Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harrie Tieken started his kayaking manufacturing business back in 1972 in Alkmaar The Netherlands. His first workshop was a 32 meter historic clipper canal barge.

In 1975 he opened a modern factory in Nibbixwoud were he designed and build flat water racing kayaks and Derek Hutchinson sea kayak designs under licence.

Harrie build two Hutchinson Ice Floe sea kayaks for a 12.000 mile trip from Holland to the island of Lombok, Indonesia, here with Mrs. Eefje Schoo Minister of Transportation of the Dutch government asking Harrie questions about the kayaks. 

One of his early manufacturing inventions in Holland was the now well known retractable skeg system seen in many sea kayaks in production today.
The first production sea kayak equipped with his invention was the “Fjord” Hutchinson sea kayak built by Tiekano and P&H in Nottingham England.

The prototype retractable skeg system was first placed in Tieken’s home build kayak in 1966. The skeg increased the directional stability of his flat water touring kayak. This early skeg system was operated from the foot brace with a mechanism but later changed in a slider system with a toggle on the deck next to the cockpit.  

In 1977 he introduced and sponsored the kayak polo in Holland and supplied and maintained the Dutch Canoe Association with 2 sets of 7 polo kayaks for three years to promote this sport.

           His Dutch blog Kanowerf Tiekano 1972-1987 see:



After 15 years in the canoe and kayak industry in Holland, Harrie Tieken immigrated in 1987 from the Netherlands to Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia Canada.

When Harrie Tieken arrived in Nova Scotia the sea kayaking in the Maritimes was a virtually unknown sport, a great opportunity for the new venture of Tieken Kayaks.
A new 5800 sq ft workshop was constructed and was in operation in the fall of 1987.

Tieken brought all of his manufacturing equipment over from Holland.
First he had to focus on design and manufacturing of Olympic style racing kayaks, K1, K2, K4, C1 C2 and C4 because this was an existing market.

He build these boats for local canoe clubs but also for clubs all over Canada and even shipped them to clubs as far as British Columbia. In 1989 he build all the racing kayaks for the Olympic Junior Worlds being held in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. This was a great kayak order but it had its negative side as well. A number of teams shipped their racing equipment in sea containers to Nova Scotia for the world competition and sold them off afterwards which had an impact on sales of new boats.
This was not a real problem for Tieken as he was already focussing on developing the sea kayak touring market which he was so familiar with. The first show in Halifax in 1988
was disappointing as people only looked at the Hutchinson sea kayaks but did not see them self paddling these narrow boats on the Atlantic Ocean!

This Sealution was officially donated to the Maritime Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia and the only sea kayak in their collection.

On the West Coast they approached the sea kayak design a little different than the Greenland style kayaks developed in Europe. West Coast designs had larger cockpits and larger hatch openings to access and to store more gear.
Tieken was not able to make changes to the Hutchinson designs and decided to design his own sea kayak more suitable for the N-American market.

Tieken became friends with Scott Cunningham the well known and experienced senior BCU sea kayak instructor, Coastal Adventure owner operator and author of several books about sea kayaking from Tangier Nova Scotia.

Dr.Scott Cunningham

Scott saw with keen interest Tieken settling down on the Eastern Shore and was setting up shop in kayak manufacturing! With Tiekens experience and background in sea kayaking in the Netherlands he recognised an opportunity to work close together. Tieken supported him in every way to establish a much needed sea kayak touring company to promote his sales in sea kayaks. This co-operation worked out very well for both of them, they travelled often together to many outdoor shows sharing the booth space. 

In 1989 the Sealution was designed, and introduced in August 1989 at the LL.Bean symposium in Castine, Maine. Tieken attended the symposium with his Hutchinson kayaks and his Sealution.

Left to right: Harrie Tieken, (Tieken Kayaks), Andy Knight (Palm Products), Andrew Ainsworth (Paddles), Andy Zimmerman (Wilderness Systems).

Tieken was a new kid on the block with his products. So far nobody had made an attempt to design and manufacture Greenland style sea kayaks in that time, and the ones available were imported from England.
LL.Bean ordered a number of Hutchinson designs from Tieken for their sales people to check the performance and quality of Tiekens kayaks during that winter.

Another great development what would set the course for Harrie’s future was meeting with Andy Zimmerman from Wilderness Systems. Andy also was showing his line of new Wilderness Systems kayaks at the Symposium, and had his booth right next to Tieken.

One particular moment Andy Zimmerman brought up the idea if Tieken was interested to let Wilderness Systems built the Sealution for the USA market under license.
Over in Holland Tieken had experience of having product made in England and he saw potential for working with an American Company for the Canadian market.

