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'Best of Show' entries grow for kayak and paddleboard brands

The CruiserBoard is a fishing paddleboard up for Best of Show honors. (Mike Suchan photo) The CruiserBoard is a fishing paddleboard up for Best of Show honors. (Mike Suchan photo)

By: Craig Lamb, OutdoorChannel.com

ORLANDO, Fla. — Enter the 2014 ICAST New Products Showcase and the first wares on display weren’t here just a few years ago. Now, they command attention as showstoppers at the fishing industry’s annual trade show.

It’s not at all coincidental that a row of five kayaks is located at the entrance to the room otherwise traditionally filled with rods, reels, lures and other tackle vying for category awards in “Best of Show.” Beside the kayaks are three new entries best described for now as hybrid surf boards. These paddleboards fitted for fishing are making waves in the industry.

On the eve of the show, media and buyers peruse the products and vote in 24 categories for Best of Show. The winners earn respect from throughout the industry, with some becoming top sellers.

At ICAST 2012, the top honors went to a kayak. The Mirage Pro Angler by Hobie Cat won the best boat category and the Overall Best of Show. It wasn’t the first time a kayak garnered high praise from the outdoor media. Hobie Cat fishing kayaks also won best of show awards in the boat category in 2011 and 2009.

Before then a small but growing fraternity of new-age fishermen retrofitted kayaks otherwise designed for thrill rides through white water and paddling across serene ponds. Kayaks began to appear with rod holders, fish-finding electronics and tackle boxes.

It was the dawning of a new revolution in fishing.

Hobie Cat took note and created a line of kayaks just for anglers. The first offerings were intended for small waters. Now, the brand makes longer kayaks for sea-going anglers. Overall the fishing kayak market is a top-seller for the company that at one time only targeted paddlers.

“We watched it closely as it evolved,” said Kevin Nakada, fishing team coordinator. “Based on kayak angler feedback, we incorporated many of those ideas into our way of thinking.”

That way of thinking evolved into the latest model. The Pro Angler 17 is a full-fledged fishing rig. It’s spacious enough for two anglers and all of their tackle.

“It’s a family friendly kayak,” Nakada said. “It allows us to build on the customer experience of what camaraderie and everything else that fishing is all about.”

What it’s also all about is building customer base. Hobie does that well in offering a full range of models for anyone from beginners to pro kayak anglers.

Other boat makers are launching into the growing market.

Old Town, traditionally known for its iconic canoes, is presenting a new hybrid kayak at the showcase. It hopes to win a best of show award for the Predator XL. The kayak comes with the Modular Console System for rigging electronics and power. That means mounting a Minn-Kota electric trolling motor for hands-free fishing.

Another hot sport twisting toward fishing is paddleboarding, which is recognized throughout the water sports industry as the fastest growing participation activity in the market segment. The stand up paddleboards (SUP) has been hot on the coasts, with even Yoga classes conducted on the water.

But now anglers are taking to the hybrid surfboard, fitting them with fishing accessories. The results lined up beside the kayaks in the showcase.

One of them is the CruiserBoard, described by its namesake company as a hybrid cross between a sit-on-top kayak and a SUP. According to CruiserBoard’s Neal Esterly, the product created a buzz at the recent San Diego International Boat Show.

“No single product was promoted by the show management as much as the CruiserBoard,” he said. “Show management saw the CruiserBoard as a fresh, new idea with huge market potential.”

CruiserBoard hopes to see similar results at ICAST. So does Hobie with its Sportsman, an inflatable SUP with three chambers for added stability.

“It bridges an important gap for a lot of kayak anglers,” said Hobie’s Mark Johnson, who as director of sales and development makes sure customer needs are filled with new models.

Johnson said the Sportsman fills a niche. As an inflatable, it allows anglers more access to new fishing water.

“We also hope to introduce fishing to casual anglers or first-time paddleboarders,” he added.

That’s a win-win all around for the fishing tackle industry. More anglers mean they’ll need more fishing tackle, regardless of whether they fish from a bass boat, a kayak or now a paddleboard.

Click here for videos, stories and photos from ICAST 2014.

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