TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Designers of Sit-on-top Kayaks

The First Sit-on-top

The Original Sit-on-top: 1968's "Royak"
"So Whatever Happened To Roy Grabenauer?"
A history with comments by his son, Steve Grabenauer of Royak Marine

Most sources agree that the Sit-on-top Kayak, as it is called today, was invented by Roy Grabenauer in 1968 after years of experimenting with a variety of designs and innovative technologies. Although Tim Niemier is celebrated as having popularized the craft with the rotomold process, (see "In The Beginning") it was the 40 year old California scuba diver in the late 50's and early 60's who integrated the features of a surf board with a kayak that has revolutionized paddlesports.

Roy needed a boat that would not sink, and that he could get in and out of easily in rough water. He wanted a craft with enough storage for his gear that was also easy to maneuver, lightweight and comfortable. He and his wife were using everything from innertubes to surfboards as their platform, until his wife developed back problems and the search for an alternative became imperative for them to continue to enjoy their sport.

Roy worked as a chief electrical engineer for the Sacramento DMV and began experimenting with a boat fabricated from an airplane wing tank. The result was a torpedo-shaped craft that, to quote an article in National Fisherman from April, 1978 "...resembles a topless kayak going backwards."

Original sit-on-top kayakPrototype Lost At Sea

Roy Grabenauer's first successful prototype was very nearly the last. Pictured here, and presently hanging on the wall at Royak Marine, is Roy's first successful prototype. On its maiden ocean run the sea was especially rough; and while Grabenauer was diving, the anchor line broke. The hand made, aluminum brainchild that incorporated all his desired features was lost at sea. Friends watching from the shore could do nothing to warn Grabenauer or rescue the craft.

Despite the loss, Grabenauer decided that his craft had proven itself. Friends agreed and wanted copies. Grabenauer quit his job and began manufacturing the very first Royaks.

Two years later Grabenauer was reunited with his prototype model. A Mexican albacore fisherman found it hundreds of miles out to sea. Amazingly, Grabenauer's fish stringer and can of metrical were still in the cargo compartment, even though the compartment had no cover when lost. It would appear that the little boat never capsized during its two year tour at sea.

The RoyakThe Royak of Today:

With the enthusiastic encouragement of Roy's friends, he endeavored to build more boats. Roy applied with the U.S. Patent Office for a patent search on January 27, 1970 and on March 21, 1972, patent no. 3649977 was granted.

By this time approximately 300 Royaks were sold throughout the U.S. and best friend, Al Snider, cleverly coined "Royak" by combining the inventor's first name and kayak.

Roy then pursued and was granted patent rights in seven other countries. By 1978 approximately 2000 Royaks were owned and enjoyed internationally. In 1982 Roy's son Steve independently marketed and manufactured the Royak.

Steve GrabenauerThe "sit-on-top" market grew then from cottage industries run out of the garages of other enthusiaste, to world wide commercial indeavors, all producing their own style.

For over thirty years the sit-on-top has opened the door for many more people to safely and comfortably enjoy the cool sport of kayaking than ever before.

The profound simplicity of Roy's initial concept remains the benchmark of the design.

To view their current line of kayaks visit their website at Royak.com.

Royak RegattaThe Annual Royak Regatta

For 17 years U.S. Virgin Islands Boy Scouts has held an annual "Royak Regatta." Originated by their District Executive, Ralph Abraham, in collaberation with Dr. Robert Dill, Director of The West Indies Lab on St. Croix.

This is a friendly competitive race that raises money for their activities by placing ads for local businesses on the Royaks purchased by the scouts for the event. The 2003 Regatta is scheduled for May 19th on St. Croix and June 1st on St. Thomas. For more information see their web page.




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