Did you know kayaks were initially designed by Inuit seal hunters from driftwood and sealskin? That’s right, nearly every piece of gear we use today originated out of necessity many years ago. Likely to surprise you, the Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO, which recently won the 2018 Outdoor Industry Award in Friedrichsen, Germany, has an eclectic origin of its own. It’s lineage traces back to an icon of the 1970s: the waterbed! You didn’t see that coming, did you?
At that time, Charlie Hall was a graduate student studying design at San Francisco State University and living in the Haight-Asbury, the epicenter of 1967’s “Summer of Love.” He came up with the first waterbed as a graduate project to improve human comfort. The Waterbed made its’ first appearance at a “Happy Happening” in Haight that summer. Hall patented the waterbed in 1971 and it went on to become a symbol of the 70s, along with bell-bottoms, disco, and sideburns. Oh the memories! But unlike bell-bottoms or sideburns, the waterbed evolved into Hall’s current venture, Advanced Elements inflatable kayaks.
The connection between the two may not seem obvious, but to Hall, his kayaks accomplish a similar goal:
In both waterbeds and inflatable kayaks, you are essentially designing a strong bladder filled with air or water. With a bed you are keeping water in and with a kayak you are keeping water out.
Along the journey from the waterbed to the kayak, Hall also designed the Sunshower, a bladder that can be placed on a rock to heat up in the sun, and when hung from a tree, it delivers a warm shower.
Additionally, Hall sees design as a way to introduce people to new ideas. Advanced Elements makes kayaking accessible, which is important to Hall, who received his first boat as an 11-year old growing up in Florida.
Advanced Element’s designs combine high-pressure air chambers and aluminum frames to create a kayak that can fit in a closet or the trunk of a car, be set up quickly, and paddle well.
“You’ve got a problem if you’re living in a downtown apartment and have a 16-foot, 70-pound boat,” Hall said. We wanted to create a kayak that would make the entire experience simple and paddle like a respectable kayak, not a pool toy.” From Hall’s perspective, more people will kayak if they can do it without car-topping a heavy boat, renting garage space or spending an hour putting a complex frame together on the beach.
To Hall, design is about seeing old things in new ways. His inspiration for Advanced Elements grew from the idea to combine air chambers with aluminum frames instead of just one or the other, which resulted in either wide and slow, wind-vulnerable shapes or complex erector-set-like contraption.
One of Advanced Element’s best sellers, the 15’ Advanced Frame Convertible Kayak, changes from an open cockpit boat to either closed-cockpit single or tandem by simply adjusting the deck. “It fits the bill for a people who need extra storage space for true expeditions or who want the flexibility of paddling alone or tandem but don’t have the room or budget for a fleet of kayaks,” Hall says. All it took was re-envisioning the idea that a kayak was either a double or single, and then the fun part for Hall: figuring out how to do it.
Design is about reimagining, taking the good stuff and making it better. Essentially this boils down to refining a concept and then refining it again until you find the ideal design. When you’re an entrepreneur and designer, you accept that some things will fly and others won’t.
Hall is most proud of the fact that Advanced Elements kayaks are priced reasonably for the average person, ranging from an MSRP of $299 to $1099. This makes kayaking accessible to people who might see a higher price tag and say, “that’s not for me.” Another sign of good design, Advanced Element’s first kayak, the Advanced Frame, is still one of their best sellers.
And like ocean tides that drain out only to return later, the waterbed is back. Hall has been reimagining the “float waterbed” with a partner in Florida. “We’ll know how it goes over in the coming months.” says Hall. In the meantime, he can paddle any of his kayaks from his front door on Bainbridge Island, WA.