The Road to 2012 OR: Testing and the Next Generation

I’m now back in the USA, and I cannot describe the joy of being with my family. The heart-warming, sunshine of a smile of my daughter as she gleams at me; the uncontrolled passion of my son as he holds his kayaking line, and the comforting companionship of my wife’s embrace were a welcomed feeling after a month of detachment.

I got a lot accomplished in Thailand and now it is time for the testing phase. I love the period in the process where my art is transformed into a product; merging design, functionality and style with an emphasis on durability. And then, the true test:  how does it all work in the water?

This phase in the year also happens to correspond with the events season when the paddling community comes together to celebrate our rivers and our sport.  I learn a lot during this time, watching the next generation of paddlers and making note of their habits and preferences.  Kayaking is a sport that has changed relatively quickly over the past decade.   By spending quality time with the paddling community during this time, I am able to predict future trends and preferences, keeping Bomber Gear on the cutting edge every year.

Product testing and traveling to paddling events during this phase is not only a great time for me to learn more about my products and the paddling community, but it is also an ideal time to share the river with a next generation paddler, my son, Kai. One of the greatest joys in life is being on the water with my boy. Now a solid class IV paddler, he learned to roll at age six, and for the past four years he has been pushing the envelope of what a kid his age and size can paddle.  He is the youngest by far to paddle most of the rivers we have done. Paddling with my son is both rewarding and extremely stressful.  My own life is no longer the greatest consideration at hand.  When I think of my memories between the ages of 6 and 10 years old, I find myself recalling very little. I wonder how much he will remember and how this will impact his life. I have pondered on that often.

Week one of testing begins with five laps on the Nantahala River’s Cascades, and I was very encouraged by how well the pieces performed.  Sure, a few small changes are required, as usual. All my designs are a work in progress, as I can’t help but to constantly contemplate ways to make them better – it’s in my nature.  I am a paddler at heart, and getting to test the product I have created gives my soul fulfillment.  This is one of the core reasons I got into designing.  I get to experience firsthand the design application of my art.  It’s truly an expression of function in extreme sports.

An uneventful day of testing on a class IV run turned to class V stress quickly as Kai decided to take the lead and call the lines on the last two laps.  Thankfully, cheers of gratification follow clean lines, and while I have yet to see my son make a serious mistake on the river, I continually reassure him that we paddlers are all between swims. He looks at me in disbelief.

Week two of testing takes us down to Alabama for the Alabama Mountain Games. This is a unique event that not only includes freestyle, but also includes a “hucking” competition where paddlers do tricks off a 25 foot waterfall, including cartwheels, barrel rolls and loops. In my 20 years of experience at paddling events, this is the only one I know of to host a competition quite like this. My son and I look forward to this event all year.

Kai ran the waterfall many times that day, but the run that will stick with me for the rest of my life was truly unforgettable. We lined up to run the drop together – I wanted a picture of both us in the air together. As Kai and I charged side by side off the edge of the waterfall, I saw out of the corner of my eye that he had flipped completely over at the top of the lip. He threw his body over and pulled off a complete air screw coming down the face of the drop.  I was astounded, as he had only watched other paddlers do this trick but had never been taught how or attempted it himself.  I can’t help but be proud of him.

As the founder and designer of Bomber Gear, I don’t just create the product.  I test the product as work and I test the product in play.  And I am inspired by the next generation of paddlers, boats and equipment. What is possible now was just not merely ten years ago. If I am going to create the best product in the industry, I have to keep up with the paddling trends and preferences of the next generation of paddlers.  Lucky for me, I have one living in my house who is more than willing to travel to events and help me test products, too.  At the core of it all, I am just a paddler with a passion for design. And now I am honored to pass that on to my son.

Stay fluid,

Rick Franken

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Stylin’ this Spring

Screen Shot from Rapid's test day on the Ottawa River

Rapid Magazine agrees that stylin’ this spring is our K-Bomb Mandala Sprayskirt!

“Like any good accessory, Bomber Gear’s K-Bomb skirt turns heads and can be personalized to match the rest of your outfit.” –Rapid Mag

Finding a skirt that will stay on the boat in all conditions and keep you dry can be hard to find, though now you can have the best of both worlds (with an added fashion forward sense). Rapid praises not only the look of the Mandala, but the structure of the Teflon-based ink injected neoprene that keeps paddlers dry. The bomber shock cord fits so snug around the cockpi-rim there is no room for implosion.

Check out the full length article here:

Tallulah Fest Paddle Wagon Photo Contest

The Bomb Dry Top

This year Dagger is a proud sponsor of Tallulah Fest 2012 and we’re giving away our top of the line Bomb Dry Top!!!

To win this sick dry top all you have to do is send your best “paddle wagon” photo to tallulahfest@gmail.com.

