The Beginnings & the Evolution

Who We Are

Starting out as a dream on the banks of Western North Carolina’s Green River Narrows in 1999, Liquidlogic came into being in around-the-clock sessions of kayakers brainstorming and shaping boats in an old farmhouse in Flat Rock, NC in 2000. The team always wanted to stay near the Green, and now we work in our very own factory just 20 minutes from the put-in.

Today, if you drive up to the building, you’ll see boats, racks, bikes, and gear spread out to dry on just about every car. At shift change, crews hurry to plan the shuttle or where to go for beers or music, maybe taking a minute to grab a tomato from the factory garden.

Inside, the same kinds of collaborations are taking place in the offices and production lines. You’ll also find a flotilla of skateboards and scooters to get around the factory and a posse of dogs tearing around. On the walls hang the premiere whitewater-based art collection in the world (unless somebody can tell us different.) Maybe it’s the safety glasses, but somehow creative types, welders, stitchers, number crunchers, craftspeople, bikers, fishermen, and whitewater huckmeisters all fit together. Anybody can check boats out from the company fleet to float down to a riverside watering hole or try their lines on Gorilla in a new ride.

Our employees

When we chose the Asheville area, we moved with a list of purposes. First of all, the western North Carolina mountains are home to some of the best whitewater kayaking in the country, specifically the Green River where many of our employees spend much of our free time. Woody and I (Shane) have been paddling for more than a quarter century— each. The Green has long been our home river. Many of our coworkers moved here for the same reasons. We all want to be a part of the WNC outdoor community, and we wanted to work with people in that community. This area offers tons of mountain biking, paddling, climbing, music, and, yes, beer, and the folks joining our company have the same passion for those kinds of pleasures that we do. We also commit to creating the conditions that allow our employees to earn a living wage and have the time to be able to enjoy those experiences. Wages and salaries play a big part in our company’s development.

The Product

We made our decision to go direct-to-the-customer to allow us to continue to push our quality to the highest level. We have developed industry-leading Rotolab testing of all of our materials and process. We use the best plastic, metal parts, and safety features available on the market— and only the best— in our kayaks. We developed our plastic over a two year period with the leading kayak plastic manufacturer, a few companies started to use our plastic but quit or diluted the recipe because of cost.  There was a time we used the plastic that other manufacturers use, but we wanted more so we spent a couple years helping to engineer our own plastic. We will continue to use aircraft grade aluminum security bars, attachment inserts that double the strength over many other kayak manufacturers pull strengths, evaluate every kayak that comes off the line for cure and thickness standards that set us apart from the rest of the industry. The quality of the final product is obvious when you take the time to look at the details along with the overall performance.

AFTP

We introduced AutomaticForThePeople to our process to bring even more voices in. AFTP is our regular search to find out what all paddlers want in the sport. We put questions out there on our social media feeds, blogs, forums and news pages looking for your ideas, hopes, and dreams for the world of kayaking. Our brains are always ticking away with ideas, so we figured yours were too. You can help us be the company that you want to paddle with by tagging #liquidlogic and #automaticforthepeople. AFTP has lead to many great innovations already.

Automatic for the people has hugely influenced design and culture at Liquidlogic for years. We put the first call to action out there in 2010 asking people what they wanted us to do next, and since that time AFTP has helped us develop lots of boat designs: The Flying Squirrel, Stinger, Stomper, and Freerides have all come directly from your input. We’ve also adjusted our outfitting, made videos, and developed this website with your feedback in mind.

Here are more of our key goals:

• We want our folks to have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors that make WNC a great home.
• We paddle together, bike together, party together, and work together.
• We want to pay our employees a living wage and give them full-time work.
• We want to make sure they have insurance to protect themselves.
• We respect our workers skills and experience to a degree that seems unique in the industry.
• Eventually, we want to offer a whole lot more.

The Deep History

In the early days, Shane ran testing on the boats in Nepal, New Zealand, Chile and on the Green, Gauley, and around the southeast. Allen taught us how to shape boats while doing the same himself and kept us all calm with his ever present smile. Bryon worked his magic wizarding everything into production, Woody and Steve did what they do: talked to people, hung out, and built relationships with paddlers, and Sarah Ashworth did what nobody else could do, which was organized a bunch of dirtbag kayakers and facilitate the business. We were about as small as a small start-up could be. We decided to base near the Green River so we could enjoy the whitewater and the best testing grounds for all types of paddling year-round. Those first boats did great; we announced the company and were off and paddling.

