Building An Empire: FeatherWeight Kayaks

If the hand-drawn, custom art decorating the bottom of the boat doesn’t give away a FeatherWeight kayak, the amount of air between the boat and the water will. The kayaks are designed, built and tested in the Ottawa Valley, where owner Ben Fraser often takes his lunch break at Buseater. When the bright blue Marlin on the bottom of his boat is visible, it means his session is going well.

FeatherWeight’s origin story is simple. “Basically, it’s just a couple dudes who love to kayak. We wanted our own boats to be the best they could be and people liked them. There was demand so we started making them,” says Fraser.

Ottawa Valley local and freestyle authority, Dave Nieuwenhuis, and Fraser worked side by side to combine the characteristics they liked from different boats. “I missed the edges from my O-Fish but loved the forgiving rides of the Superstar,” Fraser says. The two paddlers created a Frankenstein prototype that had the whole package. Nieuwenhuis is no longer a part of the hands- on production but is still the creative genius behind the brand’s hand-drawn artwork.

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FeatherWeight boats currently come out of an unlikely location: a small, 10-by-10-foot shop in an ordinary south Ottawa neighborhood. The long hallway leading into the workspace is lined with molds piled up along the wall. A single workstation occupies the center of the room and boats, molds and materials lean against the walls and sit stacked in corners. Past workshop locations have included garages and the Nieuwenhuis family barn near the Ottawa River, but this suburban shop is much is much warmer during Canadian winters.

Fraser has always been self-employed, so the transition from carpentry to boat builder was a fluid one. “It wasn’t so much a one-time investment as a cumulative investment and putting in lots and lots of time,” say Fraser, who now works fulltime on boats. Fraser takes home money for the labor of each kayak but admits it’s sometimes a struggle to finance large purchases like rolls of carbon fiber cloth.

“When I can afford to build another mold I do,” he says. “I’ve managed to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. It’s starting to feel quite successful.”

Despite FeatherWeight’s growing popularity, each boat is built with impeccable attention to detail. Six FeatherWeight boats were flying high on Garborator during the Freestyle World Championships in 2015. Materials and design are key to FeatherWeight performance. “I think both the construction—aerospace grade carbon with premium epoxy—as well as the design of the boat itself, sets us apart,” he says. “And, of course, the custom artwork.” A fully outfitted FeatherWeight goes for $3,200 CAD.

Over the last year FeatherWeight has sold 30 boats. Fraser compares paddling a carbon boat to riding a top-of-the-line mountain bike. The all-round performance translates to a better experience. It’s easier to catch the wave, and easier to get a good bounce, which translates to easier airtime because you have a lighter boat over your head.

Positive feedback from paddlers fuels Fraser during those long days and nights in the shop. He loves seeing others having great surfs and epic days on the water. “For me, the most rewarding part is seeing so many people having their best boating days ever.” 

This article was originally published in Rapid, Volume 18 • Issue 3. Read this issue.


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