First place, of course, gets the Bomb Dry Top, while second and third place are not forgotten! Keen, Smith Optics, Mountain Khakis, and Immersion Research prizes will be awarded!

Watch the video for more details: 

Like” Tallulah Fest on Facebook!

Tallulah Fest celebrates the release of the Tallulah Gorge, and donates money to American Whitewater. A weekend of being outside on the water, listening to handmade music, and having a good time is what this event is all about!

Come out and see us!

The Road to 2012 OR: Culture in the Design Process

I wake up early and commute through the complex order of traffic that makes up the Chang Mai streets. Motorcycles, trucks and street venders line the morning road as I wind through, enjoying the lawlessness of driving in Thailand. It is here, submersed in such a seemingly chaotic culture that I find beauty and inspiration that doesn’t just move me; it moves through me, and thus the Bomber Gear brand as well.   As I move along the ever changing (and sometimes somewhat treacherous) road to 2012 Outdoor Retailer, I’m often fascinated by the inspiration and metaphors that strike me on so many levels in the design process.

I have been here two weeks submersed deep in design and Thai culture. I work closely with the operators, adjusting and experimenting to perfect a vision of the finished design.
I create the patterns in the US and bring them here. They are nothing but blue prints, lines on paper. It is when I am at the factory working with the team that the lines of paper evolve into a finished good. There are always challenges – things that don’t quite work, mistakes that happen – but when the idea grows into a product that I can be proud of, a sense of accomplishment swells inside of me.

The days are long, but the workers are dedicated as we push through development. I have found working with Thai people is emotionally rewarding and inspiring. They are a passionate culture that is focused on hard work and perfection. They are willing push long hours, and assist in every way to ensure high-end quality product. I have been working with this factory since 1999.

Because Thailand has a monarchy, there is a subdued class system. The concept of being born into a class is very foreign to Americans, but is a way of life here. I find if I break through that precursor and work with them at their level, sew with them, help them seam rip mistakes, and spend time getting to know them as coworkers, a dedication emerges that I am proud to witness. I manage the workers by not being above them, but by working at their level, facing the challenges with them. Bomber Gear’s products and production processes are very complex. It takes skilled workers with a passion to do quality work and to create a high-end product line.

Spending time on the factory floor is a must, but it’s mentally exhausting. At the end of an eleven hour shift that has evolved into a seven day work week, I find little time to unwind. I have not had a day to my self in two weeks. But after this long day, I wanted to do something different. I had enough of picking up street food for supper on my way back to the hotel, then falling a sleep to Thai TV.

I wanted to learn how to drive a took-took. I had seen them on the streets of Thailand my whole life, and have used them for transportation many times. A took-took is a kind of 3 wheeled Taxi motorcycle hybrid that runs on propane. Took-took drivers are a breed of their own; they are considered a lower class people and they are always hustling for a fare. When you walk by them, they all call out to you, “Took-took Sir?” in their broken English, “Where you go?”

This time was different. I looked him right in the eyes, and spoke back to him in perfect Thai. “I want to learn to drive a took-took. Can you teach me?” Taken back, he did not know what to make of me. “I will pay you 500 bhat, for 1 hour of lessons and driving.” This changed the tune; 500 bhat was more than he was going to make in a week. One American dollar is equal to about 30 baht. “OK” he said in his broken English.I climbed into the cockpit to find myself sitting in a confusing array of levers, petals and a gear box. The left foot petal is the clutch; the right foot is the back break. The left hand lever is the front break the right hand is the throttle. And to make it very interesting, the gear box shifter is between the legs. Driving this machine was one of the most ambidextrous experiences of my life. The took-took driver, Aum, sat behind me leaning over my shoulder, giving directions as I began to maneuver this strange vehicle.

The first 10 minutes was sheer madness. I popped the clutch, the front end lifted up in a wheelie, and we were off, ripping through traffic. Thai’s were either diving out of the way or pointing there fingers at the crazy white man. It was pure fun! After about 30 minutes of driving, I really started to get the hang of it. It was a choreographed dance between my hands and feet as we motored through the streets. At this point I was ready for my first fare, and Aum was completely into the joke of it all. We rolled up to a tourist hot spot, I lean my head out and in my best broken English accent, “Hello sir, where you go? Took-took 50 baht?” Everyone laughed; it sure was a fun night. I bought Aum a bottle of cheap Thai whiskey as a tip and thanked him for an incredible experience.

It is hard to be away from my family but it is also a rewarding experience to be here.   I compare my took-took experience to my relationship with the workers at the factory. By relating to them at their level and not succumbing to the hierarchy of a class system, I am able to achieve and experience amazing things within this culture and within the Bomber Gear brand by simply digging deeper.  Into the culture, into the things that inspire me, and  into the processes and materials that will make up the future Bomber Gear line.  Stay tuned to find out more about the products I discover in the process.

Stay fluid,

Rick Franken