Monday, May 03, 2010

The Development of the Liquidlogic Versa Board

The first day paddling the first Versa Board prototype.

The Versa Board started more than a year ago as just an experiment in this style of craft.  We were interested to see what direction this type of vehicle would go for Liquidlogic.  At the time Native Watercraft (our partner in Legacy Paddlesports) had been developing a stand up paddle board that was more of a touring design and Woody and I had a few ideas of how we could bring a completely  different angle to a Stand Up Paddle board, and a great compliment to the Native designed Osceola.  We wanted to make a board that anyone could use because of its versatility.

The first day is also the day we knew that it was cool.

I started the design in the computer so that we could look at it before taking the time to build a model.  Doing it in the computer allows me to check stability, and some of the efficiency details.  After doing that I started a very basic plug, made of sections glued together.  Allen and I spent the better part of a week gluing all the sections together and shaping the final model in from the sections.  The nice thing about this technique is that it allows me to paddle something right away rather than having to wait on making a mold and making plastic prototypes.  It also allowed us to make modifications in fiberglass and test right away as well.  Then once we felt like we were close we made a final model so that we could do plastic prototypes.

Gluing the sections together to start the boat.

Allen working on hull concepts.

After paddling lots of SUPs it was pretty obvious that there were very few designs that were made for the beginner, or person unfamiliar with stand up board sports.  Standing up is a strange way to move if you haven't done it before.  Most boards are tippy to stand on and this would be a hinderance for lots of people that might want to get into the sport.  Traditional stand up paddleboards do track well but the other thing they don't do well is turn.  So that is where we figured we would use the retractable skeg that we have in several of our boats.  The skeg allows the boat to track when you want by dropping the skeg down in the water but when you want to turn just flip the lever and the boat spins more easily.  The other thing that was not being addressed by other boards was the lack of storage space and accessorizing capabilities.  So this got us started on a board that would be a great beginner board but also be versatile enough that anyone would want to paddle one and use it for lots of different applications.

Checking out the stability on Proto #2.

First testing of the swivel seat idea.  Very cold day for a cool idea.

The vision for the Versa board was that it could be paddled standing up but it would also be a great sit on top kayak.  That idea lead us to many different hull shapes, outfitting options, deck rigging, and potential for alternative uses like fishing, physical training, and stand up touring.  In the first prototype it was evident that we were onto something.  There was the obvious cool factor of stand up paddling.  When you paddle this type of craft standing up you get a totally different perspective on the water.  As a kayaker you are used to being down in the boat, and down in the water.  With an SUP (stand up paddleboard) you are much higher especially when you are standing but even sitting down you are above the water more because of the broader flatter hull of a board.  In a whitewater or touring kayak you will draw nearly twice the water and the seats are on the hull which puts you pretty far down in the water.  On the Versa board you are sitting up on top of the boat and it is only drawing a few inches so therefore you are higher to start with which is fun because it feels like you are skimming along the surface.  Functionally for fishermen its a great advantage to be up high to see down in the water while fishing.  We also saw that anyone was able to paddle this board because of its solid stability.  Many times during prototyping we had people tell us they didn't think they could stand up and paddle but with in just a few moments on the board they said "this is way easier than I thought it would be".

Allen shaping in the foot rests.

Once we found it to be a fun boat to paddle both standing and sitting we started producing different ideas for seating options, and other accessories for the Versa Board.  The surface area was a natural platform for storage so we started adding bungees bow and stern to store more items.  We made sure to keep lots of flat surfaces for attaching any type of accessory be it for fishing or touring.  Over the last 10 years there has been a boom in kayak fishing and this boat lent itself perfectly to that concept.  The guys in our company that fish started drooling right away when they first saw the Versa Board because of all the potential for customizing.  One of our seating ideas is a seat that swivels 360 degrees.  This is another option that made our fishing buddies go nuts.  Not only did this allow the entire area around the boat to be fished but it also allowed a fisherman or any paddler to access any gear on the boat, no matter where it was.

Versa in the surf zone.

Woody stowing on proto 5.

Woody and I have spent a lot of time on these boards playing around with ideas but also just watching how people reacted and played with the Versa boards.  Woody started paddling it down an easy stretch of moving water including a couple rapids, and I got into taking my dogs out on the board for workouts or just getting out on the water.  Woody found that everyone wanted to try it.  Folks are drawn to the completely different way of paddling.  My dogs love going out on the board.  They walk around while I paddle out into our local lake.  One thing I noticed but hadn't anticipated was how good a core workout it was.  I assumed it would wear my arms out but in fact my abs were what was tired by the time I came in.  One of the coolest things of all is watching how much fun kids have on the board.  They can stand up, move around, jump off, and because its low and flat they can climb back in on their own.  Its a great floating play platform on the water.

Woody paddling the play platform.

Even dogs love the Versa Board

So after a years worth of testing.  We feel like we have a boat that anyone can have a great time on because of it's confidence inspiring stability for beginners yet it has the easy handling capabilities and versatility to be anything you want.  Start with the performance of the board and add in all the accessories including deck storage bags and coolers, a paddle holder, 2 different seating options with one of them swiveling 360 degrees, and an accessory track called the Groove which will allow the attachment of many new accessories and you have a completely versatile, hybrid craft to paddle.

Chelsea touring the Biltmore House.

   All totalled we did 7 different prototypes of this board.  We spent a lot of time getting the performance, stability, and function dialed in for all types of paddling.  Through all that testing and prototyping we realized that there is a lot more to the potential of this board than just stand up paddling.  This board is comfortable touring, in oceans or on lakes, gentle streams and even easy whitewater.  I think you are going to love it.

Here are a bunch more shots we have taken of the Versa during development.

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