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WHY AN ICONIC WHITEWATER FAD WON’T DIE After a two-day flurry of card-

IN THE DAYS WHEN PLAY- BOATS were more than 10 feet long, freestyle was called ro- deo and pirouettes were a hot move, paddlers had a problem. It was the early ‘90s, and the

Pro-Tec and Wildwater hel- mets of the day worked well for protection but did nothing for sun protection. People layered baseball

caps under their helmets to add a brim, but the pressure of the hats’ buttons pressing into their skulls meant every paddling session ended with headaches. Around the same time,

Patrick Kruse sat in his Seal Beach, California, basement apartment trying to solve a dilemma of his own: how to launch his startup gear com- pany into the world of white- water and stand out against other manufacturers. A paddler himself, Kruse had

heard complaints about the baseball cap conundrum.

26 | RAPID

board and fabric cutting and pasting, he emerged with a de- sign that would push his new business into the mainstream. The Salamander brim was a hit. For years, every Dagger

Crossfire and Perception Pirou- ette contained a paddler whose helmet had a sticky Velcro strip and colorful, three-inch, foam- filled visor. It came out in more and more

colors and jungle and hibiscus patterns that would’ve made the Fresh Prince proud. More than two decades lat-

er, the same brim comes with the same Salamander logo on the same 600-denier poly- cloth and Volara foam with Velcro-705 molded hooks, as when Kruse first designed it. It remains on Salamander’s

best seller list and is easily the company’s defining product. In the late ‘90s though, helmet

companies like Orosi started catching on—modern helmets

emerged with built-in brims and started turning heads. The Salamander does of-

fer one advantage over built- in brims, says current owner, Shane Preston, who’s been with the company for six years. “If a kayaker is upside down, the bill will actually flip back rather than catch the water and yank your head back.” Today, companies like Sweet

Protection, WRSI, Shred Ready and Predator all make brimmed buckets of their own. But Sala- mander lives on. The company still sells 2,500

visors every year, although for the most part, it’s not us buy- ing them. “To be 100 percent honest,

it’s the horse industry—they love these things,” says Preston. Salamander now sells 20

times more brims to its eques- trian market than to whitewater paddlers. The visors fit on riding helmets just as well as they once did on whitewater helmets.

He’s also selling to bike and

ski shops. “For the hot kayakers, not too

many kids are wearing them because they’re a little dorky looking,” Preston says.


they work. You can’t deny that it gives you some nice protec- tion.” Salmander’s original visor de-

signer Patrick Kruse now runs a company called Ruffwear sell- ing performance dog gear in Oregon. Three years ago on a hot

summer day he was driving down Highway 395 towards Red Rock Canyon when a giant grin spread across his face. On the side of the road he saw a crew of 20 or so road workers, each with a bright

red Sala-

mander visor Velcroed to their hardhats. KATRINA PYNE


here—there’s a bold breed of boaters still rocking this 90s style—catch them in action.

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