In 1964 Uniroyal Tire Company developed an ultra-tough, relatively lightweight product that became a household name in the canoe industry. When Old Town Canoe introduced their Chipewyan in 1972, Royalex – which is constructed with an ABS core pinched between two layers of vinyl – became widely available. Mad River, Wenonah, Mohawk, and Dagger hopped on board quickly thereafter. More recently, Canadian companies such as Esquif, Nova Craft, and Clipper Canoes took advantage of this material in order to offer their customers a boat that was virtually indestructible.
Sadly, by the end of 2014 current manufacturer PolyOne will cease production of Royalex due to high costs of production and use limited within the canoe industry. Also, with such high production costs it is unlikely another company will pick up Royalex, which means brands will need to source out another comparable product. The most effected by this change will be the whitewater market where canoes have to be durable and smooth enough to slide off rocks – Royalex met these demands at an affordable price to the consumer.
So where will companies turn when it comes time to replace the Royalex legacy?
Next in line to fill the gap is polyethylene, but weights of poly boats are high and gouging is a concern. Other materials that are currently being researched are Polycarbonate, a type of plastic found in bulletproof glass, and long-fiber thermoplastics. So far neither of these two materials has proven to be commercially viable.
Until Royalex’s equivalent surfaces, it can be assumed that canoe manufacturers will focus on making incredibly stiff composite canoes (i.e. fibreglass, carbon, Kevlar) designed for flat-water touring. With infusion building processes and thin-gauged composite cloths, touring canoes are able to be built with sharp entry and exit points to maximize efficiency. Conversely, the thickness of Royalex meant canoes in this layup were forced to have blunt ends, and therefore poor efficiency, which is why these boats excelled in whitewater conditions.
The ocean’s tide cannot be stopped, and accordingly, the tide’s of change will continue to move forward. Royalex may be beached but there is sure to be another material waiting just below the surface. Until that material comes afloat there is only one thing we can do… Paddle on!