Sea Kayak Retailing [42]

A Flotsam and Jetsam Special Investigation

Following a chorus of indignation from long suffering sea paddlers, Flotsam has at last carried out an investigation into the sea kayaking industry and its pricing policies. We first contacted the Australian Consumer Association (ACA) to check on whether perceptions of steep price rises were actually correct. ACA spokesperson Adele Cutey told Flotsam “from about $1,750.00 about 4 years ago, the mean price for a fibreglass sea kayak is now about $2,200.00 and rising… an increase well above the rate of inflation…”

Flotsam then sought the opinion of a number of paddlers in the NSWSKC. Unfortunately, those willing to speak out were fearful of provoking legal action from the dreaded ‘manufacturers’ – a ruthless industry cartel that vigorously suppresses any sign of dissent amongst consumers. An example of this, according to one reliable source, was the cartels recent but failed bid to stop the Club Chat Forum debating kayak construction techniques (this after two sea kayaks had disintegrated when crossing a ferry wake).

However, some members did come forward. Bundeena paddler ‘Josip’ (not his real name), cautiously commented that “a few years ago, a brand new sea kayak was an option for the average working person, now they’re finding that all they can afford is second hand Spectrums and Estuary’s”.

“Now the only affordable new boat is that Inuit Erratic, but that hasn’t even got a rudder! Prices are getting beyond the reach of all but those with waterfront properties on the North Shore… it’s a joke!”

Ryde paddler ‘Kent’ advanced the theory that the manufacturers linked their prices with the Sydney real estate market. “That explains the hikes in the last three years, but it sure makes it tough for the battling first sea kayak buyer”.

‘Jo’, a whitewater paddler, was a potential ‘first sea kayak buyer’ until she made some enquiries. She now makes do by renting a Mirage on the odd weekend “which is better than nothing I suppose…”

Another veteran kayaker from Torrens, ACT, ‘Norris’, said that after checking out prices “I decided to build my own plywood kayak… bugger ’em, that’s what I say!”

Flotsam also approached an expert in the field, Professor Nicholas Gill, the recently appointed Dean of Marine Recreational Studies at Wollongong University. Professor Gill commented that sea kayaking had undergone a gentrification process in recent years.

“For instance, even five years ago, local Wollongong paddlers were a rough bunch… just as likely to be playing pool and brawling in pubs as out paddling. But now it’s all lawyers, doctors, even TAFE teachers, on the water… these people are cashed up, willing to spend big on a sexy sea kayak, and the manufacturers know this.”

And what about the prices? Flotsam rang around all retail outlets in the state to check what is available and for how much. Unfortunately, due to the ever present threat of legal action from those tetchy manufacturers, our findings cannot be published in detail and the table below unfortunately cannot include brand names or option details.

Flotsam presented the above information to Professor Allan Fels of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Professor Fels, although busy on GST issues, was also dismayed at the increases, and issued an immediate media release declaring “that if this level of price rises is sustained, the existing tariff levels for imported sea kayaks may have to be looked at.”

At this, Mr Shomi Yemoni, the public relations officer for the NSW Sea Kayak Manufacturers Association, rang Flotsam from the mobile fax machine in his Mercedes to strongly deny that profiteering was rife in the industry and pointed out that local sea kayak prices were amongst the lowest in the OECD. But pressed on the fairness of this comparison given that most developed countries already had a 15% GST on kayaks, Mr Yemoni yelled “we’ll have you bastards!” and abruptly terminated the call.

And as Flotsam went to press news came though that the controversy had been picked up by the highest office in the land. Prime Minister John Howard, anxious to appease paddling voters in regional Australia, issued a statement warning the industry that “excessive profiteering will be not be tolerated”.

Mean Price For Kayak Over The Last Years
Sea Kayak 1997 (base model) 2000 (base model) % increase 2000 (with options)
Brand ‘A’ $1,650.00   18.7 $2,195.00
Brand ‘B’ $1,695.00 $1,995.00 17.6 $2,250.00
Brand ‘C’ $1,800.00 $2,200.00 22 $2,350.00
Brand ‘D’ $1,390.00 $1,795.00 29 $1,995.00
Brand ‘E’ $1,750.00 $2,075.00 18.6 $2,410.00

Be sure to catch the next issue of Flotsam & Jetsam when the investigation continues; are you really getting what you’re paying for? Resins ain’t resins …