Solotec takes a load off for lone kayakers

Solotec takes a load off for lone kayakers
Solotec offers a better way to get your gear onto your car and out to the water, and is now raising funds on Kickstarter.

Keen kayakers, this one's for you. Solotec offers a better way to get your gear onto your car and out to the water, and is now raising funds on Kickstarter.

For those of you who frequently paddle alone, see if the following scenario sounds familiar: You’re by yourself, trying to load a stubborn kayak onto the top of your car. It’s not cooperating. With every lurch towards the roof rack, the impending threat of torn muscles, wrecked back and damaged paintwork gets closer and closer. Kayaking suddenly seems like a less than ideal activity – better pull up a deck chair and get out a good book instead, or even worse – put that kayak on Trade Me.

It’s an experience that avid sea kayaker and Raglan local, Fiona McNabb, has dealt with one too many times – and she’s finally had enough. After moving to the small beachside community eight years ago, McNabb, who often paddles solo, struggled to find a safe and simple way to load her boat onto her car by herself. The Waikato DHB hospital pharmacist reacted by opening a sketchbook.

“Ultimately, the day I decided to do something about it was when I was trying to lift the kayak up the side of the car and onto the roof rack and I dropped it, smashed the monsoon, caught it - and by this stage I’d scratched the car,” she tells Idealog.

“I spent a while thinking, ‘I need something that’s light, that I can fold up and that’s quick and easy to use’. So I did some drawings; I sat down with a pencil and thought ‘this is what I want’, and I took these drawings to a plastics manufacturer in Hamilton.”

Now, some three years on, she still has these sketches; neat pencilled lines resembling architectural blue prints scratch across the pages of a purple notebook. The coloured words beside these drawings are particularly fascinating, a sort of organic dialogue involving her ideal design and an unwavering focus on producing an ecologically sound, New Zealand-made product. Even today, these early words are the core of her business model: “First, do no harm; second, make a difference; third, inspire change.” Solotec was born.

A lightweight, collapsible loading tool that clamps onto any horizontal roof rack on just about any size vehicle, Solotec enables the user to simply place the end of their craft on top of a rounded bar and glide it over onto the racks. No wheels, no need for a tow bar and, most importantly, no extra set of hands required. The entire product weighs just 2kg and folds down into three pieces stored in a drawstring bag.

solotec kayak loading idealog

The loader is to be made in New Zealand and McNabb’s been true to her motto when it comes to minimizing environmental harm in sourcing her raw materials – something she thinks many in the kayaking community will embrace.  Every individual part of the Solotec loader, including its packaging, is recyclable. “I think it’s important to think about the end life of a product before you start out,” she explains.

And Solotec isn’t limited to just loading kayaks. McNabb says the simplicity and utility of the device’s design means it can be used for paddleboards, surf skiffs – even building and construction products.

“It’s really about enabling people to do these things on their own and not hurt themselves, but we’re really targeting the kayaking industry because it’s an identifiable need in kayaking. I know there’re a lot people who can’t go out on their own, or load their gear to go and meet someone else, because they just can’t get their kayak on the roof.”

McNabb has just returned from the national sea kayaking association forum in Anakiwa, KASK NZ (Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers), where she had the opportunity to tell the development story, demonstrate the loader and show her Kickstarter crowdfunding video. The Kickstarter campaign is key to getting Solotec off and running - she's hoping to raise $150,000.

And if you happen to be heading to the famous surf beach this weekend, McNabb will be running demonstrations at the Raglan market – and she’s offering $20 to anyone who can lift her kayak onto her roof rack, without help and without damaging her car, in less than 15 seconds – the time it takes to do so using Solotec.

“All of the successful attempts so far have been by young men in their mid-20s who clearly spend some time in the gym or engaged in physical sports/work – none of them afterwards thought that their method was a sustainable way to regularly load a kayak and the crowds watching agreed! I’ll be there again this weekend – Sunday the 20th from 9-2.”