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Arkansas is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with great hiking, camping, bike trails and lakes. Water sports are one of the state’s best attractions, with over 90,000 miles of rivers and streams and 600,000 acres of lakes throughout the state. That’s a lot of water for boating, fishing, and water sports. Kayaking is the most popular paddleboard sport in the U.S., and its popularity in Arkansas is increasing. In 2014, the city of Siloam Springs created the Siloam Springs Kayak Park as a regional destination for kayakers to enjoy. With the Buffalo National River, Mulberry, Cossatot and White Rivers, kayakers have plenty of water to enjoy. It’s no surprise that the state attracted the attention of a major producer of kayaks, Eddyline Kayaks. The brand announced its move from Washington to Siloam Springs, Arkansas, in October of this year.
Two kayakers take on whitewater at the Siloam Springs White Water Park.
Kayaking has been around for several thousand years. The Inuit and Aleutian peoples were the first to craft kayaks. These seafaring people were from the Arctic regions of the world, including Greenland, Canada, and Alaska, and used kayaks for hunting seals, waterfowl and even whales. The ability to “roll” a kayak was a safety feature of these small boats. If a hunter tipped over, they could quickly right themselves. Modern kayaking started in the 1800s when the French and Germans took this design and started using kayaks on rivers in Europe. In the 1920s, kayaking began gaining steam as a sport in the United States. The Olympics added the sport in 1936, and since that time, it has featured a wide variety of kayaking races in its competitions.
Eddyline Kayaks was founded in 1971 by Tom and Lisa Derrer. Tome was a whitewater kayaker who built his own fiberglass kayak after college and soon began crafting whitewater kayaks in his backyard. He then opened a small shop in Boulder, Colorado, to sell his well-crafted kayaks. In 1972, the Olympics featured whitewater kayaking as a sport, separate from other kayaking events, for the first time. It was a nice boost to the sport’s popularity. In 1973, Derrer moved his business to Washington and delved deeper into creating high-quality kayaks. Sea kayaking was also enjoying a boom, and the first manufacturers of sea kayaks were in Washington. The Derrers met Werner Furrer in Seattle, and a long business partnership was born. Furrer was a kayak designer originally from Austria who had been designing his own kayaks since the 1940s. Eddyline sold its first Furrer-designed kayak in 1975.
A kayaker in the Cossatot River kayak race in 2017.
In the early 1980s, only a small handful of companies in Washington were creating most kayaks for a sport still in its infancy. The shop owners decided to get together and start the Trade Association of Sea Kayaking. This later became the Trade Association of Paddlesports, which is still in existence. By coming together to form a non-profit organization, kayak manufacturers were able to share experiences with each other and gain new wisdom and expertise in the industry. Tom Derrer was an original founder, along with Werner Furrer.
This was the beginning of a long career for the Derrers and Eddyline Kayaks. The company became known as an innovator in the kayaking world. Tom Derrer sought to make a lightweight and durable kayak, something the market hadn’t yet created. Most kayaks were still made from heavy materials like fiberglass and polyethylene. In 1995, they piloted Carbonlite 2000, a 100% recyclable plastic blend that was 20% to 30% lighter than other kayaks on the market. Since then, Carbonlite 2000 has featured in Eddyline’s production, making it stand out in kayaking. Kayaking continued to grow as a hobby. Sea kayaking, white water kayaking and recreational kayaking all increased in popularity through the 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2017, after 46 years in business, the Derrers were ready to retire, but they wanted to ensure the continued success of Eddyline Kayaks. They handed the business over to a team of managers committed to keeping intact the high-quality designs and customer service that made Eddyline famous. That team included several employees who had been with Eddlyline for 20 years or more. Scott Holley also joined as President after a successful career as a strategy consultant for businesses. In 2021, Eddyline expanded its production to Queretaro, Mexico, to improve building capacity and its proximity to suppliers. That same year, Tom and Steuart Walton reached out to Eddyline and invested in the company as part of RZC Investments, which was founded to invest in sports and outdoor recreation businesses. After that investment, Eddyline announced it would move its headquarters and open a distribution center in Siloam Springs in 2023.
The Buffalo National River is a popular destination for kayakers in Arkansas. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.
Holley said of the decision, “The Natural State, Arkansas, resonates deeply with our ethos, both as a responsible business entity and as a community participant.” The location is perfect for the company, which previously only distributed from its headquarters in Washington. Eddyline experienced heightened demand for kayaks during the COVID-19 pandemic, a demand which hasn’t decreased. They maintain a list of 100 dealers in the U.S., with waiting lists for Eddyline kayaks. Over the last two years, the company managed to double its production and expects to do so again. Meanwhile, its location in Arkansas allows it to more easily reach the southern and central United States, where kayaking is popular.
Arkansas is well-known as a destination for outdoor sports, but with the addition of Eddyline Kayaks, its reputation as a welcoming place of business for outdoor sports companies is growing as well.
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