We received our new issue of Paddlesport Business in the mail the other day here at Endless River Adventures and while perusing through came across an article about the world wide shortage of carbon fiber.  What would paddling be without carbon fiber…in our paddles, our helmets…keeping us safe?!?

Our interest in the shortage problem comes on a couple of different levels. As a retailer we worry about the availability and affordability of the products we carry–many of which contain a form of carbon.  As paddlers we are also concerned about the strength of the products (like the helmets and paddles that we use).  So what’s going on? Why have the paddling/fishing/biking/and racket sports industries been hit so hard by the lack of available carbon fiber and are there any alternativesâ€?

The Why: blame seems to be settling with two major culprits: the airline industry and the Military.  The Airbus 350 and 380 are large consumers of carbon fiber.  The 350 includes fully composite tails and wings, and the 380 has a wingspan of over 100 yards with an all composite tail.  Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is the first commercial jet to be 50% carbon fiber.  The decrease in weight allows that Boeing to fly from England to Australia without refueling.  If that’s not a draw for other airline manufactures to start using carbon fiber then I don’t know what is! 

TAP Plastics discusses the military’s seemingly endless uses for carbon fiber.  There’s jets, helicopters, body armor, helmets, holsters, missiles, and on and on.  Then, of course, there are the other markets for carbon fiber that seem to take priority over paddle sports: Windmills, for example, which have become a large source of alternate energy, have carbon fiber blades if they are 50m or longer, hmmm, alternative energy or carbon fiber paddle blades.      

So where does that leave kayakers?  We rely on tough, affordable gear, but how much are we willing to pay or our super tough super light paddles, helmets, and boats.  I called Scott at Lendal paddles to ask them how they planned to deal with the shortage and how that plan would affect their dealers and customers.  He let me know that they have had to slightly increase the price of their paddles but he also made a valid point, if you remove the issue of the war, the major causes of the carbon shortage are in actually very environmentally conscious.  Airlines are using carbon fiber to make planes lighter, in turn using less fuel, causing less pollution.  Windmills, by creating an alternative source of energy, reduce the amount of natural resources used and of course also reduce emissions making for a cleaner environment.  So if the reason that we as consumers have to pay more for our carbon loaded products is in the long run to help create a cleaner, healthier environment then are we not all willing to chip in a few extra bucks?  After all doesn’t a cleaner environment lead to healthier rivers and more opportunities to paddle them? 

Alternatives: Many companies are looking for alternatives to carbon fiber.  One cycling company is using bamboo joined with carbon, impregnated with wet epoxy, and wound around joints.  So will Sweet’s new helmet be a sporty bamboo tan?  Brian Sites—distributor of Sweet Helmets, assures me it won’t.  Sweet has actually been working on a new material that they planned on introducing next winter.  The material is a bit stronger that the current carbon helmet and closely resembles it in color, due to the shortage the new material will be introduced in the helmets that are being shipped to retailers now. 

 In the long run it seems inevitable that the consumer will incur some of the price increases caused by the shortage.  Robert Marte of Head NV, a major producer of tennis and squash rackets and skis says carbon fiber cost 150% more than it did two years ago.  With predictions that the shortage will last 3 more years will the paddle sports industry be saved by new and upcoming materials or are water enthusiast so devoted to carbon fiber that they will pay ever increasing prices for the products they love?  But then, what price the protection of our head???