After retiring from the Navy, US Naval Survival Instructor Ed Halm launched the Backwater Paddle Company in 2007.
After retiring from the Navy, US Naval Survival Instructor Ed Halm launched the Backwater Paddle Company in 2007.
Given Halm’s vast paddling and military survival experience, he identified potential paddling problems and provided distinctive solutions to the paddle sports market in an immeasurable way — leading up to the patented Backwater Paddle design.
The patented hook-and-teeth blade design provides unparalleled function. The hook on the top of the radically designed blades affords the paddler the opportunity to grab onto lines, docks, trees, boats, swimmers and life preservers. The teeth on the outside blade edge provide positive contact during any pushing evolution with the paddles.
In the first edition of PD&D’s Inside Design, Halm discusses the development of the kayak paddle prototypes from concept to manufacture while staring into an economic disaster.
PD&D: After retiring from the Navy, what made you choose the Kayak market?
Ed Halm: I retired to Florida. Florida, being a topographically challenged state, surrounded by miles of flat water and ocean, power boating is an obvious and widespread activity.
The Predator Kayak Fishing Hand Paddle in action.
As an avid outdoors sportsman, ex naval survival instructor and eco-tour guide, I had to get to where the action is. Getting there frequently required transiting bodies of water. I am all about stealth. You want to see wildlife? Then don’t scare them away. Paddle sports are the only way to go. Kayaks happened to be my vehicle of choice.
PD&D: How did you come up with the hook and teeth blade concept?
Halm: My paddle partner, Liz Chapman, and I were paddling the Little Econlochatchee River during a low flow period. We came upon a strainer, some obstacles that block the river, and we did not want to get out and portage our boats.
From inside my kayak I tried to reach down into the water and work the submerged debris loose. Of course, I could not obtain any leverage floating in the water. Every time I tried to pull it to the surface, it wanted to pull me down or roll me over.
Every time I tried to push the pile of debris, my kayak paddle blade would skid off, nearly sending me into the water. There was no way to eliminate the obstruction without going swimming. I eventually got out of my kayak and into the water.
Braving gators, I wrestled the tree limbs loose, freed the river and of course, saved the day.
At the time, all I wanted was some type of hook to grab onto that debris and yank it out. Having been a survival instructor for the U.S. Navy, I knew the next time I had an encounter like this I’d have something to deal with it. Early the next morning I awoke with a blade design.
Raptor Kayak Paddle prototype
To establish proof of concept, I grabbed one of my cheaper kayak paddles, drew some designs on the blades and started hacking away.
After a couple of trials, botched blades, and a few more trips to buy paddles to whack up, the concept of the hook-and-teeth eventually became what you see now.
PD&D: Do you sacrifice performance by using the hook-and-teeth blade design?
Halm: Backwater Paddles is sacrificing nothing, we are making the paddles perform better with no sacrifice in hydrodynamics or paddle performance with the hook-and-teeth kayak paddle design.
High-speed blade flutter from the hook end is negligible. Less than 2 percent of the paddle power face is modified from the conventional blade design. Paddle strength and integrity is paramount.
We will not compromise performance and quality for design; we will ensure that the manufacturing materials and processes guarantee a high quality, lightweight and durable kayak or canoe paddle.
Think about it, these paddles will outperform any other comparable brand. Show me another paddle that provides even the same degree of dynamic functionality and safety as a Backwater Paddle. There are none.
Keep in mind our paddles are specifically designed for the kayak adventurer, angler, sportsman and enthusiast. We are not in the high performance paddle sports racing or whitewater markets … yet.
Piranha Kayak Fishing Hand Paddle
PD&D: Describe the process from concept to manufacture; did you experience any pitfalls along the way?
Halm: After performing some preliminary research on the paddle sports market, I obtained patents on the hook-and-teeth kayak paddle blade design.
My military training prepared me for the entrepreneurial spirit I needed for this project to succeed. The project went along fairly smooth. Fortunately, with computers and internet, all the research is at your finger tips.
Feedback on the blade design was extremely positive. As with all projects, it is all about time and money, lots of money. Finding capital is the hardest part of any project start-up.
A nightmare happened on the way to manufacturing and production of the Raptor Kayak Paddles — the great recession of 2008.
We had a composite manufacturing company, a plastics manufacturing company and investors all lined up and ready to ink the deals. Suddenly the economy collapsed, the investors bailed, the manufacturers were dumbfounded and I was left hanging with a killer paddle project.
Here I was again, no money, no credit and broke.
Tooling injection molds for kayak blades, canoe blades, drip stops, handles and shaft grips was in excess of $100K. Having the aluminum shafts swaged and anodized, the composite shafts manufactured, branding, packaging, shipping materials for the project, another $50K. After a year or so of relentless searching for investors, I knew the project was stalled. The investment community was frozen with paranoia and not coming off their capital anytime soon.
