for free choose to save the cash up for carbon. Devyn Scott and Ben Marr are two of them.  I will never willing paddle a plastic boat except in situations that demand plastic. Given the cost of materials and labor involved I don’t envision composites ever matching plastic pricing. (Military usage of carbon drives pricing on carbon) Composites will always be a premium product. Really kayaking needs that though. I own two pairs of skis, while I can get down the hill on either almost anywhere, each has a realm of excellence. Every other sport has entry level gear and more advanced gear for more advanced users. Carbon boats last many times as long as plastic if well cared for as well. In the long run I believe it’s a cheaper and greener boat. 

DBP: The Step Chine was a brilliant borrow! Tell us, what inspired you to work that into your design? Is this the single biggest factor that’s allowing paddlers to pull off these crazy awesome moves? 
BF: Haha I think those paddlers are the single biggest factor but our boats help them achieve their potential. I spent several years pondering the problem of making a boat have grip in a carve or bounce but still be forgiving. It’s no use throwing the biggest trick of your life and then flushing off the wave cause your boat doesn’t help you out. However it’s also not nearly as much fun paddling a beachball with no grip. One day it hit me that if an edge was raised on the side of the boat it would never touch in a side surf or landing a trick flat but would engage when on edge aggressively. Then I remembered the step chines on the old tri-hull centre console I rebuilt when I was 17, how they redirect spray downward creating lift and it was on! 
DBP: We know that carbon boats are much lighter, and the proof is in all the sick edits coming out on your Facebook page. Devyn IS literally going Airborne!! How much lighter is the Feather in comparison to the standard playboat? How does it compare in weight to other carbon boats? 
BF: I haven’t actually checked up on other boats weight ranges. We build with the minimum amount of materials needed to achieve the strength needed for the boats to last. For us that works out to be less than 8kg. Hal Monkman got the first production Feather, we stuck a tiny bit of extra beef in there for him (he is hard on his boats) and the shell weighed in at 7.7kg. 

DBP: It’s pretty cool that you have come so far on word of mouth and direct advertising via Facebook and other social media outlets. What has been the foundation of your success in reaching the masses outside of your local region? 
BF: I think we are selling a product that people both want and find fascinating as paddlers. I mean who doesn’t want to own a super classy top performing bit of equipment? So when we show them some high quality media of epic paddlers doing epic things in our boats it’s easy for people to want to share us with their friends. Everyone wants to share something cool. Haha it’s just fortunate that FeatherWeight has that cool to share. 

DBP: The future is very bright for you and FeatherWeight. DBP is stoked to follow along and support you in any way we can. That’s what our community is all about: Grow Together, Flow Together. Thanks for your time Ben! One last question as we go: 2015 marks the beginning of the next level for FeatherWeight. Where do you see yourself in five years? 
BF: Thanks guys. We love dirtbags. A little secret… we are dirtbags of the highest order, I’ve spent most of my last 13 summers living in a tent or a van down by the river in the service of getting more days on the river. In 5 years? Well I hope the van down by the river gets a bit nicer and it would be amazing to have a FeatherWeight shop near Beachburg. And I hope to see lots of people having the time of their lives in our boats on the river. That’s really the best part of this to me, having the chance to share something that brings me so much joy with others. We will be doing a FeatherWeight paddle day soon at Champlain so if you are around and want to experience what all the fuss is about and see some sick boaters do some ripping, swing over to the FW Facebook page and hit the like button. We will let you know when it’s happening. 

And what is an article about FeatherWeight without gearing from Devyn Scott of Airborn, one of the most dynamic young locals out riding the Ottawa on a daily basis? It’s nothing! “I am really excited to say that this boat is finally ready for orders!  This is my dream kayak for a bunch of different reasons.  Primarily, this kayak has a purpose; to dominate on waves of all sizes.  You wouldn’t take a BMX bike down a big mountain the same way you wouldn’t take a set of fatty powder skis on urban rails.  My point is that freestyle kayak design (like all other major sports) has evolved to a level where there is no such thing as universally perfect kayaks for all types of freestyle kayaking,” he explained, warming up to the subject. 

“You need a wave specific boat in order to tap into the full potential of these unique features.” 
“Why is the “Feather” the best wave boat on the market? Simple.  Its fast, it’s loose, it’s light, it’s stiff, it’s strong, it’s comfortable, it has evenly distributed volume, it has another rail for increased control and secondary stability, it has added foot room in the front and as an added bonus, it looks great.  This boat is easy to roll, great for running rivers and is guaranteed to make you a better kayaker.  I highly recommend the boat, and I will be saving up my pennies to pay for mine this spring!” Yep, that should do it! Hit up Ben, and get in line before the line stretches around the block!! 
{all photos straight from the FeatherWeight Facebook page}
FeatherWeight on Vimeo.
Looking back at Ben & Dave two years ago

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *