A week ago, I was covered in sawdust, industrial-strength adhesives and varnishes, using power tools, wearing ear, eye, and breathing protection. Why? To understand the process by which hand-crafted oars for drift boats, rafts, kayaks, SUP’s, and canoes are made. …
Smallmouth Bass are a “Big Deal” in the recreational angling industry. Big enough that for more than the last 200 years, anglers have been pursuing them using varied techniques all across the United States as impacts to their native range increase. Like cold water species, demands on Smallmouth habitat and conservation are issues that anglers and fishing guides are paying big attention to. Once an Upper Midwest species that thrived in specific watersheds, you can find Smallmouth and anglers chasing them in places like California, Texas, Washington and referred to by many names – bronzeback, brown bass, brownie, smallie, bronze bass, and bareback bass.
One of the groups working to protect these fish is led by Mike Simon, Founding Member of the Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance. “We’re very excited about partnering with Sawyer Paddles & Oars. Funding for our projects is so important, and an opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often.” Mike says that the need and requests for conservation work grow each year. “This year’s projects include working with other organizations to continue supporting children’s programs. We are working with the newly forming Northern Wisconsin Smallmouth Alliance. We are helping to fund access to the Couderay River and to get special regs on the St. Croix and Namekogan Rivers (part of the National Scenic Riverways). We have also received a request to fund stocking of smallmouth bass in Little Falls Lake in the Willow River State Park. We’ve recently purchased new aluminum signs that will continue our program of posting “Free the Fighter” signs at landings around the state.”
There are groups of anglers following the example of Wisconsin, with members in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan, where Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters guides clients and operates a fly shop. Mike and his team offer guided trips on six rivers in Southern Michigan and in exotic locations, but his “local” water, the Huron River, is the river his shop is on and is truly a gem of a Smallmouth stream. Flowing 125 miles from its origin in Oakland County, to the mouth at Lake Erie, the Huron is a varied and productive fishery. Schultz Outfitters is the only full time fly fishing guide service working the entire Huron River watershed. One of his signature fly patterns, the Swinging D, is a six-inch long foam head baitfish imitation that mimics a wounded meal for a hungry Smallmouth. I’ve got a few in my streamer box, and their massive profile is intimidating, but appealing to anglers too.
So, why is a 53-year old paddle and oar company based in Oregon excited about a Midwest fish found in warm water? Well, for one, our founder Ralph Sawyer is a Michigander (so is the author) who made his name as a canoe racer on the Au Sable, the same places where anglers and guides like Tim and Mike have made their careers. And, we care about conservation; not just cold water species, but fish that our customers and Ambassadors advocate for. When I visited Tim and his crew at their shop and “guide house” in Wisconsin last summer, I found guides just as passionate and “real” as anywhere. Same boats, same stories, same Ping Pong table (ahem, we did beat the guys from SCOTF at a match) in a well-worn garage complete with grill, supplies, and fly-making materials scattered about.
Among our lively discussions was creating a new Artisan Series SquareTop Oar featuring a well known warm-water species artist named Matt Stockton. Matt’s work has been featured on Simms products, fly shops, lodges, and stickers on probably most of Michigan’s guide boats. Like our Artisan Series artists, Matt is an angler who expresses his passion for fishing and conservation visually, and his work is striking and expressive. When I reached out to him for a partnership, he had already heard that Sawyer was interested and we progressed quickly in the design and production process. In March, Tim and Mike will launch his signature Smallmouth Oar at two of the biggest fly fishing shows in the country, the MidWest Fly Fishing Show and the Great Waters Fly Expo.
Their shops will be the exclusive source for pre-ordering until March 23rd, when this model will be available at Sawyer Station and at select Authorized Dealers across the country. Proceeds from the sales of this oar will benefit the conservation projects and work done by the Smallmouth Alliance groups across the country. We at Sawyer Paddles and Oars are excited to partner with passionate anglers, artists, and conservation groups working to protect places and species they care about. Through our collaborations, financial support is provided to fund their programs and goals. Join us in celebrating their work and “functional art” with the Artisan Series SquareTop Oar!
You may have heard of this world-famous sockeye salmon fishery or the Pebble Mine, one with it’s home and spawning grounds in a pristine, nutrient-rich ocean habitat. The other, an open-pit mine planned in it’s headwaters. If not, here’s what you need to know about the organizations and people behind the campaign.
Save Bristol Bay is a group of individuals, organizations and businesses dedicated to protecting Bristol Bay’s wild salmon, jobs and communities from the proposed Pebble mine.
“North America’s salmon powerhouse, Bristol Bay, Alaska, is threatened by the massive proposed gold and copper mine. Working closely with commercial fishermen, tribes, sportsmen and women, local businesses and many others across the country Trout Unlimited works to protect these iconic and productive rivers and the people they support.”
As a community and company of anglers and whitewater enthusiasts, we support fisheries conservation to protect salmonid and warm-water species for generations to come. If not for the fish, and cold, clean water – where would we be?
“As an industry and fly fishing community, we have been fighting for over a decade to keep Pebble Mine from devastating Bristol Bay and the fisheries that sustain 14,000 jobs, a $1.5 billion dollar annual economic engine, native communities and a world-class destination to fly fish. On August 24th, the fly fishing community is coming together as one undeniable force in support of Bristol Bay.
We are asking all AFFTA members and industry professionals nationwide to join us for A Day for Bristol Bay on August 24th to raise much-needed funding for the Bristol Bay Defense Fund – the front-line group that is going toe-to-toe in D.C. with the foreign mining interests behind the mine. We urge you to participate!”
We’re back in Oklahoma City, OK for the third year of Paddlesports Retailer, the previous year being the first time with a “Demo Day” opportunity at nearby RiversportOKC. Oklahoma City, and whitewater you say? Indeed, as they say all rivers run to the sea and one comes right through town to feed the venue and its multiple track plus pool facility.
As with 2018, there are opportunities for retail buyers and outfitters to meet with Team Sawyer as Zac, Aaron, and Derek are here supporting the indoor and demo area aspects of the show. If you haven’t set an appointment for learning about our 2020 preseason paddle and oar program, please email email@example.com to learn more.
Set up is nearly complete, with a new and expanded display including new graphics.
Monday is the Demo Day at RiversportOKC, with three days of floor time to meet up and learn about Sawyer and our line of paddles and oars. See you there!
There’s a reason why specialty paddling shops thrive, where great customer service, product knowledge, up to date river conditions and special events make them a valued resource in the community. When you step into a great shop, you’ll find staff that have experience using the products they sell, continually have in stock, and likely used on the water recently. Makes sense, right? We believe that specialty retail shopsare integral to our success, and yours on the water.
Meet Mike Donovan, Owner & Founder of Sunshine Sportsin Billings, MT. Mike’s rafting career started many years ago, at 10 years old when he and two brothers won a raft in a local contest, and the rest is history.
“I have rowed countless days with all the best selling brands of oars and at this point in the journey, I now row with the Sawyer SquareTop Dyno-X Shoal Cut oars. “I believe the innovation and performance of a Sawyer oar cannot be matched by any of the competing oar brands. Sawyer offers the greatest depth of oar models each offering different performance characteristics.” So we asked Mike how Sunshine staff makes the customer experience stand out.
“We use an interactive demonstration comparing the varying flex and whip of different shafts and blades really drives home the differences, and helps a customer choose between the many models.” At Sawyer, we call this “the unduplicated feel and progressive flex that only a tapered wood shaft delivers.” The added strength of a carbon fiber braid wrap and the over-sized “SquareTop” from the handle to the rope wrap provides a counter balanced feel without compromising flotation. Yes, a counter balanced oar that floats… flat on the water!
Mike stressed that his staff are pro’s at explaining the benefit of the comfort and forgiveness of rowing an oar with more uniform flex, and how a more balanced oar can reduce the fatigue of lifting an unbalanced oar 1000’s of times per day. That’s music to his customer’s ears, and we agree. Until next time, Eddy Out!
January 25th – Dolores River Boating Advocates 6th Annual Permit Party
Join our Southern US Territory Manager Aaron Stone in Dolores, Colorado on Friday, January 25th from 6-10 PM. Click here for tickets and more information to support responsible recreational use and balanced flow management while protecting the watershed for the health of the natural environment and livelihood of future generations. Silent auction for a set of Polecat Oars with Dynalite Blades!
March 2 – Blackfoot River Outfitters
Join us in Missoula, Montana for the 8th Annual Fly Fishing Gear Swap & Skwalapalooza event at BRO in Missoula, on Saturday, March 2nd. Watch the BRO website and Facebook pages for more details. We’ll have special pricing on new paddles and oars, and oar locks.
March 15 & 16 – TU Western Regional
Sawyer has supported Trout Unlimited‘s cold water conservation work with our special label Polecat oars, and will be expanding the ability to show your support with new products, launching in 2019. Join us in Olympia, WA at the Western Regional meeting to see what’s new and learn about TU’s work in Washington.
April 4 – 7th – Great Alaska Sportsman Show
We’re headed to Alaska for this big show, taking place in early April. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for pre-orders.
April 5-7, Raftopia with DRE, Colorado
April 13, Utah WW Gear in SLC, UT
April 19 & 20 – Gold Hill, Oregon
It’s our annual Spring Consignment and New Product sale! We’ll have a great selection of new and used boats, boards, IK’s, canoes and river gear with store-wide discounts on a number of awesome products. 20% off all Paddles and Oars 20% off all Dry Boxes 15% off all Boats and Boards 15% off all Life Vest and Dry Bags Discounted Consignment Products. See you at Sawyer Station in Gold Hill. Kid friendly, 10 am to 6 pm each day.
April 25-28th – Orvis Guide Rendezvous
We’re back to Missoula in late April for the ever-popular 33rd Annual Orvis event that draws guides and outfitters from across the country to Missoula. There’s a fly fishing film event, community day at Caras Park, and more. See the Orvis website to register and bring your professional water sports guide licenses to sign up for the Sawyer Pro Program. Make sure to order ahead and we’ll deliver your new oars to Missoula for a big savings!
April 26-28, Colorado TU Rendezvous
May 4, Eddyline Boat Swap, Moab UT
May 17-19, DRE Rendezvous, Buena Vista, CO
May 18 – Caddis Festival Craig, Montana
What can we say, Montana is a great place to be and the Missouri River is hallowed fly fishing water in the Western US. The Caddis Festival is a community-wide event that features artists, kids events, BBQ cook off, and more. Look for Big Red parked in front of Cross Currents Fly Shop on Main Street – can’t miss it! Guides and Outfitters, save your early season tips and pick up a new set of Squaretops!
May 30-June 2, Yampa River Festival, Steamboat Springs, CO
June 13-16, FIBARK River Festival, Salida CO
June 20-22, Gunnison River Festival
July 13, Town of Frisco Triathlon, Frisco CO
July 13-14th – Outside Experience, Chicago Illinois
We’re excited to attend one of the premier events in 2019, the Outside Experience Show in Chicago the weekend of July 13-14. Along with way, we’re stopping at water sports hot spots like Bismarck, ND & Madison, Wisconsin for product Demo Day’s with local shops. Watch for the Big Red Road Trip in your town!
August – Paddlesports Retailer, OKC
In August 2018, we joined the world’s best brands and retail shop owners & buyers in OKC, Oklahoma for the PSR event. With on-water demo opportunities at Riversport OKC and the man-made whitewater course (amazing, to say the least!) including live music we’re not alone in wanting August 2019 to hurry up and get here.
September 28th- Casting For Recovery
We’re on the road to Hamilton, MT to support the Casting for Recovery program that enriches the lives of women in all stages of breast cancer through outdoor retreats that transform their healing and create communities of support. There’s a set of Artisan Series Brown Trout SquareTop Shoal Cut oars up for auction to help fundraise for retreats. See you there!
FOR HALF A CENTURY (AND CHANGE), OREGON MANUFACTURER SAWYER PADDLES & OARS HAS BEEN INNOVATING THE BEST OARS MONEY CAN BUY
By: KM Collins
“Maravia hits its 50th anniversary this year, and Cascade River Gear has been in business for 43 years. It’s important to tell the story of legacy river companies because it’s a small and very niche market. For companies like ours to last, we have to work together and strive to improve our products and services on an ongoing basis.”
Angela Sherman, former river guide and Chief Operating Officer, Maravia Rafts and Cascade River Gear
Legend has it that Ralph Sawyer never really wanted to get into the oar business in the first place. A renowned Great Lakes marathon canoeist, in 1967, he broke free from Michigan and put thousands of miles between himself and his partners at Sawyer Canoe Company. Ralph was content to run the handcrafted wooden paddle division from Rogue River, Oregon and sink into his newfound love, west coast whitewater.
Meanwhile, Willie Illingworth was a Southern Oregonian fervently searching for the perfect drift boat design. Out of a mutual affinity for hand shaping innovative boats and boat components, Willie searched Ralph out and unrelentingly pestered him into fashioning wooden oars for his yet to be manifested dream boat. After all, who better for the job than a pro wooden canoe paddle builder. When Willie began constructing his now signature aluminum, McKenzie style drift boat, Ralph gave in and handcrafted his first set of wooden oars for Willie.
Unbeknownst to either party, this first partnership was the moment of inception for what would be Sawyer Paddles & Oars unchallenged reign as an industry leader in the niche market of wooden (and composite) oars (and paddles) for decades to come. According to Jim Bittle, current Willie Boats CEO, one through-line has always remained the same between the companies; a strong ethic toward collaboration with each other and industry wide. Bittle states, “There is power in numbers and partnership. Companies with well-grounded relationships can tackle obstacles and finish strong. Both companies value where we are now and understand how we got here. Over the years, Willie Boats has worked with Sawyer owners Ralph Sawyer, Bruce Bergstrom, Pete Newport and the current leadership team, Zac Kauffman (CEO), Israel Ramirez (Operations Manager), and Shyne Tourville (Production Supervisor) to develop oars that are unrivaled in the industry.”
Oars have always been a focal point at Sawyer. Staying true to their origin story, if you look at the sum of total revenue at Sawyer as a fully outfitted vessel, splitting up product categories in the de-rig, oars make up 65% with an undercurrent of 35% paddles in overall sales.
To get a sense of the trajectory of oar technology and design over the last half-century and the role Sawyer has played in that evolution, one needs to consider that since inception, Sawyer has been primarily guided by the lens of a canoeist (Ralph) and/or a drift boater (Willie).
What do these two watercraft have in common? They are rigid boats requiring a discerning and detail-oriented pilot to operate successfully. Canoeists and drift boaters frequently refer to running rapids in their rigid crafts as dancing on water. The nuance of each stroke and the interplay with whitewater can be far more consequential than that of a raft or inflated vessel.
Throughout Sawyer’s tenure, they have continually partnered with the nation’s top drift boat companies. More recently, Stealth Craft (Michigan) since 1996, Stream Tech Boats (Idaho) since 1997 and Adipose Boat Works (Montana) since 2010. Even before the partnership, often for decades, many operators worked closely with Sawyer as guides and customers, sharing product feedback and design perspectives.
Most paddle and oar companies haven’t had the blessing (and curse) of design progression heavily influenced and, in some cases, completely driven by rigid water crafts. A blessing to the end-user regarding oars because the final product shows enhanced precision and detail for which all river user groups benefit, drift boaters and rafters alike.
This guiding light has been the foundation of Sawyer’s ability to simultaneously stay true to their roots in producing homegrown wood paddles and oars as well as break the mold and recast oar design with innovative technology that utilizes emerging market materials. A bearing toward tradition and innovation combined with thoughtful explorations of expansion and acquisition are the components that, when assembled with artisan’s hands, have made Sawyer as a whole a world-renown paddle and oar manufacturer.
Pioneering and Trailblazing
The first time Sawyer broke the mold was in 1969 with the Sawyer Light oar. They were originally shaped from laminated pacific northwest straight grain Douglas fir (a wood known for its light weight to high strength ratio). As their original bread and butter staple oar product, the spirit of this first wood oar model is infused in many oar models today and is still the go-to for guides and drift boaters.
By 1987 (five years after this article’s author was born), when Bruce Bergstrom stepped into leadership at Sawyer, the company had an excellent reputation for handcrafting quality, lightweight and durable paddles and oars. With such a great reputation, they were quickly outgrowing their Rogue River facility. Even better, they were poised to acquire their top competition.
In 1991 a larger manufacturing headquarters was opened in Talent, Oregon, and soon Smoker Paddles and Oars was incorporated, including their marquee product, the solid ash, heavy-duty Smoker Whitewater oar. Smoker was an all-wood oar company who made wagon wheel spokes at the turn of the century and started making oars in the 1930s. Keen to focus on other pursuits, they were eager to sell the oar division. With these major achievements notched in Sawyer’s belt, the company was free to initiate a tech revolution in the river industry. Materials revolution
By the 90s, composite materials had worked their way into the mainstream and were readily incorporated into many common consumer products as a cost-effective replacement for wood and metal. Bringing composite materials into paddle and oar manufacturing was one step towards modernization for Sawyer and one giant leap for the paddle industry.
Under Bergstrom’s leadership, flagship products made from wood, plastic and composite materials (sometimes merged into a singular oar) were brought to customers like never before. Hot commodities like crowd-pleasing SquareTop oars, rough-and-tumble burly DyneLite blades, fan-favorite MX shafts, the Polecat series and blending composite shafts with optional wood blades (and handles) allowed for wide market coverage over many price points and customer needs.
The origin of combining carbon fiber with wood started with a product called the Fir-Lam DyneLite (not in circulation since 2010) which shaft-wise was essentially a twin to the Sawyer Light, with a DyneLite Blade built on. At the time, mid-composite revolution, customers were shying away from wood a bit, and the product of this blended material kept Sawyer competitive. With a lightweight DyneLite blade and the soft flex of a wood shaft, the swing weight was smooth, and it was an overnight sensation.
Kauffman notes the only problem: “It wasn’t super beefy. From the get-go, the product was over-bladed and under-shafted.” Translation: Guides were maxing out the models’ capabilities on 18-foot rafts weighted down with eight plus passengers. The blade caught lots of current, and the high flex shaft couldn’t help but crack, buckle or break at the shaft/blade junction point. Out of Bergstrom’s desire to repair wooden shafts and reinforce the Fir-lam DyneLite came the concept of blending wood and composites. Soon, instead of a technique for repairing, the carbon and fiber-glass over-wrap approach was standardized and infused in the building process for many products. The approach was a seminal work that continues to greatly influence oar design at Sawyer today.
Keeping a finger on the pulse
Thoughtfully listening to industry and partner input has continually led to innovations at Sawyer. When Gary Beebee of Mountain Drift Boat in Teton Valley, Idaho, suggested a “spoonbill” shaped oar blade in the early 2000s, Sawyer was game. Beebee recalls, “Before I became a fishing guide, I was a whitewater kayaker. When the first spoon whitewater kayak blades came out, I switched to the blade styles and never used a straight one again. When the DyneLite blade came out, I asked Bergstrom if he would make me one with the spoon shape. Up until the development of the composite material the DyneLite blade was composed of, a wood spoon blade would have been out of the question. Bergstrom agreed, and I sent him a pattern of the shape I was interested in. He built it. This is now the long-standing signature Mountain Driftboat Oar. To Bruce’s surprise, it became quite popular, and he designed the shoal cut blade to complement the Mountain Drift Boat blade. Just a few years ago, Kauffman designed the third spoon blade for the Smoker Bandit oar, the smallest and lightest shoal cut blade.” Read more about the Smoker Bandit oar below.
Another unique oar design Sawyer re-awakened was the concept of balanced oars (not to be confused with counterbalanced oars), which provide a low impact and friendly swing weight for a lifetime of fishing and drift boat guides. Although the design was in play over 100 years ago, when lazy shapers didn’t always round out the upper portion of their oars, Sawyer breathed new life into this idea in their now infamous and trademarked SquareTops. Although customers were initially reluctant, the risk paid off, and paddlers across all genres of boating notoriously treasure this product.
By the time anglers were hooked on SquareTops, “Crazy” Pete Newport was poised to take the helm at Sawyer. Starting in 2011, Newport led the charge in tightening up business practices, culling down product offerings, developing a riverside retail brick and mortar called Sawyer Station and generally trimming the company fat. The retail location in Gold Hill, adjacent to the Nugget section of the Rogue River, would serve as an easy-access demo location for customers and allow more staff to learn how to paddle.
Newport noted when he entered Sawyer, post composite material revolution boom, they were making about 4,000 products, 40% of which were Sawyer branded. Like in any environment of unchecked exponential growth, an in-house spring cleaning was in order. “We killed any product that did not have the ability to be number one in its market. We ended up with a line of over 200 oars, oar locks and paddles. I brought a vision to grow Sawyer into the industry’s product quality and service leader, which required daily changes in products, services, and craftsmanship, made by a team that knew how to use the products they were creating.”
In addition to the spring cleaning and codifying business practices, a significant part of Newport’s legacy at Sawyer was ensuring that the hands producing the products were the hands of tried and true paddlers. Although this legacy has been ever-present in many ways, an explicit return to this ethic was paramount to Sawyer’s goal to be the industry product quality and service leader for decades to come. Water-sports enthusiasts around the globe will tell you the reverberation of this value can be felt through each paddle and oar produced by Sawyer.
Masters of Research & Development
Today, Sawyer’s partner since 1985, Phil Walczynski of Down River Equipment, recognizes the reverb and says, “Sawyer’s innovation is cutting edge because they’re constantly listening to people who spend a lot of time on their oars.”
Case and point, just as a changing of the guard was happening between Newport and Kauffman in 2019, Justin Waayenberg, General Manager at Adipose Boatworks, tested Sawyers’ willingness to evolve. The result was the aforementioned Smoker Bandit. “It wasn’t the easiest, and I know Zac had a lot of apprehension about making the Smoker Bandits,” explains Waayenberg. “As a wood oar company, the idea of turning the original Smoker oar design from wood to a complete carbon fiber oar shaft (with a carbon blade) seemed incomprehensible.”
But Waayenberg remembers, “After a few years of persuasion and conversations at different events, Sawyer stepped up and took the plunge. Many companies, especially in the outdoor space, are stuck in their ways and don’t want to change with the times. Sawyer saw an opportunity to stay ahead of the market and be an innovator and took it. From what I can see, the Bandits have been a big seller for them.” The Smoker Bandit is only four pounds, about half the weight of an average oar. It has a light swing weight and is highly sought after by drift-boaters.
This commitment to partnership and listening to paddlers’ needs is a consistent theme throughout Sawyer’s 55- year stronghold. “I know that Mountain Drift Boat would not have reached the success we have if it wasn’t for our partnership with Sawyer. Sawyer oars are built by rowers and paddlers with a passion for the sport, and it shows in the products they build. Professional guides are hard on their equipment, and Sawyer has built a product that performs and can take the punishment of everyday use,” expresses Beebe.
Bittle echoes the sentiment by saying, “What’s most compelling about Sawyer’s legacy is their ability to adapt to the demands of the industry.”
Current Cultural Shifts
Presently, Kauffman says, Sawyer’s biggest challenge to date is keeping up with unprecedented post-COVID outdoor industry product demand. With Sawyer since 2012 and CEO since 2019, Kauffman says to keep pace; Sawyer has hired and trained new staff, created a quick ship ordering tool that gives customers access to any items Sawyer has in excess and encourages customers to prioritize buying from dealers. Never before has the industry seen such a backlog of fulfillment, and this has catalyzed an industry-wide paradigm shift. No one is sure how long the demand will last, if they should plan to expand accordingly or if it’s a boom and bust bubble.
Another modern challenge is finding effective ways to promote the conservation of waterways and fish populations amid a global climate crisis. “Things we have taken for granted are in danger now. First, we see the effects on fisheries; once the fish are gone, with big business stealing water rights, the river could be gone next. Many of us make a living on the fact that we have free-flowing rivers in the west. Out east, rivers are overly polluted, and this wouldn’t be an option.” For this reason, Kauffman partnered with Link Jackson of Streamtech Boats to create the Artisan Oar Series featuring Cutty Rain Brown and Steelhead art overlaid and permanently affixed to SquareTop oars.
Purchase of these oars benefits Pacific Rivers and their mission to protect and restore the watershed ecosystems of the west to ensure river health, biodiversity and clean water for present and future generations. Other non-profit organizations Sawyer supports include Save Our Wild Salmon, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates and Guide Relief Program.
A final climate challenge Southern Oregon residents and businesses face every year (including Sawyer) is wildfires. In 2020 the Almeda Fire raged through many parts of the region, including Talent. Kauffman had to evacuate headquarters and, like many of his staff, his and his family’s residence. “For a 24-hour period, I had no idea if we had a business or home left standing. When the dust settled, our business and home were spared. Many employees were not so lucky.”
Kauffman felt he needed to do something to help others whose personal belongings and houses were lost to the inferno. He harnessed the reputation of the Sawyer brand to raise over $54,000, which was distributed to Talent School District, Northwest Seasonal Workers, Unete, MRG Foundation, United Way Food Unites and Re-make Talent. Kauffman also led the charge in promoting several Go Fund Me campaigns on behalf of his staff to help cushion their enormous losses.
A kingpin in the market since day one, overcoming challenge after challenge, Sawyer is now celebrating 55 years of handcrafting paddles and oars with virtually no competition and no end in sight.
It’s hard to know what exactly makes a company stand the test of time. What is in the secret sauce that keeps bringing us back for more? Just like a great oar is only as good as the sum of its parts – a successful, gold-standard brand like Sawyer must be assembled from 24-carat, top-shelf components. Though we want to break down the winning formula piece by piece, pinpointing some flavors in the recipe can be harder than others. Whatever the coveted spice, the industry unanimously agrees that Sawyer is a pillar that upholds the legacy of paddling worldwide. Exactly how they’ve managed to stay such a solid sentinel for over half a century is a compelling mystery infused in every paddle and oar they produce.
Our hats are off to Sawyer. Here’s to another 55 plus years. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The outdoor industry is experiencing a watershed moment in market growth and expansion. The boating industry, a niche of the outdoor industry, has been hustling triple time to meet the ever growing customer demand. On top of increased demand, up river logjams like shipping slow downs and supply shortages are still plaguing fulfillment as the economy rebounds from shutdowns in the early pandemic days. Sawyer has not been immune to the challenges of recent complex global events have brought to putting products in the hands of loyal customers.
“Sawyer is producing the most amount of product that we have ever produced in the history of the company, ever,” notes owner/operator and CEO Zac Kauffman. “Orders have increased, the volume has increased, and it hasn’t stopped. We are building inventory and products around the clock, all the time and it’s just not enough to where we have tons of stock.”
