It all started when Old Town threw a Royalex Tripper canoe off the roof of their factory, unscathed to demonstrate its durability. Royalex was easy to manufacturer, extremely tough and popular with white-water canoeists, UV resistant and quieter and faster than competing products such as Aluminum. However it is coming to an end... Poly One, the company that manufactures Royalex (An outer layer of Vinyl and ABS, sandwiched with an inner layer of ABS foam via heat) has announced that they are ceasing production.
Tim Miller from Nova Craft in London, Ontario felt that once the news broke, that outfitters would be scrambling for product. Royalex accounts for 50% of Nova Craft's business, so they have placed their orders well before the end of production this April. The price of Royalex had already been rising, so Tim was being proactive by toying with alternate materials. He expects Fiberglass will increase in popularity, and are working on their own Polyethylene SP3 models.
I was concerned that the death of Royalex was a bad sign for the Canoeing industry, so I asked Tim how last year faired. He mentioned that 2013 was a good year for canoes, and noted that "It's tough to kayak with kids".
Marlin Bayes from Western Canoe in Abbotsford, B.C. felt the same. Canoe sales were good, although better in Alberta and Saskatchewan than B.C. While sport recreation kayak sales are up, and perhaps an easier sale near the ocean, Marlin is trying his best to grow the canoe market. The Royalex news wasn't as big of an impact as it is only 5 to 10% of sales in Western Canada. Marlin felt that the Royalex mystique would lull people into a false sense of security over their durability. 75 to 80% of the canoes would be brought back for repairs after they were wrapped around rocks in whitewater rivers, damaged during a heavy snowfall (as they were left out unprotected)... Or worse yet, damaged after not being tied down properly to a vehicle.
I asked Wayne at Souris Canoes in Atikokan, Ontario (makers of strong kevlar canoes), how he thinks the Royalex news will change the Canadian market. Wayne predicts that glass will be a stop-gap as companies work towards a combination of light composites. He was sad to hear the news that fellow Ontario canoe manufacturer Scott recently closed, following the news of the death of Royalex.
In the end, Bill Swift from Swift Canoe, summed it up best... "As we know now, Royalex is not going to be available after this coming year. We have an interesting take, in that many of us learned how to paddle carbon canoes, kevlar canoes, and cedar canvas at camp. When we paddle those canoes, technically we really finesse the rapids more, we scouted the rapids more, we looked at hitting the eddies, we tried to miss all the rocks. With Royalex, we feel it has taught us in a way, not to be a skilled paddler, so we can crash down the rapids." Swift is developing a new material (composite) that is going to have a lot of the strength characteristics of Royalex. It will be more expensive, but Swift feels that the beauty of their design, is that it will bring the skills back to paddling.