Nicholas Cryder

Hailing from Seattle by way of Montana and Belgium, Nicholas Cryder is an adventurer best known for his revolutionary and genre-bending kayak design. Rare is the product that seamlessly blends function and performance; scarce is object that adds to the mix an air of high art. Nicholas has done just that, though, and will likely continue to challenge and inspire our sport’s boat-centered conventions and norms.

What first drew you to kayaks?

I started my athletic life as a serious cyclist, and moved to Belgium when I was in my teens to race internationally. After I stopped racing in my early 20′s, I discovered mountain climbing and was enamored with the purity of the sport and the intensity of alpine mountain climbing. It’s just you and your willpower to suffer, but in a beautiful setting and without any finish lines. I wasn’t particularly drawn to kayaking until my stepdad let me take his Hobie Revo 13 out. I was skeptical until I actually hopped in it and started pedaling, and I instantly knew this would be a new passion for me. It combined many of the best attributes of both cycling and mountain climbing, but offered a seemingly limitless number of places to go explore.

 

 

Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?

In true form to fish stories, I will instead offer a story on the first fish I wish I caught from a kayak! I grew up spending summers in Montana with my dad, and we used to backpack the high alpine lakes in the Beartooth Mountains chasing big Cuthroats, Brookies, and the illusive Golden trout. We always seemed to do pretty well, and liked to time our trips to sync up with the summer spawn when the fish are drunk with love and would nibble on your toes if you let them. There were plenty of trips where you could “fish” with a claw hammer or even a frying pan if you wanted to and you’d do just fine. But as a kid staring at those lakes, so incredibly beautiful, I wanted to figure out a way to get a kayak up there to fish the entire lake. Not easy to do in a high altitude wilderness, but that just made me want to do it even more. Flash forward 30 years, and I relish when my daughter and I are able to head out in my kayaks and do a little fishing together.

 

 

You envisioned, designed, and brought to life a one-of-a-kind sit on top kayak. The boat is revolutionary in that it marries the oft-opposed entities of functionality and performance, and does so with a style and grace seldom seen in the genre. Does the etiology of said vessel simply stem from a personal quest for boat ownership, or is it rooted in a reactionary and demonstrative call to the current state of affairs within the kayak industry?

Growing up, my stepdad was always inventing incredible things. He just loved to invent and his passion really influenced me early on. We would dream up stuff, and just go make it in his workshop because it was fun. He has both an amazing engineering mind and is a very talented artist, so I was never forced to accept the dichotomy that they must be different or somehow mutually exclusive. But his influence had a tremendous impact on how I saw the world around me. Everything could either be reinvented and improved, or made for the very first time and be very beautiful at the same time. We did, however, eventually have to put some boundaries on our work after an unfortunate incident with gunpowder one fourth of July! He owns a Hobie, and we had a number of conversations that lead me to want to make a very fast iteration of what Hobie had already started, but without any of the limitations that often burden a production feasible boat. So in many ways, I just needed to connect a few dots that were staring me in the face. On the other hand, at the time I was literally brand new to kayaking, and knew almost nothing about boat craft and needed to start at the bottom rung to understand the fundamentals and go from there. The best part of the project thus far has been the reaction that you get from doing concept work. It’s a glimpse into what the future might hold, only its here right now.

 

 

What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?

Living in Seattle and having a career in advertising, life can get pretty hectic. So when I am driving to the put in, I typically relish silence and the time to get my head into the game and be completely focused. I find a vantage point to study the water and clouds and see what the currents are up to. Once at the put in, I prefer not to talk too much and just focus on the preflight checklist and make sure all of my gear is dialed in and working correctly.

 

 

Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?

I think new kayakers are shaping the future of the sport. I see more and more people getting into kayaking who you wouldn’t typically peg as a typical “kayaker.” In some ways that can act as a self fulfilling prophesy; new people bring new ideas, and new ideas in turn bring new people. Hobie, in particular, deserves huge credit in this area. Pretty much everyone I meet in Hobies are brand new to the sport, and weren’t previously traditional kayakers. Perhaps the biggest shift I have seen is in an ongoing discussion in the form of new products on exactly what what a kayak is, or isn’t.

 

 

With regard to kayaking, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?

Beach access is, of course, pretty important, as is our relationship with the traditional boating community. But something of particular interest to me is the gulf between traditional kayakers and the newcomers. I’ve met more then a few kayakers who find it repugnant to be at the same put-in as a dude inflating his kayaks, or even worse pedaling up to them out on the water. It reminds me in many ways of when snowboarding challenged the identity of skiing. At the time, there was a lot of misplaced angst about this radical new snow sport. But it forced the ski industry to challenge some of its more precious presuppositions about itself. In the long run, the pressure from snowboarding provoked a number of incredible innovations that ultimately liberated the sport and made it more fun for everyone. I am hopeful that the rising tide will lift all kayaks.