A big question Sawyer is asking: How much of this surge in customer base will be retained in the long run? “We aren’t able to just flip a switch and increase our output to 400% more than what it was pre-pandemic. We have been hiring and training staff for two years, but we are still playing catchup.”
A big question customers are asking: “When is X item going to be in stock?” The answer is complex, and here’s why…
Sawyer is a manufacturer and not a warehouse so all our products require assembly time
Sawyer’s ability to create highly desirable, built-to-order customized paddles and oars is an extra obstacle to navigate in product delivery. One of the most iconic and specialized products Sawyer produces are oars carved and shaped on-site from ash and Douglas fir, in Southern Oregon at our manufacturing facility and headquarters. Assembly options for these oars like handle styles, blade shape and rope wrap specifications all require unique components that must first be in-stock before assembly can occur. Theoretically, if the options you choose are in stock (fingers crossed), then those components will still typically take several processes to come to completion.
Kauffman explains, “Sawyer walks a line of customization with our products. Our paddles and oars are handcrafted, not created in mass like pez dispensers. Shaping wood, making something by hand along with other assembly requires artistic nuance. There are many hands that touch all aspects of our paddles and oars during assembly. Even something that seems as simple as an MXS oar shaft requires a lot of hands.”
At the moment, fulfillment times on various Sawyer products range from 2 to 8 weeks. To break this down, it takes 2-4 weeks for your order to enter the queue. In other words there is a lag time for your order to be received, read and put through to the production floor. If assembly can be done the day it hits the production floor, the process starts to speed up. If the order is more complex like MXS oar shafts with custom patterns and counter balance, DyneLite PRO Oar Blades, Gilman Grips and Karmik re-connect gear labels (which must be fiber-glassed into the item), then the fulfillment process will take longer.
Though delayed product delivery is the new normal (throughout the outdoor industry and beyond), here’s a cheat sheet you can use to scout and negotiate product delays when ordering with Sawyer.
Plan ahead and get in the queue
With multi-week delivery times for the foreseeable future, it’s best to map out your gear budget and needs upwards of 8 weeks in advance. To ensure you will have the paddles and oars you need for commercial trips, fishing expeditions and private boating; order even earlier. Start to think of the process of ordering oars like the permit system. Get organized. Have all your information and dates ready and get in the queue way in advance. The earlier you place your order, the better your odds are of receiving the gear you need in time for the river trips you want to go on. The fulfillment process doesn’t start until you press the button and order.
The more basic the order you place, the faster Sawyer can get it into your hands. When you call to consult staff or email about your order, ask what components are easiest to get in stock (i.e. Polecat and MXS Oar Shafts vs. SquareTops) and what oar options are the simplest to assemble. Remember, the more custom and specialized your order, the longer it will take to fulfill it.
Buy direct from a dealer o(a)r Sawyer Station
Dealers are stocked up, sometimes even more so than Sawyer home-base is. Although the exact product with all the customizations you want may not be available on any given retail floor, at a local dealer or at Sawyer Station, there are still plenty of great products that will more than get the job done. Maybe the full carbon wrap on the SquareTops isn’t in stock but a hybrid carbon and fiberglass shaft could be. Weigh the options and decide how big a difference these minor shifts are so that you can walk out with your oars in hand, same day. Use Sawyer’s Dealer Locator tool to help!
Be patient with sales representatives, paddle shops and dealers
The real key to obtaining your dream oar setup as quickly as possible is sweet talking your sales rep. Be as nice as you can to the front line staff fielding inquiries. They are doing the best they can to get you the goods you want. Plus, you never know when you’ll need all that banked river karma, so keep adding to the account!
We know how frustrating it can be waiting for a shiny set of custom Sawyer oars for your raft or drift boat. Sawyer has added extra shifts, we have crews working on the weekends, we’ve also increased our shipping capacity. Use the cheat sheet recommendations and trust that Sawyer is doing everything in our power to uphold our reputation for hand crafting the best paddles and oars, industry wide. After all, like they always say, the best things are worth waiting for.