We told you we started Liquidlogic because we wanted to make great boats. What we didn’t tell you was where this desire came from. This whole company came about because our passion for great kayaks got a kick in the pants by our first encounter with a big corporation. The entire group of us who started LL were working at Perception Kayaks, which was the largest kayak manufacturer in the world at that time. We were in marketing, sales, and design. We were all in the midst of the huge growth of the sport during the 90s. It was very exciting times. There were more paddlers, more kayaks, and, in the outside world, more money. Bill Masters, who started Perception was doing very well with his business despite being a controversial personality in the industry. He was known as a ruthless businessman but he had lived as a deadbeat kayaker so there remained a essense of caring for whitewater that he exhibited while Woody and Shane were traveling around the country paddling.

In 1998, a venture capital company called Watermark bought Perception along with Dagger Kayaks. Bill Masters was still on the Board of Directors, but he was not involved in day-to-day operations. It wasn’t long after this that quality, performance, and company community started to dwindle. For those of us in the R & D and Marketing sides of Perception, a long line of issues started to get under our skin, stemming from how little regard the corporation gave the culture of paddlesports.

One example of the change at Perception – One day, Shane walked into the factory to chat with the molders about boats and they took him to the warehouse to show him something. It was a stack of kayaks, without outfitting, sitting on the floor, 4 and 5 kayaks tall, 10 deep all on top of each other. There was no way that half of those kayaks would come out with a decent shape after being under such a pile without outfitting. The molders were ordered to do it, and the assemblers were told to take boats from the pile to assemble. This complete disregard of quality construction struck at the core of what those that started LL were in the business for: making great boats. This was the first of several episodes that would mark the end of our time at Perception and the beginning of a new dream.

Tom Dempsey got us all together to finalize the possibility of starting a new kayak company in 2000. In the summer of that year, the entire group agreed to make it happen. That initial group included everyone needed to start-up, sales, r&d, marketing, accounting, and production. The only thing we didn’t have was money. One evening, Woody was talking with a paddling buddy about the business and options. We thought our buddy Boyce was sort of a bank branch manager or something like that. We would later find out that Boyce was, well, the man. Woody asked him what he thought of the idea and Boyce said simply, “I’m in,” and Liquidlogic became a reality.

In the beginning, we divided ourselves up, taking on the different responsibilities. Bryon and I (Shane) holed ourselves up in a cabin up in the mountains near Saluda, N.C. There, we created the original whitewater designs, the Session and Session+, along with all the seats, thigh braces, and structural rails that were in our boats until 2010. In the meantime, down in Liberty, S.C., Allen Stancil, who had designed nearly 100 boats for Perception, had started working on our first recreational kayak, the Saluda.
Woody and Steve Jordan were seeking the contacts and partners whom we wanted to work and sell with, while Tom connected with a rotomolder and LL investor, Remcon plastics, run by Pete Connors in Pennsylvania, to be our first production facility and partner in Liquidlogic. With that, we were under way. It was as small a start-up as could be, but we had more than a 100 years of experience between us.

The beginnings of the Liquidlogic brand provided our opportunity to create our own identity, and with our group of creative minds it was a really fun time. The Liquidlogic name itself was a nightmare to finalize. We spent months trying to figure it out. We always liked Liquid, we just needed a finish. Several options made the final list: Liquid Planet, Liquid Force (taken), Liquid, and Zeal, which Woody ruled out because he said, “southerners can’t say Zeal.” To this day we aren’t totally sure how we got the final name, but we love its meaning. The logo, on the other hand, happened quickly. Tom Windham, our original graphic designer, pulled the logo rapidly out of our request for a stylized waterdrop. Within his first drafts we had a concept that we all liked. It reminded us of the Maori fishhook (Hei matau), which means safe travel over water, and that seemed fitting. Windham’s vision for our graphics, and our desire to make bright-colored, precisely-designed boats with simple, solid function set us apart from the rest of the industry from the very beginning.

We were lucky enough to be good friends with some of the best paddlers in the world who became the core of our paddling team. Notably, the Kern Brothers, who helped open many new runs in California and across the US. Johnnie Kern even came on board to help with several designs. Daniel Delavergne, who was just beginning his production company Lunch Video Magazine, was dropping in to and filming runs with Tommy Hilleke, John Grace, and host of other amazing paddlers. The extent that these guys pushed the sport of kayaking contributed greatly to the success that our creek and river running boats achieved.

