When we took on the challenge of developing a brand new high-end whitewater kayak paddle in 2023, one of the experts we called on for input was Jonny Ortiz.
Aqua Bound’s new Aerial Carbon crank shaft whitewater paddle (photo courtesy of Casey Bryant/Level Six)
Jonny has been involved in paddlesports for many years. A long-time kayak instructor through ACA (American Canoe Association), he’s now an ACA Instructor Trainer (he teaches paddling instructors how to teach). He’s also the e-commerce manager and buyer for Colorado Kayak Supply, the world’s largest whitewater-specific e-commerce company.
Jonny lives in western North Carolina where he’s able to get on the whitewater rivers in his area 200+ days a year. “When there’s rain, there’s no other place I’d rather be,” he said. “With the dam releases and being so close to the Appalachians it’s prime whitewater.”
We were fortunate to get his input on the design and construction of our Aerial Whitewater Paddle, as well as have him test prototypes and now our finished product himself. We’re very grateful for the feedback we received from Jonny and other whitewater experts like him.
We recently followed up with him with a couple of questions for our readers to understand the process and final product a little bit more:
AQUA BOUND: Tell us about the importance of a paddle to a whitewater kayaker.
JONNY: The paddle is one of the five essential pieces for a whitewater kayaker—you have your boat, your paddle, a PFD, helmet and skirt.
The paddle is what provides feedback with the water. It’s the tool that allows you to become intimate with the water. You can create an anchor with it, move your boat. Push, pull and feel what the water’s doing. Of those five pieces, your paddle is one of the most important.
The Aerial Fiberglass straight shaft whitewater paddle (photo courtesy of Oliver Dressel)
AQUA BOUND: How were you involved in Aerial’s development?
JONNY: We sell probably 600 paddles a year through Colorado Kayak Supply, so I was one among a handful of people Aqua Bound reached out to for input and feedback.
In all honesty, when your team told me you wanted to go after the whitewater market, I knew it would be an uphill battle with your competitors. You’d really need to get out there and grind and make a product that’s as good if not better than more established players in the market.
I think you’ve done that with the Aerial. Your commitment to whitewater and the amount of testing done with me and others, the investment in time and engineering—it’s unmatched compared to everybody else.
Aqua Bound sent out what you thought was a dope paddle to a handful of us product testers. We gave our feedback and then a month later that feedback was implemented into another prototype. Your team did that four times.
I would get a prototype, write on the paddle to cut away some material here or make it thicker there. Your team would take that and re-engineer another prototype with the feedback from all of us.
The Aerial Carbon (photo courtesy of Casey Bryant/Level Six)
No one else in the industry has put as much into a product in the last five years as Aqua Bound has with this one.
AQUA BOUND: Who is Aerial for?
JONNY: Putting on my instructor hat, early on people lose their paddle! They flip and panic, they can’t breathe, they let go of their paddle and it’s off downriver. So, when new whitewater kayakers are developing their technique I recommend a lower-investment paddle, like Aqua Bound’s Shred. The odds are you’re going to lose it.
As you develop as a paddler and ingrain sound fundamental skills, you learn how to swim and keep your paddle. That’s normally two to four years in. So an intermediate kayaker can pull the trigger on a sweet paddle like one of the Aerial models.
Then you’re ready to focus on paddle rigidity, your stroke efficiency, and a light swing weight that’s such a huge bonus to your energy systems. You’re then ready to invest some serious cash because you know you’re committed to this paddlesport.
The Aerial is expensive, no doubt. Aqua Bound has over-engineered it for durability and performance, so the price tag is high upfront.
But you could buy a competitor’s paddle for $450, then pay another $450 a year or two later, and then again a year or two after that. The Aerial could potentially be the last paddle you ever buy, which is insane to think about.
Thanks to Jonny Ortiz for taking a few minutes to talk with us! (photo courtesy of Curtis May Photography)
Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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