How Perception Kayaks Changed the Kayaking Industry

Whitewater kayaking

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Perception Kayaks boasts having introduced more people to paddling than any other kayak manufacturer. This may come as a surprise to those who are more recently familiar with the kayak industry as there are a lot of brands to choose from nowadays. That is, however, a relatively new phenomenon. In business for over 30 years, Perception Kayaks is the industry-recognized pioneer of plastic roto-molded kayaks which makes their claim much more credible.

Perception Kayaks was Started in the early 1970s in South Caroline by Bill Masters on a $50 investment. In 1977 Perception began manufacturing rotational molded (roto molded) plastic kayaks. Then In 1984, Masters started another company called Aquaterra to manufacture touring kayaks. Eventually, Aquaterra was absorbed into Perception Kayaks as the touring arm of its operation.

Perception and Plastic Kayaks

Before you can begin to understand Perception Kayaks, you first have to have a sense of the importance of plastic to paddling and specifically the kayaking industry. Before plastic was used in boat manufacture, kayaks were made of composite materials and when people heard of paddling they thought of canoes. Then plastic came along and offered three main benefits that revolutionized the paddling world and gave people the choice between plastic or composite kayaks.

First, plastic is durable making shipping, storage, and bumping down rivers and scraping on sand a worry of the past when it came to kayaks. Next, plastic is easily manufactured, allowing for mass production and distribution making kayaks readily available to markets that didn’t have access to them before. And lastly, plastic kayaks made owning a kayak affordable to the masses. These three factors are responsible for the explosion of kayaking as a sport in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Perception was at the forefront of this innovation. In many respects, they were responsible for it, as Bill Masters of South Carolina's Perception, Inc., applied rotational molding technique to kayak production starting in 1977. It was the perception Mirage and the smaller Dancer kayaks that really opened up whitewater kayaking to the American public and paved the way for more advanced designs. It was Perception’s recreational kayaks that many rental fleets began to be stocked with alongside their old aluminum canoes. Through the 80s and 90s kayaking began to be opened to the general public as a result of these new durable, stable, and relatively inexpensive plastic kayaks.

Whitewater Kayaking Rivalry

In the late 90s, as whitewater kayaking was growing and more companies were entering the market, the two main players in the United States were Perception Kayaks and Dagger Kayaks. Each year the two companies would come out with their newest models, which in those days was focused on boat design rather than outfitting. Boats were getting smaller and companies were experimenting with new hull shapes. Then something seemingly unprecedented happened which was noticed predominantly in the whitewater kayaking world. In Both 1998 Perception Kayaks and their main rival Dagger Kayaks were bought by Confluence Holdings Corporation which was accumulating paddling companies at that time.

Perception Kayaks Today

As Confluence Holdings continued to build its portfolio of paddling brands, it seems they had enough competing whitewater brands in Perception, Dagger, and Wavesport. Therefore a management decision was made for Perception to abandon the highly competitive whitewater market and to focus its attention on the other types of kayaking where there is less change and Perception can continue to be positioned as the tried and true brand in plastic kayaks. Today, Perception kayaks makes 30 different model kayaks in the recreational, touring, fishing, and sit-on-top markets including models exclusively found in big box chains.