Playboating had long been a passion of Shane’s and the lineage of playboats and amazing playboaters at Liquidlogic is well known. Allen Braswell and Barry Kennon were an unstoppable force in Freestyle competition, both winning World Championships. Pat Camblin and Marlow Long were pushing the limits of what was possible with playboats on huge rivers and waves. The advent of the combo move was directly attributed to their paddling.  The success of our playboat lines around the world were influenced heavily by their input on design and demonstration of performance.

From the cabin in the woods above Saluda, we moved into a great old farmhouse just outside Hendersonville NC, only 10 minutes from the put-in of the Narrows of the Green. The farmhouse was the stop-off point for many paddlers as they headed to the river. It also became the focal point for the Green Race Party for a couple years, until the neighbors decided 500-person parties were getting just a little out of hand. From the start, we had just about every aspect as we’d hoped: Woody was playing Rock Paper Scissors and endless other games to get the message out; The Kern Boys were dropping into the Tsangpo Gorge, LVM was rocking out great videos of our stuff; we were designing new boats every year; we won Manufacturer of the Year twice; but a big part of the whole picture fell outside our control, and that was the production of our own kayaks.

In 2007 we merged with startup Native Watercraft, a kayak fishing brand. The main reason for the merger was that they had a production facility, and we were growing so quickly we really needed our own place to produce the boats necessary to meet the demand and insure quality. For nearly five years we produced boats in Greensboro, N.C. and still maintained the farmhouse in Hendersonville for our offices, but all along we knew that we wanted the whole operation up in the mountains near the Green River, close enough to Asheville so we could find a great outdoor-oriented work force who wanted to be a part of our mission and still close by our home river.

In 2012 we moved our production facility from Greensboro to Fletcher N.C. and joined all our offices together again near the Green River. Moving 50 tractor trailer loads of equipment and materials into the mountains was no easy task. Though our focus of making great boats never changed, the move allowed us to look closely at our company and decide how we wanted to really connect to our core values. We looked for and created a workforce who shared our passion for the outdoors. We began the process of creating completely cross-trained staff who can mold boats, sew outfitting, assemble kayaks, work in the offices, or whatever needs to be done. We also looked closely at our business model. We moved away from the big box, make-as-many-as-you-can mentality and focused even harder on our first principle that started our company. We drew back to only creating our core whitewater and crossover boats so that we could focus completely on making great kayaks.

So much of our story has been fantastic, but there have been changes and tragedies that have pushed us to find our way with absolute attention. We have lost a few friends who were at the very core of our business and our hearts. Daniel Delavergne, our close friend, who helped start LVM and taught us so much about multimedia, was killed in a train accident. Our best friend, paddling partner, and primary investor, Boyce Greer, died on the North Fork of the Payette. Boyce’s support, knowledge, and advice played a key role in our success and in our ability to articulate our business values. Both of these incidents challenged us all personally, and both of these people shaped our business.

Portions of our team found new challenges in life. Tom Dempsey, our original president, moved on to start Sylvansport. Steve Jordan, the guy who knows everyone, became the president of Hurricane Kayaks. Alan Stancil, Shane’s shaping mentor, retired to his home in South Carolina where he is working on his bad ass Corvette. Without these people’s influence Liquidlogic wouldn’t be where it is today.

The team paddlers whom we have worked with have continued to push the sport forward. Evan Garcia and Fred Norquist have followed the lead of the LVM boys and continue to push the very edge of what can be done in a kayak while documenting it in incredible style. Adriene Levknecht has had a stranglehold on Green Race championships and found an additional home in Freestyle kayaking when she placed 3rd in the World in 2013. Jordan Poffenberger follows the lead of early C-1 paddlers at LL by winning a Freestyle World Championship and a Green Race Championship. While the team was busy on uncharted waters, Woody and Boyce were making popular a way of traveling through the Grand Canyon that only a few had done before; they made self-support kayaking down the Colorado a popular event. We also recently added a legendary new team paddler. Pat Keller already brings a huge amount of energy and passion, not to mention he is a fairly talented paddler.  These paddlers have influenced every design and continue to inspire us to make great boats.

Those of us who were a part of the core of Liquidlogic still move forward doing the things we have always done: Woody Callaway knows just about everyone in the sport of whitewater kayaking and can come up with the best guerrilla (or gorilla!) marketing plan at the drop of a hat, and paddles the green regularly. Bryon Phillips can fix or create anything that needs fixing or creating, including an absolutely first class dirty martini on a rocky campsight on the shores of the Chattooga . And (I) Shane, keep designing great kayaks to the best of my ability, and paddling them.

 

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