They made an agreement during the Symposium and Harrie Tieken and Andy Zimmerman could not imagine that this move laid the base for a company that finally grew out to be the largest kayak manufacturer in the world: Confluence Holdings Inc.

Andy Zimmerman loaded the show Sealution on his truck and was on his way to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retail Buyers Show.
Tieken came back home in Nova Scotia without his Sealution finding out he only had a pricelist from Wilderness Systems and the memory of Andy’s face and further nothing. Tieken was just hoping for the best, but his gut said that he trusted that lad from NC.

Two weeks later Andy Zimmerman called him and said that he had firm Sealution orders at the OR show and wanted to come together to discus it further and not long later Wilderness Systems started to mould the Sealution.

In Nova Scotia Harrie Tieken had the plan to develop the leisure market and wanted to part away from that fragile competition market. In 1990 Tieken decided to stop the manufacturing of racing kayaks and put a final end to that business.

He kept the Hutchinson kayaks, the Sealution and his flat water touring kayaks in production. Not much later he added the Sea Scape tandem from North West Kayaks Seattle WA that completed his line of boats.

Baidarka Explorer


The following year Wilderness Systems had a need to get more designs in production and the Sealution XL, XS, SS were added to the line of Sealutions.

As the market in Nova Scotia can only offer so much business, he traveled to Ontario every winter to the Toronto Boat Show and the Outdoor Shows. His aim was to build on a number of dealers but also to sell to private customers.


That year also came clear at Wilderness Systems that a plastic version of the Sealution was needed, a more price point kayak towards the more expensive fibreglass version.
Wilderness Systems made the move towards plastic that same winter by constructing their own roto moulding facility at their location in High Point NC and started to rotomould the Sealution II in plastic.   

The first test run of the rotomoulded Sealution.

This was also the start of a steady stream of product available for Tiekens dealers in Canada.
One of the commitments Tieken had from WS that all of the Canadian market was for Tieken Kayaks to exclusively market their product.
So with the growing sales from Wilderness Systems Tieken had to make a decision to go full time in marketing and distribution of the WS products and parting away from his own manufacturing.
This change was not easy to make as he loved to build these boats, in fact his heart was in it very much, but the new direction made more sense.
With his dealer connections in Ontario and Quebec he was able to supply them the first two years easy from his warehouse in Nova Scotia.  

The shipping rates to central Canada were decent until Tiekens main shipping company went out of business in the fall of 1998. Because of the timing it was not so bad but for the next season the shipping rates were going to be just outrages high.

In the fall of that year Tieken made the decision to move his company to Ontario and found a location in the town of Gananoque.

Gananoque was chosen because of its proximity to the US/Canadian border and is central location between the major population areas Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
A place was found and the building was made ready the same winter to get the first load of kayaks from NC. The shipping distance was so much more convenient from NC, much shorter and easier to supply the dealers in Central Canada, also Tieken had better opportunities to supply dealers in Manitoba and further onto the West Coast.

His future plans were short lived by setting up the Tieken Kayaks business in Gananoque. As he just could handle the load of work and other responsibility’s to market WS product in Canada, was WS making a move to grow to a larger size company. Mad River Canoe and their accessory line Voyageur were added to the line first and the name of the new company would be changed into Confluence Watersport Inc.

Windrider "RAVE" top speed 37 knots measured here in Pensacola Florida. 

Windrider "RAVE" development in the R&D shop, this photo shows the first two units rotomoulded in a temporary rotomould fibreglass mould which could cook 2-3 units before disposal.

First test production units in assembly stage in North Carolina.

Not very long later WaveSport and a line of Windrider Sailing Trimarans were also added to the range. It did not take long that Tieken realised that his ability to run such a distribution network of product for all of Canada was virtually impossible to do this on his own. This whole new situation was forcing Tieken to make a dramatic decision. He traveled to NC and told them that he was unable to get onboard with this new company.

Confluence asked if Tieken would consider selling his business to them and staying on board as President and consultant for a new Confluence company in Canada. The agreement was made and this was the start of Confluence Watersports Canada Inc.

Tieken was now President /consultant of this new business and was no longer running his own business. It opened many new ways of doing business in Canada and widen the dealer network. Besides his new task, Tieken was still involved in new kayak design in their R&D department in NC.

Harrie Tieken was working for ConfluenceWatersports Canada Inc. till the year 2004, the year of his retirement out of the kayak industry. With his wife Agnes he is now running a Georgian / Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Gananoque Ontario.


                                                                     Some file photos