This is when the Predator and Piranha Kayak Fishing Hand Paddle project came to life. Again, my military background kicked in. I knew failure was not an option for my company.
Paddling, particularly kayak fishing, was taking off as one of the fastest growing water sports. Living in Florida, skinny water fishing is everywhere. With growth, there is always opportunity.
I noticed some intrepid kayak anglers using ping pong paddles, Kadema paddles or chunks of wood to move their kayaks while fishing. Come to find out, it is darn near impossible to paddle your kayak with a seven foot kayak paddle, hold your fishing rod and be stealthy at the same time.
The dilemma became whether to paddle or fish? You had to set something down to do one or the other. The Predator and Piranha Kayak Fishing Hand Paddles were specifically designed for the kayak angler, sportsman or enthusiast wanting to fish, photograph or shoot and move their boat, all without spooking the prey.
Kurt Horn, a skilled woodworking craftsman and kayak angler, came to the rescue. Together we designed the Predator and Piranha Kayak Fishing Hand Paddles. We can manufacture these hand paddles without requiring huge investments of capital.
Our plan is to get the kayak hand paddle market up and running, secure enough working capital and invest into the tooling of the Raptor Kayak Paddles. This way, we do not have to get involved with any major investors. Keep the money in the house, so to speak.
PD&D: How are the paddles manufactured?
Halm: The introductory line of Raptor Kayak Paddles and Havoc Canoe Paddles will be manufactured from polypropylene via plastic injection molding.
Glass and nylon additives will be introduced into the polypropylene during the injection molding process to provide a more flexible and durable blade. This line of paddles will have lightweight aircraft aluminum and fiberglass shafts.
High end kayak paddles will be molded through compression molding and vacuum bagging processes using fiberglass, carbon fiber and Kevlar composite materials. These paddles will include fiberglass or carbon fiber shafts.
The Predator and Piranha Hand Paddles are currently hand crafted from select hard woods, then waterproofed. We will be introducing a polypropylene plastic injected model and are investigating structural foam as another manufacturing component.
PD&D: Do you expect resistance from traditionalists?
Halm: Of course, Kayaking has remained traditional since the Inuit’s first stretched seal skins over wooden frames centuries ago.
Just recently (the last 20 years), kayak designs have significantly evolved to reflect various paddling environments, manufacturing processes and materials.
However, basic paddle designs have never really morphed with their dynamic surroundings. They have changed the material compositions, but the basic blade design has remained constant.
Implementing such a radical blade design has obviously born some skepticism. These doubters are simply unaware and have not tried the paddle. Once these non believers employ the hook-and-teeth design, they are ready to endorse the Raptor Kayak Paddles.
PD&D: Aesthetically, the paddle design offers a unique “cool factor.” How much did you stake in the products physical appeal?
Halm: 100 percent functional ability was the driving motivation. The “cool factor” was never the design intention.
I wanted a kayak paddle that would get me out of a jam. Despite all the blade modifications, I was lucky that a decent form followed the paddles function. We not only had a badass paddle, but wound up with a cool blade design that has captured the paddle sport markets attention.
Fortunately, it was all the positive feedback from anglers, outfitters, sportsmen and enthusiasts that motivated me to run with that design. I never expected the paddles unique physical appearance to offer that “cool factor,” yet figure so much in its marketing identity.
PD&D: What has been the initial market response?
Halm: The Raptor Kayak Paddle is not on the market yet (due to the recession). However, a number of local outfitters and guides use the prototype Raptor Kayak Paddles daily.
Visitors and tour guests are always inquisitive and ask about their availability. I receive numerous inquiries at our website from potential customers and outfitters wanting the paddles. Their enthusiasm has exceeded my expectations.
Once we procure enough working capital, we will re-start the Raptor Kayak Paddle manufacturing project. There are a lot of big upfront costs in manufacturing that new paddle design. I expect it to be available this summer.
The Predator and Piranha Kayak Fishing Hand Paddles are on the market. They are the answer to the kayak angler and sportsmen’s dilemma. They are also the answer to procuring the necessary funds for Backwater Paddles future design and production. Keep in mind, there has never been a bona fide kayak fishing hand paddle in the paddle sports market.
Backwater Paddle Company identified, manufactured and is marketing an innovative paddle to fill a new market. As kayak fishermen and sportsmen become aware of the benefits of hand paddles, product sales are increasing exponentially.
PD&D: What has been your most memorable experience throughout the product’s design and development?
Halm: Knowledge. I have learned so much valuable information about design, manufacturing, production, marketing and networking. I love the challenge of introducing an innovative new product to the consumer market. My reward is realizing that Backwater Paddle Company is revolutionizing the paddle sports market in a beneficial way.
For more information on the Backwater Paddle Company and the eye-catching new paddles, visit www.backwaterpaddles.com.