 

 

Your honeymoon had you eschewing the traditional, forsaking airline tickets for a pair of inflatable Hobies, and roaming the west coast in search of adventure and open spaces. This time also marked your first real foray into the world of paddlesports. Most beginners ease into kayaking with a delicate and drawn out approach. What was it that compelled you to enter this world with such commitment?

My wife and I had a decision; buy airline tickets and chill on a beach like everyone else, or instead buy a couple of Hobie’s and go on a 3000 mile road trip in my jeep without any agenda or real plan. We ended up doing the latter, and kayaked in new locations almost every day. That put the needle in pretty deep, so to speak. My time in cycling and mountain climbing taught me the necessity and reward of commitment, but I think part of the answer is probably buried deep in my DNA. To quote the movie Tropic Thunder, I am not sure I really know why I went “full retard” on this one, other then I simply felt compelled to do it and see what would could be done. The other factor is that kayaking, itself, is an amazing sport. The same body of water that laps at my local beach is literally connected to the rest of the world, and a kayak is a remarkable and intimate way to see that world. I’ve also yet to come across a red light or a fence post while out on the water, and that kind of freedom is highly addictive.

 

 

Barring money or logistics, what is your dream trip?

I find myself especially drawn to the multi-day expeditions and circumnavigations. In particular, the arctic regions of the world, maybe someplace like Baffin Island or Antarctica… but my wife would probably advocate for something in the warmer latitudes!

What’s in your milk crate?

Waterproofed iPhone, a GoPro, GU’s and energy bars, rescue / recovery gear, and a marine radio. If the weather is relaxed or I am kayaking with my wife, likely a couple of beers too.

 

 

Tell us about your best day on the water.

I was kayaking in a storm late last winter / early spring in the Big Sur area of California. I went specifically to practice coastal launches in the big waves, but as it turned out things were a bit spicier then we had anticipated. It had been storming for days, and 10 to 15′ waves were just dumping right on the beach every four to seven seconds with incredibly strong undertow. Very committing to try my hand in surf like that, and it was everything I could do to not get clobbered by these explosive monsters. I learned a LOT on that trip pretty quickly and ended up losing a lot of cherished gear. I had kayaked in several big storms before, but not on that scale. One day in particular after clearing the breakers, I was physically exhausted but on a high from the adrenaline and still getting used to the rhythm and physics of riding huge ocean rollers… the swell was at 25 feet, but with almost no wind so there was an eerie calm except for the mountains of water moving around me. I was about 4 miles offshore, and the fog was slowly burning off and allowed pockets of sunshine to punch through like a clearing in the forest. Between the energy in the ocean and the dynamic light, I was simply awestruck. It was as though I had suddenly broken into another world through a secret passage in the breakers. Just when I didn’t think it could get any more epic, a gray whale breached just 50 feet in front of me, and was gone in a flash behind the next roller. My inner happy place was completely remodeled that day.

 

 

What is the kayak lifestyle?

As much as I love planning and executing big trips, it’s the daily dose that really does it for me. My local beach is a hidden, unnamed park, and has parking for just three or four cars. While the conditions are different every time I head out, you tend to see the same few local characters everyday and every once in a while another kayaker you might know. That incremental fix does a lot for keeping me a little closer to sane in between expeditions.

Tell us a story, any story.

Legend has it my dad paid for my hospital bill from my birth with coyote pelts and deer skins. I guess that’s how you got a Montana birth certificate in those days.

 

 

Allow us to delve into the hypothetical. If you could assemble the current and upper echelon of kayak designers, complete with rapt attention and perfect note-taking practices, what, with regard to thoughts on contemporary boat design, would you tell them?

Honestly, I’d hope I could be the one taking a few notes. So many talented and smart people have given so much to the sport over the last millennium. I would love for some of that to rub off on me, and I am really looking forward to getting to know more of the people out there making kayaks. If I put my enthusiastic kayaker hat on, I’d ask the same thing of them that I try to ask myself creatively… which is to wrestle with a few questions: What might be holding kayaking back? Or maybe put another way, what’s missing from the sport? Ironically, successful creative thinking is habit forming, and one good idea forms ruts very quickly. It’s pretty tempting to try to emulate past success by repeating ourselves. But for the sport to thrive for another millennium, we’ll need to break new ground.

What does the future hold for you?

If I knew that I would be set! I’d be pretty happy if it involves a lot more kayaking, and perhaps making a few more kayaks that hopefully inspire people.

 

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