For more than a decade, AirKayaks has been selling the Advanced Elements line of inflatable kayaks and paddling gear.
The Advanced Elements product line was created in 2002 by two inventors, Charlie Hall and Clay Haller. Both had been involved in inflatable kayak design, but wanted to “push the envelope’ with a new concept – a “hybrid” design of inflatable and rigid components that perform more like a hardshell kayak, but portable, lightweight, and affordable.
What started off as a few solo models, has evolved to a fine-tuned collection, well-known for durability, performance and innovation.
Today Advanced Elements offers 13 kayak models, ranging in size from 7 ft 9 inches to 15 ft. These span the gamut of recreational to touring, fishing to whitewater, open and closed designs, in both solo and tandem models.
In 2010 Advanced Elements also forayed into the inflatable stand-up paddle board arena, currently offering 6 models ranging in size from 8 ft to 12.5 ft.
We first “met” Clay Haller and Charlie Hall by chance. In 2000, while driving through the vineyards of Santa Rosa, California, we noticed a yard sale sign pointing down a long grape-laden dirt road. Intrigued, we followed the signs, winding around and up a hill. Reaching the crescent, we looked down on the valley to see an amazing sight …. dozens of kayaks lined up in rows. Self-bailers, tandems, singles, sit-insides, paddles, pumps and prototypes – and all inflatable.
We had stumbled upon the original Stearns IK (inflatable kayak) design studio, and Clay and Charlie were cleaning house.
The early introduction set us on a different course, which ultimately led us to selling inflatable kayaks and developing AirKayaks.com. It wasn’t until 2002 that we chanced upon them again, this time as Advanced Elements.
We met up with Clay recently, to ask him a few questions about Advanced Elements.
AirKayaks: Who/what is Advanced Elements? How did you get started?
My business partner, Charlie Hall and I started Advanced Elements about 15 years ago with a completely new concept of a “hybrid inflatable kayak”. A kayak that performs more like a hardshell kayak than anything ever seen before. This model today is the AdvancedFrame.
Charlies’ wealth of experience as the inventor of the Waterbed, Sun Shower, and many other products, certainly guided the development and established a solid foundation to grow upon. Advanced Elements has grown into a company with key focus points, such as Product Development, and Customer Service, and we’re doing the very best to evolve the concept of the inflatable kayak and SUP, and to bring new and exciting products to market fifteen years later. I have always felt that it is more important to listen than it is to talk, and that is exactly what we do at Advanced Elements. We listen to our customers and encourage & appreciate the feedback that we get from them every day.
AirKayaks: What are some of the progressions you went through to get Advanced Elements where it is today?
When we started Advanced Elements we had some very simple goals that were centered around just a few kayaking products. Today we offer over a hundred products world-wide, and there were many progressions that we went through to get here. Certainly keeping a keen eye focused on production quality while staying true to our roots in design and development. Selecting our top concepts and developing them has been key.
AirKayaks: What are some of the challenges in developing the inflatable kayak market?
We, like any other company, have had our share of challenges. But it’s important to continue to be challenged AND challenge yourself as a company. That gives you something to shoot for… a level to set you sights on. Probably the greatest challenge initially was overcoming the perception of inflatable kayaks in general. Many people, years ago, equated the idea of an inflatable to a pool toy or something that was not performance oriented, and vulnerable to puncture. The AdvancedFrame kayak changed that. We were able to show how performance, durability, and portability could be achieved.
AirKayaks: Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of companies making inflatable kayaks. That number is increasing. What makes the Advanced Elements line stand out?
Yes, there have been some new companies enter the inflatable kayak market more recently, and there have also been a few that have gone away in the past few years. I think it is the nature of this and similar industries. Two things that I believe make Advanced Elements stand out is our solid reputation with our customers, and that we truly strive to create a better product year after year after year.
For instance, this year we introduced our new WaterTech™ Gear line of deck and cargo bags. Although we have always had a quality-built line of gear bags, they never really felt unified. So, we decided to start over from scratch to not only build a well thought-out family of gear bags that integrate with any kayak or watercraft, but a set of gear bags that really integrate well with Advanced Elements kayaks and paddle boards.
AirKayaks: We’ve been selling Advanced Elements kayaks for nearly fifteen years, and certainly the AdvancedFrame is by far our most popular due to it’s universal appeal and size. Which is personally your favorite kayak?
That is a great question… I have had so many awesome experiences in all of them over the years, but if pressed I would have to say it’s the kayak that we are designing for next year. Because each year they just get better and better. And that’s because every single one of us here wants our products to be the very best… it’s definitely one of our common passions.
AirKayaks: Where do you want to go from here, what are your plans for 2017 and beyond?
We want to continue to improve on the experience and the connection that our customers have with our brand worldwide. We also plan to stay true to our vision and never stop designing and innovating new products. I know that this will bring us to some very exciting places in the future of paddlesports!
AirKayaks: Thanks Clay, for taking the time to speak with us. We look forward to upcoming innovations over the next years!