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Tips and Techniques - The Prodigy

The Prodigy—an interview with Bob Foote

Greg Barnett (GB): I understand that you have joined forces with Bell Canoe and are designing some new boats.

Bob Foote (BF): That's right Greg. I am working with Bell and recently, Dave Yost and I co-designed the Prodigy, a new solo whitewater canoe. It was released a few months ago and soon to be followed by the Nexus then the Prodigy X.

GB: You have designed for Dagger and Navarro in the past, how is it that you are now designing for Bell?

BF: I feel fortunate to be in a very unique position in that a lot of designers only work for one company. I have the privilege of working for three outstanding companies. In the future, I may design other boats for Dagger, Navarro, and Bell. There is a lot of respect between these companies and the individuals running the boating departments.

GB: It seems strange that Bell is entering the whitewater market when everyone else seems to be cutting back.

BF: That is true but Bell is committed to servicing all aspects of the canoeing market. They are also building some of the finest marathon racing canoes, as well as trying to keep some of the old classics (Canadian, the Egret, and others) alive by obtaining the molds and making them available again. And of course, there is their line-up of other fantastic canoes such as the Magic and Wildfire.

GB: Tell me about the Prodigy.

BF: The Prodigy is the first of a series. When discussing what Bell was looking for in a design, it was decided not come out with just another similar whitewater boat but to be innovative. The idea was to give the boating community a option of choosing something truly different and not just a slight variation on a theme. Some companies design boats to emphasize initial stability, ease of rolling, or lower performance so a beginner will feel comfortable when they demo the boat. We decided to emphasize speed and performance. This way, after the beginner had been in the boat for a few hours, they would feel comfortable and will not have outgrown it or be held back their learning.

GB: Can you explain some of the design features.

BF: One of the first things you notice is the boat is almost 12 feet long but it looks much smaller. This was done on purpose. The volume was made to fit the smaller to average size paddler. That way they would not have to be pushing around a lot of extra weight. Also, we designed an extremely fast bow section. It is sleek and has soft chines. The bow also has ventures (an extra ridge  under the gunnels to deflect water) In the mid-section the chines start to harden. Having harder chines in the stern allows the paddler to use the edges to cut and carve.

GB: What level paddler will the Prodigy accommodate?

BF: A beginner will feel comfortable in just a few minutes and will be able to paddle in a straight line with speed. More advanced paddlers will enjoy doing outside heels, carves, and other challenging moves. It was designed so a beginner can grow into it and the experienced paddler can explore more advanced techniques.

GB: I understand that your test run was on the Grand Canyon. How did that go?

GB: I understand that your test run was on the Grand Canyon. How did that go?

BF: It was a wet ride! There was a mix-up at the factory due to rushing the boat out to me for the trip and the wrong size thwarts were put on. They tried to catch up with me and correct it before I put on for the two week trip but we just missed. This made the boat too narrow and eliminated most of the flare that had been design in. It also increased the arc of the hull and thus some of the initial stability. This made for an interesting trip. Karen Knight was on the trip and also paddling a Prodigy (also with the wrong size thwarts). She found that she was making moves and hitting lines that she was not able to make the year before because of the extra speed. She said that even full of water, she had more speed.

GB: Have you switched out the thwarts?

BF: Yes and naturally it is like a different boat. It's much drier and the initial stability is there.

GB: What do you like the most about the Prodigy?

BF: It's fun to paddle something with the mixed feel of soft and hard chines. It's also fun to do a larger turn using the inside edges and then into the next by doing a sharp turn by dropping the outside edge. And of course, I have always enjoyed speed! In most rapids or when surfing, speed is your friend. I also enjoy watching students get into the boat, immediately feel comfortable and then do things they were not able to do in another boat.

GB: Is there any thing else special about the boat?

BF: Bell has always strived to be the highest in quality. So when they decided that the boat could be ordered fully outfitted, they chose the best outfitting they could find. You can order the boat ready to paddle from the factory with air bags and outfitting. They are using Mike Yee Outfitting, which is the only thing that I will use in my personal boats.

GB: What makes Mikey's outfitting so special?

BF: It's the lightest outfitting on the market and is backed by Mikey's many years of experience and development. Over the years he has refined the pedestal, straps, and anchors into an integrated system. His pedestal is made of foam so that the height can be easily adjusted and it also includes adjustable foot braces. The strap system uses a knee and thigh strap combination that adjusts with a single pull on each side. It really makes you one with the boat for knee control, edging, and rolling.

GB: Can you share what's coming in the future?

BF: Dave Yost and I have just finished up a tandem whitewater canoe for Bell called the Nexus. It's a sweet boat that is user friendly and yet is fast and performs well. It's also a great teaching boat but has more than enough performance for advanced paddlers. It will be great to have a new tandem boat on the scene. We are also finishing up the next size (up) solo boat for the larger boater and for someone wanting to paddle bigger water, the Prodigy X.

GB: Any closing thoughts Bob?

BF: I feel privileged to be working with Bell Canoe, David Yost, and having the opportunity to offer the boating community some great new designs.GB: Thanks Bob!

Photos courtesy of Chris Greenbeck

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