Nova Craft Redefines Tradition: Bold New Looks Aim to Attract Younger Audiences to the Canoeing Industry
With only two days before the big event, the excitement in Roch Prévost’s voice was audible as he described his vision: three new canoe designs, manufactured in secret and concealed under canvas at the front of a large hall. Their looming, oblong shapes create an air of suspense as 74 Nova Craft Canoe Design Challenge participants – London, Ontario Fanshawe College Art and Design students – mingle with canoe industry folks, potential employers and the media. Everyone casts glances at the cloaked canoes, but the temptation to peak is tempered by two foreboding bodyguards. At the appointed hour, the overhead lights dim and spotlights draw every eye in the room toward the cloaked objects. The music rises, the fog machine whirs, and at last, the MC begins the great reveal.
That’s right. Bodyguards, fog machines, sweeping spotlights and canoes. In an industry dominated by tradition and the aged beauty of birch bark and wood canvas, dramatic tension is something canoeists are used to experiencing at the head of rapids, not over the release of a canoe design. But dramatic tension is what they got on Wednesday, February 18 in London, Ontario when Nova Craft Canoe revealed three new designs aimed at attracting a younger audience to paddlesports. And if fog machines send ripples across the placid waters of the canoeing industry, then these designs make waves. The three chosen designs, all equal winners, merge graphic art with the function of a canoe to completely change the artistic vision of the industry.
Manufactured by Nova Craft staff using the artist’s renderings, each canoe is completely unique and speaks to the wide range of entries Nova Craft received. The round, yellow eye of a white octopus looks out from the bow of a canoe in Lurking Octopus; inspired by Jenna Greogry’s submission, its tentacles intertwine down the length of the canoe. Combining elements of stylized cartoons with the bold graphics of graffiti art, it commands a second look. Escape city, a more subtle yet equally striking design, invokes a dreamscape where the city gives way to nature, carrying its paddlers away from the worries of civilization. And finally, Blue Ribbon by Erik Reutz, introduces graphic elements and textures to create a design that feels like an abstract landscape, the clouds at the bow melting into the water and land toward the stern.
This isn’t the first time that Nova Craft has shaken up canoe designs; last year Canoe and Kayak Magazine gave the company kudos for creating a new plaid canoe. Prévost’s daughter made the unique request, and Nova Craft, already looking to bring a little innovation to traditional canoe designs, brought it to life. The company discovered that nearly any fabric or design could be laminated onto a composite canoe and adapted this process to mount fabric onto the canoe itself. By the end of the year the original plaid was joined by a tie die canoe, several additional plaids and even a design inspired by the Canadian flag, custom-made for canoeing author Kevin Callan. Prévost and Nova Craft president Tim Miller saw tremendous potential in customizable canoes, but taking these innovations to the next level took on special meaning when the Paddlesports Industry Association gave Nova Craft a mandate to attract younger generations to canoeing.
The popularity of canoeing has been on the decline as youth and young adults spend less time outdoors. According to a 2008 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report released by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, youth participation in outdoor activities decreased 11% between 2006 and 2007. Young adult participation hovers around 5.4%. The take home message is clear: younger generations are not embracing canoeing, and inspiring passion or peaking their interest has become an industry-wide goal.
“Generation X and Y don’t want to do what their parents do. They probably don’t want canoes that look like their parents’ ” Prévost said. Recognizing that much of their technology and recreational equipment – iPods, cell phones, computers, skis and even skateboards – have color, patterns, or images, Nova Craft hypothesized that customizing designs might be a way to increase appeal among these generations. Prévost approached Fanshawe College Art and Design instructor Robert Chilver about partnering with their design students; the result was a semester-long project last fall. Nova Craft provided the specs for a banana-shaped skin that would fit over a canoe, and students created designs that would appeal to 25 to 35 year olds and adhere to the unique shape of the canoe. The contest itself was optional, but all 74 students chose to pitch their designs to a panel of five canoeing and artistic heavyweights: author Kevin Callan, Canadian Canoe Museum representative James Raffan, local artist Philip Aziz, Fanshawe Marketing and Communications representative Jeff Sage and Nova Craft president Tim Miller.
The students, whose actual paddling experience varied, had three minutes to make their pitch. Prévost estimated that a third based their designs on personal canoeing experiences, a third had paddled only occasionally and a third had never been in a canoe. But experience wasn’t crucial; knowledge of their generation was, and the resulting range of artwork was so good it was hard to pick only three. The panel selected six or seven that Nova Craft then shopped around to friends and family of all ages for final advice. Once chosen, Nova Craft staff manufactured the designs in secret, and no one – not even the winners – knew which designs would be revealed at the big event.
And was the suspense everything the Roch Prévost had hoped for? Simply put: “Yes, completely.”
Nova Craft will retain exclusive use of the winning designs, and the winners will receive $500 bursary scholarships from Nova Craft as well as the opportunity to paddle their boats at a celebration on the second annual Canoe Day in June. But Nova Craft and Fanshawe College also worked hard to make the event a success for all participants, inviting not only canoe industry representatives but also employers looking to hire fresh designers and media to give the students exposure.
Now, one question remains: how to get these ambitious new designs in front of Generation Y? Again, Nova Craft will defy tradition, moving into waters not often paddled by traditional canoeists: YouTube, Facebook – all the mediums where younger audiences communicate. Only time will tell if the contest or the designs truly draw potential paddlers closer to the water, but in the meantime, Nova Craft has brought fresh inspiration to a very traditional industry, inspiring creativity and, dare we say it? Rocking the boat, just a little bit.
Want to see the Nova Craft Design Challenge winners? The canoes will make appearances at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show, Canoecopia in Madison, WI, the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough and the 25th Anniversary of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System conference in Ottawa. More Information >