Current Designs has changed hands once again. Founded in the late 1970s by Brian Henry on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the brand was then acquired by Minnesota’s Wenonah Canoes in 1999. Wenonah expanded the brand from its niche producing coastal touring kayaks to all manner of kayaks, including those suited to recreational pursuits, ocean play and light touring. The Current Designs lineup has long offered both composite and rotomolded plastic designs—and the brand has now been split along this divide, each division being sold to separate companies.

Wenonah’s neighbor, Sanborn Canoe Co., has acquired Current Designs’ composite division. Meanwhile, Kayak Distribution, headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, has taken on the rotomolding division. Wenonah President Bill Kueper did not respond to inquiries to comment.

Current Designs sold to Sanborn Canoe Co. and Kayak Distribution

Sanborn Canoe Co.

Both located in Winona, Minnesota, Sanborn Canoe Co. and Wenonah Canoes have always been friendly with one another. In May 2023, Sanborn was putting on an outdoors festival called BaseCamp and invited Wenonah to join for demo day. Todd Randall, owner of Sanborn Canoe Co., speculates that, for whatever reason, this was what planted the seed in the minds of the folks at Wenonah about approaching Sanborn with a sales proposal.

“If I’m honest, we weren’t in any way thinking about kayaks leading up to that,” says Randall. “But it seemed like such a good opportunity, we couldn’t really pass it up.”

woman paddles a yellow Current Designs Prana kayak through a swamp full of waterlogged trees
Photo: Courtesy Current Designs

While there was some discussion around Sanborn Canoe Co. taking on the entire Current Designs brand, Randall says based on the smaller size of their company and the fact that rotomolding is “not really their approach,” they decided acquiring just the composite side of the brand would be the best fit.

Conversations continued over the next six months, until the deal finally closed at the end of December.

“It was a process,” Randall admits. “Although pretty early on we both were committed to making it happen. So we had folks from our team going over there for six to eight weeks of training before we brought it over. We spent a lot of time, made a handful of boats alongside their crew to get comfortable with it even before we had finalized everything.”

Once the sale closed, Sanborn Canoe Co. took possession of all the Current Designs composite molds and models from the last 40 years. As of February, they were still working on getting organized.

“The kayak space Wenonah was making the boats in previously was about 35,000 square feet with an additional 10,000 worth of storage,” explains Randall. “Only half of that was dedicated to the composite side of it. Meanwhile our whole shop is 12,000 square feet. So we’re condensing it and we’re not going to be able to make boats at the same scale.”

Instead, they’ll be moving to a direct-to-consumer sales model, with a focus on a segment of the Current Designs composite line of boats. Randall says likely this will be the Danish line—which includes the Prana, Sisu and Karla—as well as the Solstice and a few others.

“But we do have all the boats available if somebody wanted something special they haven’t been able to get for a while,” he continues.

A large portion of Sanborn Canoe Co.’s business was already focused on direct-to-consumer sales. However, the split between wholesale and direct-to-consumer used to be much closer to 50/50, shifting to 30/70 coming out of the pandemic.

Part of that shift was due to shops closing. But a larger part was a result of the opposite—with a high demand for boats during the pandemic, many dealers overbought near the end of the pandemic. With product on their shelves and racks already, dealers bought less from Sanborn Canoe Co. this past year than they typically would, naturally shifting Sanborn’s focus to direct-to-consumer.

“It was somewhat intentional, but also sort of just the natural flow of things over the last three years or so,” Randall explains. “It’ll be tricky because working with dealers is really great. Because if they have a boat present, then you can put a paddler into it and see if it’s right for them. Whereas our business is going to be largely online.”

That said, with direct-to-consumer, consumers will be able to get exactly what they want—from model to colors to finishes. And potentially at a better price.

Randall says they’ll also be retaining the Current Designs name.

“The plan is to keep the brand alive,” he says. “It’s got a really rich history going back decades. We’ve talked to a lot of people who absolutely love their Current Designs boats and so we’re excited to continue that story.”

Kayak Distribution

In September 2023, Marc Pelland, owner of Kayak Distribution, heard through industry contacts that Wenonah was looking to sell their rotomolding division. He phoned up Wenonah to find out if the rumors were true. A little over a week later, the two companies had reached a deal.

Kayak Distribution is no stranger to purchasing assets, having previously taken on Riot Kayaks, Boréal Design, Seaward Kayaks and Vibe Kayaks, among others.

“It’s no secret that the industry is struggling these days,” says Pelland. “I think there’s too much capacity and not enough demand. So it’s kind of natural that there would be some consolidation there. So we try to stay in touch with different people and see where there’s opportunities for us.”

With so many brands under their care, and therefore an extensive range of products, Pelland says they’re more hard-pressed to hear about opportunities of value to them.

“But in this case, Current Designs has been around for a while. And it made sense for us for some projects we wanted to have.”

Pelland says originally the thinking behind purchasing Current Designs’ rotomolding division was so they could use the molds to develop a private label brand. However, since making the purchase, they’ve had a great deal of interest from dealers wanting to continue to purchase Current Designs boats. As well, upon closer inspection of the boats, Pelland says there are some molds he doesn’t want to use for a private label and would instead look at producing as a more premium product.

“We’re still evaluating what the best thing to do is,” Pelland says, having just returned from China where the molds are being kept and where he had the opportunity to paddle a Current Designs boat for the first time.

man paddles a Current Designs sea kayak in surf
Feature photo: Courtesy Current Designs

Next steps will also include reaching out to Sanborn Canoe Co. to see what opportunities there might be to collaborate. In order to continue using the Current Designs name, Kayak Distribution would need to license it from Sanborn Canoe Co. Pelland also wonders about working with Sanborn to distribute boats in the U.S.

“If not, well we might take some of the best Current Designs models and roll them into our brand,” he continues. “We did the same thing with Seaward—we bought the thermoforming division from Seaward a few years back and now the models are under our brand Boréal Design.”

The selection of those Current Design models would also be driven by the demands of dealers.

“We have a few retailers that really want certain models,” says Pelland. “We have an outfitter in Norway that wants one of the super old Current Design molds because they’ve used it forever and it works for them. I think anybody that’s got things that work for them, we’ll be able to accommodate that. It’s just what will it be called, and those kinds of details.”

Feature photo: Courtesy Current Designs




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