Fluid Kayaks is headed by Celliers Kruger, one of South Africa’s most accomplished whitewater paddlers, who happened to be a mechanical engineer with an excellent understanding of fluid dynamics. He is the Managing Director of Fluid and also the designer of Fluid’s products.
Celliers also kindly agreed to take part in the Unsponsored Q&A series.
Do you all consider yourself to be the craziest designer, coming up with the wildest designs; do you see yourself as pushing the design envelope?
How do you define that? Being different is not neccesarily being progressive. In my own way I’m doing some new things that hasn’t been done before, and creating some designs and concepts that are pretty unique in the market. I have some crazy ideas that hasn’t been tested before by anyone, but first got to pay the bills. 🙂
What was your biggest blunder?
I’ve only designed 17 boats so far, no blunders yet.
Biggest success – personal, and commercial?
Personally there have been many. Staying alive in Africa is one. Some highlights are writing and publishing SA’s first river guidebook, having a beautiful baby (my wife did, actually, but I also had a part in that), building a sports car with my dad when I was 19, doing some first descents. Commercially, getting Fluid where it is now is quite a success story. A specific highlight at Fluid was designing and building a rotomoulder in 6 weeks, the same one which is still moulding all our kayaks.
What made you get in to designing kayak equipment? When did it all start?
I’ve been wanting to design kayaks since I was at university in the early 90’s, and built my first fibreglass kayak when I was still a student. I had a bursary to study, so after finishing my degree in mechanical engineering I had to work for 4 years for the company who gave me the bursary. While I was working full time at this company ( major steel manufacturer), I started designing and building composite paddles and helmets as a sideline. Left the company at the beginning of 2000 and decided to take a break. I travelled and paddled for a year and a half with my wife (who’s also a very competent paddler), and then spent a few months writing “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”. I published the book at the end of 2001, then spend another couple of months travelling and paddling, and wrote a business plan to start Fluid Kayaks. I got investors in September 2002, and since then I’ve been running Fluid and designing boats. I’ve designed many different things over the years, and still do at Fluid where I design all the machines and equipment in the factory, but nothing gives me a kick like seeing a new boat going in production.
Who is your biggest source of inspiration within the paddling world (and why)?
This is a difficult one. I don’t have any hero’s in the paddling world or otherwise. If I have to choose someone, I would say the general paddling public. Few things beat seeing other paddlers buying my boats and enjoying them on the water.
Given the choice where would want to paddle?
My favourite type of paddling is expeditions, so any trip that involves a couple of nights on the river bank is fine with me. If it’s a first descent, it’s a bonus. Having said that, the Zambezi will always be a favourite.
Do you all know each other? Can Robert Peerson ring up Celliers Kruger and pick his brain?
I’m living and paddling quite far away from the mainstream paddling scene, so haven’t spent much time with the guys. I know most of the other designers, and have a lot of respect for some of them, like Corran for his contributions to the sport over the years, and Robert Pearson for what he did with Wavesport’s boats lately, but can’t call them my friends because I simply don’t know them that well. I’m not sure if the other designers are close enough to each other to actually share ideas, but it’s certainly not the case with me. It has advantages and disadvantages in some ways.
Do you wish boaters would treat your gear better? Or is it that you just have to make tougher stuff to put up with abusive paddlers?
Paddlers can be a bit demanding sometimes. They expect the lightest boats on the market, but also the strongest, with the fanciest outfitting, and all of this at the lowest price possible. On top of that, they want new models to choose from every year. They’re really not making it easy for kayak manufacturers. But I guess that’s the way the world has changed in general. Always quicker, better, cheaper. I do understand it though, I’m also a paddler and also want the best. We are constantly trying to improve quality to handle any abuse paddlers can throw at the boats.
How are materials and design process technology progressing our gear and our sport?
There are many ways to answer this question. From a designer’s point of view, it’s both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is obvious, but it’s also a curse because you’re never the only one with access to new materials or other technology. And even if you are, you won’t be the only one for long. It’s the same with all technology. Cell phones and computers and email and internet have made everybody’s lifes easier, but it also raised the level of competition. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s great. They have more choices and can progress in their sport faster because the gear makes it easier and safer.
Let us know what’s going on in the world of RnD. What is the next big thing?
You don’t really expect me to tell you any secrets, do you?
Many thanks Celliers!