Composite Creations is a tenacious example of outdoor escapism fuelled by industrialism. The man behind the creations—which include specialized parts for Bombardier Learjet, Sikorsky and Airbus—is Andy Phillips. Phillips has worked his way through composite materials courses and dusty experiments in his dad’s garage to become a Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council and FAA-recognized composite technician. He has the friendly, unassuming air of a small town hardware store manager and the sandpaper-and-stain enthusiasm to match.
Between devising stronger floats for experimental aircraft and grinding fiberglass for custom hotrods, Phillips designs and builds canoes from the same advanced materials he uses for his aeronautical projects. His distinctive canoes—like the new Double Dog tandem—now make up 40 percent of Composite Creations’ business.
DOUBLE DOG SPECS
Price: $2,800 CDN
Weight: 54 lbs
Outfitting: Mike Yee saddles and straps
“We’re the orange County Choppers of boat building,” he laughs.
Phillips’ first commercial foray into boat building was the Bull Dog in 2000. From its flat planing hull, double hard chines and integrated air tanks to its sharp, Lamborghini Countach lines and Kevlar/carbon/s-glass lay-up, the Bull Dog looked and felt more like an Italian sports car than a classic Canadian canoe. Named for the notoriously feisty canine, the twitchy Bull Dog was designed to be a playful wave hound (pun intended) that adept boaters could surf, flat spin and roll.
Phillips followed up with the Splash, a beginner-friendly, solo whitewater canoe designed and sized just for kids. The boat was a hit with adventurous youths happy to strike out on their own. But many kids (and parents), Phillips knew, were fearful of so much autonomy.
Enter the Double Dog. Phillips says he designed the tandem river runner short and responsive so an adult can paddle with a child and still overpower the boat when necessary: “Watching the kid/parent race at the Gull River, I saw parents physically struggling to maintain [control of] a longer boat.” The Double Dog, he continues, provides more maneuverability as well as comforting stability for newer paddlers.
Where the Splash offered independence, the Double Dog provides the reassurance of learning with “someone literally just over your shoulder.” Essentially a Bull Dog cut in half and stretched to fit two, the tandem Dog shares the abrupt angles, wide planing hull, super-duty composite shell and integrated air tanks of its pedigree.
We took the prototype Double Dog to a rocky, ledge-strewn rapid to test Phillips’ claims of durability (check) and suitability for two adult paddlers (check…sort of). Remember, the idea is for a parent and kid team; the boat performs best with a combined paddler weight of less than 300 pounds. Ideal in Class I-III rapids, where it is nimble enough to carve into micro eddies and catch smaller waves, the Double Dog feels similar to an Esquif Blast only faster.
The low gunwales dipped into the water during our test runs and the sharp bow pierced the waves, making for a very wet ride for the bow paddler. The stern paddler, meanwhile, stayed dry thanks to the central air tank that creates two entirely separate cockpits. Phillips says the tradeoff for a wetter ride is that the low gunwales let kids and those with shorter torsos reach the water.
The prototype is still a work in progress. For example, Phillips is working on water rails for the forward and aft air tanks to divert bow and stern wash out under the gunwales rather than into the paddlers’ laps. After several months of testing this summer he expects to finalize the mould and begin production.
With the Double Dog, Phillips has created a wholly distinctive canoe targeted to a unique—and, he believes, under serviced—market. Positive early experiences are vital to fostering a lifelong love of paddling, and the Double Dog allows kids to grow into whitewater even as they grow into their own boats.
Release the hounds. | Photo: Virginia Marshall