Building An Empire: Spade Kayaks

While Spade Kayaks may be new to the game, the guys behind it are not. Together they have over a century of experience. The German and Austrian company was created from a lifelong passion and dedication to whitewater kayaking.

Founder and CEO Hans Mayer is a long-time innovator of the European kayak market; he worked with Prijon in the ‘90s, ran a kayak shop for over a decade and was a European distributor for Confluence. He always dreamed of owning a kayak company, so when he realized most kayaks weighed over 55 pounds and thought they satisfied profit margins more than paddlers, he decided something needed to be done.

The idea percolated for a while and in 2014 all those years in the industry paid off. Knowing all the right people, he was able to assemble his dream team: Matze Brustmann, renowned whitewater kayaker and extreme skier, came on board as a product tester. Jan Haluszka contributed his 3-D modeling skills. Jens Klatt became the company’s graphic designer and photographer. And the founder of Eskimo Kayaks, Edi Schnappinger, is advising.

Mayer knew that much of his kayak company’s success would come from its de- signer so he enlisted one of the best. Designer Olli Grau was a freestyle champion in 1995 and literally wrote the book on the sport, White Water Kayaking: The New School of Modern White Water Kayaking. He has worked with other boat manufac- turers in the past, creating such classics as the Dagger RPM and the Necky Blunt. Grau’s focus is as much on ergonomics and weight optimization as it is on creat- ing a boat that can handle the rigors of aggressive paddling.

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To improve performance and reduce weight, Spade opted to use blow molding to manufacture their kayaks. According to Spade this creates a much denser and significantly stiffer hull while reducing the overall weight of the model by 10 per- cent when compared with a similarly sized rotomolded hull.

The only boat in Spade Kayaks’ lineup so far is the Ace, also known as the Ace of Spades (Rapid’s review here). Grau and the rest of the Spade team createda sturdy cockpit featuring a direct interface between paddler and hull. The footrest, thigh braces, seat, hip pads and backrest are tailored to the ergonomics of a paddler. The design team consulted orthopaedists to ensure the seat directly connects the paddler to the boat in a way that isn’t tiring, cramped or forced.

“Everybody in the company is a paddler at heart,” confirms Jens Klatt—at the end of the day, they just want to make the best boats possible.

With no external investors, Spade Kayaks is entirely funded privately, which means this quintet can do whatever they like so long as they keep their customers happy. And so far so good—Spade has manufactured, and sold out, approximately 500 kayaks to date. For now, distribution remains primarily in Europe.

“Since our investment in the molds was so immense—blow molding is expensive!—all of us are working for free at the moment,” says Klatt. “That means we need other jobs to make a living. Therefore, the time we can spend in Spade is limited and it could be dangerous for us to grow too fast.”

So, what will the future bring for Spade?

“Good question,” says Klatt. “Slow growth with a close focus on quality is our motto at the moment. But we will keep on trying to reduce every gram we can without losing stiffness and safety features.” 

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

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