Cifers and Hoover, prepping yet another display boat for the big show. Many a vessel was touched by their skilled and patient hands.
Our rented SUV turned west onto interstate 80, leaving the sweltering shores of Jordanelle Reservoir to bake in the escalating Utah sun. We’re headed to Salt Lake City, home of the industry showcase and city within a metropolis, Outdoor Retailer. Chad Hoover, the embodiment of the gregarious and infectious persona occupying the back seat, was catering to my beer-induced inquisitiveness, and answering my forays into the philosophies behind his well-received and highly respected shop, HOOK1.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s about going home and knowing that you did right – that you did all you can to make somebody happy. And that’s what makes me happy.”
If the kayak angling industry were reduced to a moralistic and animism-based cartoon, Hoover would likely be played by an owl, graying mare, or other creature capable of portraying a being quietly leading by well-thought-out and caring example. But that’s only half of an almost impossible means in which to describe the larger than life soul who invited me back to the convention center for a sneak peek at his latest project with Wilderness Systems. To complete the illustration of Hoover, one must envision one’s own family reunion, and scan the picnic grounds for the table around which the most personable cousins gather. Hoover is akin to the laughing, story-filled son of your parent’s brother; he is both Grandma’s favorite and biggest challenge. He is the cousin kissed upon the cheek for volunteering to wash the dinner-stained dishes, and the one sternly gazed upon for saucing the meal with racy yet chuckle-inducing jokes.
Before taking the reigns of HOOK1, during a formative period long preceding his stint as host of television’s most beloved freshwater kayak angling program, Chad made a name for himself as a talented and passionate angler. Hoover’s thoughts and methodologies were detailed in his tome dedicated to kayak-based bass angling, and it is toward this book that I turn the conversation – informing Hoover that I have been enjoying his written words during my recent dedication to the pursuit of smallmouth. My comment was met with a humble shrug, a gesture he has likely given thousands of times. Hoover thanked me, but it was obvious that such encounters with nervous fan-boys made the author uneasy. We returned to a discussion of modern day business practices and commerce-centered ethics, and, through a combination of Hoover’s no-bullshit transparency and my unwavering brain ethanol concentration, delved into the origins of HOOK1′s commitment to walking the moral path.
“There were times in my life when I wasn’t able to speak up and voice my own personal beliefs regarding right and wrong,” Chad stated with calm reflection. “This is my time to do just that.”
It was at this time that our uncharacteristically quiet driver gave more than an agreeing nod; Luther Cifers, with his analytical eyes never straying from the continual data streaming in from the GPS and the sun-streaked Utah highway, spoke with vibrancy and candor.
“That, right there, is what Yak Attack is all about, too,” he said. “I worked in manufacturing, and often had to keep quiet and do things that just weren’t right.”
I informed Hoover and Cifers that the popular perception amongst the kayak angling community, was that they and their respective businesses are true industry darlings, testaments to the days of the meaningful handshake. My comment was met with surprised stares and a statement now faded from my mind, though likely stemming from Hoover, and involving a command to not associate him with the word, “darling.”
“Divots are loud as shit,” Hoover proclaimed. We were standing inside The Salt Palace, staring at a dry docked Wilderness Systems Ride 115. The convention center was rife with the noises of construction; the show would not open for another 12 hours, and workers, sales reps, and heavy equipment operators were busily transforming the cavernous innards of the palace into the showpiece of modern outdoor-themed marketing. Media aren’t supposed to be here, but through the persuasive powers of Hoover, I proudly own a badge declaring my allegiance to a watercraft manufacturer.
“Loud as shit, and you can quote that.” Hoover’s quip was in response to my inquiry into the nature of the Silent Traction System’s rubber that was spread throughout the boat. “Put a divot on a kayak,” he stated, “and a guy is going to put his paddle down on it. That’s what it is there for. But when that paddle hits plastic, it sends a lot of vibration into the water, and that big ol’ fish is gonna feel those vibrations and go on alert.” Though it was one of my first observations, the rubber adornment, and it’s subsequent pathway to realization of a boat sans divot, led me to believe that a pervasive theme of the Ride 115 is that of detail. To prematurely assign a singular motive to a kayak, however, is to dance with oversimplification. Hoover was quick to move our tour along, due in no part to his obvious excitement, and numerous other facets began to emerge.
“One of the main attributes of the Ride is versatility,” Hoover explained. “This boat is made for a wide variety of environments. The versatility also comes from the fact that this boat is made for rigging. See all of the unused real estate on other boats? We now make it possible to exploit those spaces.”
In the sport of kayak angling, the term “rigging” is synonymous with the name Cifers. Since founding Yak Attack with a pole-based light, Luther Cifers has firmly established himself as both mad inventor and savvy businessman. With numerous after-market kayak add-ons leaping from his blueprints, Cifers has made it possible for anglers to configure their boats in countless ways. This release of this year’s model of the Ride marks Confluence Watersports’ official collaboration with Cifers, a relationship that is tangibly demonstrative when viewing the boat in question. Freed real estate dancing in harmony with a head-spinning array of mounting and rigging hardware. The possibilities for customization increase in magnitude when Hoover informs me that now, for the first time, gear from Scotty, Ram, and Yak Attack is mutually compatible. I clumsily shift between the fast moving bodies as Hoover and Cifers begin affixing to the Ride hardware from all three manufacturers. The vessel soon looks capable of weathering any number of post-apocalyptic scenarios, with attachments clutching cameras, spinning rods, cell phones, fly rods, and lighting.
Taking a break from the tightening of mounts, Hoover places his massive hands upon the kayak’s seat, and begins removing the fabric covering. “The first high-low seat was in the Wilderness Systems Commander,” he stated. “This is the latest iteration, the Phase 3 AirPro sliding seat. Just look at the way it’s ventilated. We shaped the back to steer clear of a paddler’s shoulder blades, and the support beams are completely adjustable for lumbar comfort. Under the seat, we have provided ample space for storage of tackle boxes, and here, look at these flat areas…you can add mounts for more placement of accessories. Imagine you’re standing and want access to your rods. You’re sight fishing a big bass, and you want to get to that pole quickly. Now you can, because that rod can be mounted to your seat.”
My mind was reeling in the possibilities opened up by this piece of gear when I latched onto a certain piece of verbiage put forth by my proud tour guide.
“Standing,” I muttered, failing to add the proper emphasis with which to make my word a question.
“Here, watch this,” Hoover said as he easily slid the AirPro fore and aft. “I’ve taken this boat out looking for 50 pound catfish. You hook one, and you’re standing…you’re still stable. You can stand and fight that cat all day. With the seat slid out of the way, and with the chined pontoon hull, you’re stable as can be. And the cool thing is that, for steering the boat, all you have to do is lean. I’ve fought big cats while navigating the boat with simple pressure of my feet.”
Hoover, Cifers, and I stood back and admired their rigging handiwork, sipped a celebratory long neck, and pondered how it was possible that in a mere 12 hours, the half constructed convention center would play immaculate host to one of the industry’s most polished events. Hoover pointed to a large banner overhead. It depicted a slightly younger Chad, standing in a stripped down Commander that was truly devoid of all modern conveniences. “That’s how it used to be,” he said, “Now we have the capability to make a boat one hundred percent customizable. We can move things around, and take them off for transport…”
Hoover’s sentence faded away as he looked toward his long-time friend and compatriot. Cifers offered up a humble smile and adjusted a rod holder on the Ride.
“Should we go rig another boat?” Hoover asked.
“Sure!” proclaimed Cifers, smiling a tired but satisfied grin. “I’ll get some more tools from the truck.”