PolyOne, the publicly held company that produces the most revolutionary material in canoeing, is closing plants and ceasing production of Royalex.
According to its press release, the plant shutdowns will produce $25 million in annual savings for the Avon Lake-based company. This ranks PolyOne as North America’s largest compounder and one of the region’s largest resin distributors. The closings are expected to be completed by the end of 2014.
Although the PolyOne press release doesn’t say specifically that they’re stopping the production of Royalex, Bill Kueper of Wenonah Canoe, Inc. told Paddling Magazine that, “The morning following the press release we received a phone call from PolyOne detailing the termination of the Royalex enterprise.”
He says that given the relatively small size of the Royalex business worldwide, he’s not surprised PolyOne didn’t detail this in the press release. “At this point, we’re all hoping someone else will buy the line, but there’s no surety of it yet,” says Tim Miller of Nova Craft Canoes. Royalex canoes represent a substantial portion of his business.
Are Royalex canoes dead?
If the Royalex product isn’t bought, what happens next is anyone’s guess. According to Miller, there are no reasonable material alternatives to Royalex at this time. The next best option could be a three-layer polyethylene canoe, which would be stronger but also heavier. “There’s nothing else like Royalex,” he adds.
PolyOne’s decision doesn’t come as a complete surprise. When PolyOne bought out Royalex-producer Spartech Corp. last year there was a discussion among canoe manufacturers that PolyOne may cease manufacturing the material. “For the size of PolyOne, Royalex is a tiny portion of what they do,” Miller says. “Still, it’d be a very sad day if they close the plant and Royalex doesn’t go anywhere else.”
Aluminum was the choice for most canoe trippers until 1978 when Old Town Canoes and Kayaks touted the durability of its Royalex Tripper by tossing one from the roof of its Maine factory—it escaped unscathed.
Due to its near-indestructibility, Royalex became the go-to material for whitewater boaters, summer camps, and remote expeditions. While canoes come in plenty of materials that suit the needs of flatwater paddlers just fine, whitewater canoe paddlers are particularly worried by the news.
I learned to paddle rivers in Royalex canoes. Without it, we’re going to have to change the way we all paddle whitewater,” says Scott MacGregor, founder, and publisher at Paddling Magazine. “On the other hand, this may be the kick in the ass the canoeing industry needs to find a material lighter, stronger and even more durable.
While MacGregor remains optimistic, he’s also ordering spares of his favorite Royalex whitewater canoe models.
Royalex canoes have a tough exterior but you just have to get to know it. Feature Photo: Scott MacGregor