20 Questions: Snowy Robertson, Dagger Kayaks Designer

11) BLISTER: What’s your creative process to come up with these designs?

Snowy: Looking and listening and asking a lot of questions on the front end is so important. I look to our team and key paddlers from different aspects of the industry. We work to a clear design brief on each project.

That’s not to say that we can’t alter direction if it becomes apparent that another angle is really worth pursuing. You do have to have a focus for the final intent of a boat, however, otherwise you can drift off course and the design becomes irrelevant to the end user.

12) BLISTER: Where do you turn to for inspiration?

Snowy: Creatively, I like to look at the flow and movement of board surfing for wave and hull performance. The simplicity of a surfboard with subtle shapes that create dynamic effects certainly inspires me.

I also turn to other outdoor-related sports for inspiration. Dagger offers a full-service mountain-to-sea product line, and in doing this we also capture the aspirations associated with many other outdoor sports. Be it mountain biking, climbing, trail running or surfing, I find that understanding these users and their products from other categories can spark some great conceptual thinking.

13) BLISTER: So what aspects of climbing, mountain biking and trail running are applicable to kayak design?

Snowy: As much as anything, it is about understanding the consumer that uses other outdoor products. What type of user group are we appealing to? What do they expect from their products, and how can we improve their outdoor experiences? What draws users of other outdoor gear to their product choices.

Whether in technical performance, adjustability for fit, ergonomics or light weight, as a designer I want to know how these people expect to interact with their products. We also look at color, new materials, and style from these associated sports for trends in future categories that we can relate to as a paddlesports brand.

14) BLISTER:  Is there a boat you’ve designed that you’re particularly proud of?

Snowy: One of the standouts for me has to be the Dagger Green Boat. This boat was a collaboration from start to finish, with the outcome being rewarding for everyone on so many levels.

Pat Keller, Andrew Holcombe, Chris Gragtmans, Cory Volt, Ken Hoeve are just a few of the folks who made this boat the success it is. We all had a vision, and initially that was a race boat to win the prestigious Green River race.

Dagger Green Boat, Blister Gear Review.
Dagger Green Boat

In 2006, the boat and paddlers succeeded, with Pat and Andrew taking first and second places paddling the version 1 prototype. Version 2 prototypes saw a number of performance changes that helped our team paddlers and the boat take the top four spots!

Launching this boat in a production capacity was truly a risk, and I really think it showed Dagger’s commitment to the sport of whitewater to invest the resources into such a niche project. It wasn’t until 2013 (5 years later) that another company took the same leap of faith and invested in a production-style boat in this category.

15) BLISTER: So the Dagger Green Boat was designed not only for specific paddlers, but for a specific river and race course?

Snowy: You could say originally it was designed for both a specific river and specific paddlers. The river was the Green and the paddlers were Pat Keller, Andrew Holcombe, Chris Gragtmans, and Geoff Calhoun. They wanted to go faster in the Green Race, so we developed a boat just for that. Pat had a vision for this boat. Once the boat had been initially designed on screen and CNC machined, he was instrumental in hand shaping the plug to get a real feel for that vision.

If a boat is easy to paddle in the hands of great paddlers in really hard whitewater, then it’s probably going to be just as effective with intermediate boaters in mid-grade water. That’s what we found in the Green Boat. It was during version 2 prototypes that we all became convinced of the commercial reality this boat could have to a much broader audience than just our team and one river.

16) BLISTER: When you look at a boat, what are the 3 or 4 characteristics you look for right away to get an idea of how that boat might perform?

Snowy: Shapes and volumes are so important. In many cases paddlers believe that if the volume numbers are not what they think they should be, then the boat will not perform. This is not the case. It’s about where the volume is placed and the distribution of that volume for best performance that really counts. I learned very early on that if a boat looks right, then it probably is right.

Rocker can make or break a design. For me, it’s the starting point for all of my designs. I am constantly reminding myself of the needs of the end user and determining what the different rocker options will do for them in both a positive and negative way. Getting the hull right (the business end of the boat) is the largest part of the battle.

17) BLISTER: There’s been movement toward bigger, harder whitewater in both creeking and freestyle. Where does that leave the rest of the sport? Do you think that will impact the sport’s ability to get more people in boats?

Snowy: We support a group of athletes who are at the cutting edge of this big water movement. Ben Marr choosing the Dagger Mamba 8.6 to run Site Zed, the last un-run rapid on the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, affirms that.

At the same time, however, these athletes are humble ambassadors who give back so much to the grassroots level of paddlesports. Depicting people solely in extreme sports situations, like running the biggest rapids possible, can be off putting for some people. At Dagger, we strike a balance and attempt to build off of the extremes of the sport by offering a product range that supports all styles and abilities.

We certainly enable whitewater paddlers to go big, but we also allow the more aspirational weekend warrior to begin his or her path into moving water with safety and confidence.

As far back as 2006, Dagger saw the need for designs that would provide a catalyst for bringing new paddlers into the sport with the launch of the Dagger Approach hybrid model. It was almost 3 years before any other companies reacted to this need. Now in 2013, we have once again invested in the crossover market with the introduction of the Dagger Katana. This time around, we have created a product where the needs of the beginner entering the sport are as well served as those of the seasoned paddler who wants a versatile boat for bigger water and multiday expedition paddling.

18) BLISTER: Where do you see the sport of whitewater going in the next few years?

Snowy: I feel there has to be a materials technology breakthrough to shake some things up. We are seeing more lightweight composite boats from a competition standpoint, but I think that lighter materials will begin to impact the mass market as well at some stage.

Safety in whitewater should also be a big focus for every manufacturer. We should all continue to make strides to continually improve safety of new products and also educating the paddle sports community should be at the forefront of our thinking.

19-20) BLISTER: Does that mean you expect to see more carbon / kevlar in mass market boats? How much would manufacturing or material cost have to come down to make this practical?

Snowy: I hope that we can find a balance in performance / price that encourages the consumer to try and buy higher-end products.

It may not be that costs have to come down — maybe it’s about educating and enlightening the consumer.

I struggle a lot when I see the amount that people are prepared to spend on other products, such as high-end mountain and road bikes. Paddlesports does not seem as able to command that same pricing structure for equivalent high-end materials and technologies.

It’s a hard comparison, as we are a much smaller industry than biking, for example, but there are some technological advances that materials can and would bring to paddlers. Right now in the mass market, it feels like folks are not prepared to commit to the extra cost of that just yet, or maybe we need to better educate as an industry what the benefits of new materials and technologies really can be.

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