Advanced Elements and the waterbed … what’s the connection?
Kayaks were initially designed by Inuit seal hunters from driftwood and sealskin.
The Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO, which recently won the 2018 OutDoor Industry Award in Friedrichsen, Germany, also has an eclectic origin story: it’s lineage traces back to an icon of the 1970s: the waterbed.
Charlie Hall was a graduate student studying design at San Francisco State University, and living in the Haight-Asbury, the epicenter of 1967’s Summer of Love.
He came up with the first waterbed as a graduate project to improve human comfort. The Waterbed made its first appearance at a “Happy Happening” in the Haight that summer. Hall patented the waterbed in 1971 and it went on to become a symbol of the 70s, along with bell-bottoms, disco, and sideburns.
But unlike bell-bottoms or sideburns, the waterbed grew into Hall’s current venture, Advanced Elements inflatable kayaks.
The connection between the two may not seem obvious, but to Hall, it’s the same basic goal. In both waterbeds and inflatable kayaks you’re making a strong bladder.
“You’re either keeping water in, or you’re keeping water out.”
Along the journey from the waterbed to the kayak, Hall also designed the Summer Shower, a bladder that could be placed on a rock to heat up in the sun, hung from a tree, and deliver a hot shower anywhere in the world.
Hall sees design as a way to introduce people to new things. Advanced Elements makes kayaking accessible, which is important to Hall, who had his first boat at age 11 in Florida.
Advanced Elements designs combine high-pressure air chambers and aluminium frames to create a kayak that can fit in a closet or the trunk of a car, set up quickly, and paddle well.
“You’ve got a problem if you’re living in a downtown apartment and have a 16-foot, 70 pound boat,” Hall said.
“We wanted a kayak that would make it simple, and that would paddle like a kayak, not a pool toy.”
More people will kayak if they can do it without car-topping a heavy boat, renting garage space, or spending an hour putting a complex frame together on the beach.
To Hall, design is about seeing old things in new ways. The moment of inspiration was to combine air chambers with aluminum frames instead of just one or the other, which resulted in either wide, slow, wind-vulnerable shapes or complex erector-set like assembly.
One of Advanced Element’s best sellers, the 15’ Advanced Frame Convertible Kayak, can change from an open cockpit to either closed-cockpit single or tandem form by changing the top part of the deck. “It fits the bill for a people who want expedition gear room, or who want to sometimes paddle together and sometimes not, but don’t have the room or budget for a fleet of kayaks,” Hall says. All it took was re-envisioning the idea that a kayak was either a double or single, and then the fun part for Hall: figuring out how to do it.
“Design is about reimagining: taking the good stuff and making it better. Take a concept and refine it, and then refine it again until you find the sweet spot. Sometimes it’s wacky experiments. When you’re an entrepreneur and designer both, you accept that some things fly and some things won’t.”
He’s proud of the fact that Advanced Elements’ kayaks are priced reasonably to the average person. This makes kayaking accessible to people who might see a higher price tag and say ‘that’s not for me.” Another sign of good design: Advanced Elements’ first kayak, the AdvancedFrame, is still one of their best sellers.
And like ocean tides that drain out only to return later, the waterbed is back. Hall has been re-imagining the “float waterbed” with a partner in Florida. “We’ll know how it goes over in the coming months.” say Hall.
In the meantime, he can paddle any of his kayaks from his front door on Bainbridge Island, WA. “They’re both about floating on water,” he says.
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About Oz Inflatable Kayaks
Hi, my name is Emily and over a decade ago I thought to myself “gee, I would really love to go kayaking … if only I had a big strong butler to help me get a kayak on and off roof racks. Oh, and several thousand dollars for the kayak and the roof racks (not to mention the cost of the butler)”.
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