Who We Are
Sisson Kayaks is a retirement-hobby business. These days the annual production target is only about equal to the average WEEKLY kayak production of 15 to 30 years ago. The business is 100% Kiwi owned by the Sisson family. And YES – despite what some kayak stores will tell you – we still build lots of kayaks for lots of nice customers. We answer all your email requests! This is a low pressure zone.
There is a difference
All Sisson Kayaks are made in the rural farmland setting at Methven. The factory is set on 1 hectare of land that is being planted with thousands of native plants to the design of landscaper Ines Stager. The wetland was planted three summers ago and already we have birdlife returning each summer to nest. One duck has nested 3 years right next to our cottage. The alternate power feeds our backup lighting and kayak joining lamp. Our vehicles are partially powered with Browns Gas (water) and the windmill to provide the real grunt to the alternate power is to go up this spring. Our compressed air will also be wind driven next summer. Compare – can you find another kayak manufacturer so green? Which means that we care for the planet
Zero turnover of experienced production staff
All Sisson Kayaks are constructed only by the majority business owner Grahame Sisson who built his first FRP (Fibre Reinforced Plastic) kayak in 1975. There is always a customer waiting-list because these days the demand always exceeds the rate of kayak production. We will never again employ (hired ‘help’) staff production staff. Every single kayak is handcrafted and sold only by the boss! And because Grahame Sisson looks after every step in the process – zero “Seconds” are produced!
Which means you get reliable consistent quality based on over 30 years of personal kayak building experience as explained below. When the boss takes a break – production stops – so get in fast.
Which means you get reliable consistent quality based on over 30 years of personal kayak building experience as explained below. When the boss takes a break – production stops – so get in fast.
Sisson Kayaks has always had a stable physical address
We had the same Nelson factory address since 1978! But for personal reasons (better skiing), in 2005 we moved the business onto farmland that we owned at 106 Pudding Hill Road, Methven, Mt Hutt Village – but the 0800 656 900 freephone (since 1992) will still remain constant). However, because our home (yes we commute) is still in Nelson, our Post Office Box is still (since about 1980) Box 2076, Stoke, Nelson. How many other kayak companies can show such long-term stability?
Which means you know where to find us – always.
We protect your kayak quality by breaking our delivery promises if required
Yes – you read it correctly! Kayak building is a very physical activity that fits with repeated 12 hour work days. It is possible to hit-the-wall just like an athlete in an event. You know – the eyes are no longer connected to the brain – and the brain no longer connected to the body! To build kayaks in this physical condition invites the production of poor quality boats. On the basis that Grahame Sisson is really retired – and primarily focused on his property investment retirement scheme – while still running Sisson Kayaks as a one-man-band ‘hobby’ business – delivery promises will be broken if personal overload occurs. Which means you should always order very early – BUT you can be assured that your kayak – when it finally arrives – will be of the same consistent quality as the last 1000 delivered.
Sisson Kayaks cares about our customers investment
At Sisson Kayaks, we never improve our cash flow by holding desperado ‘clearance’ sales of “factory seconds”. Your investment in your kayak holds firm because we never degrade the price structure. Pre-owned Sisson Kayak prices are always higher than other ‘off-the-shelf’ made-by-anyone copy-cat brands. Which means your $ investment is secure because we never undermine the value of your dream boat.
We care – so we gift you free communication
Since 1994 we have provided our customers with a freephone. Just call 0800 656 900 and your call comes directly to our mobile phone – wherever we are. Which means you can contact us free from anywhere within New Zealand
We care – so we gift you the knowledge in our Manual
Our Manual is one the most visited pages of this website! In it you can find all sorts of info relating to kayak maintenance and personal survival. Which means you are empowered with knowledge and better able to safely enjoy your kayak.
Our Sea Kayak designs all stem from the expedition proven Nordkapp for which we paid a one-shot royalty to Valley Canoe Products UK in 1977. All of our designs balance four factors, ergonomics for good comfort, wind effect reduction for better control, low wetted area for better distance-made-good and features to harness the action of the water to your benefit.. The fit out of our Sea Kayaks was developed in conjunction with Paul Caffyn – the worlds most successful Sea Kayak Expeditioner. Our multisport kayaks have been developed with very close assistance from Steve Gurney – the worlds most winning multisport athlete. No other kayak brand has such famous, high achieving customers to consult with. Both Paul and Steve built their reputations using Sisson Kayaks. In recent years, proven achievers Peter O’Sullivan and Nathan Fa’avae have both contributed ideas. Our friendship with all of these high achievers pre-dates their own success. But we must never forget the thousands of other customers who have completed trips and won races. Which means you too can share this performance bonus that is based on foresight and experience – and you too could be headed for high achievement without being hampered by defective gear..
All of our designs have ‘The Dynamic-Lift Effect’ built in
Check out the placement of our hull-to-deck joins. This seemline is placed high on all of our models. The upward extended hull sides are ‘flared’ outwards because of the manufacturing mould release angle dictates this. This ‘flair’ helps you on-water in two ways. Firstly the ‘flair’ adds greater buoyancy volume as the hull it driven deeper. Secondly the flair creates dynamic lift as the water is forced sideways when it tries to move upwards. Check out some other designs with low seamlines – the low deck seemline induced negative angle is actually creating a negative dynamic force that encourages a crash-dive! Which means as you paddle rough water, your Sisson Kayak remains responsive to the surface water pattern – and you stay drier because it is less likely to crash-dive down to the river bed.
Widest model choice – 17 models in two market niches
All 17 models currently offered are proven performers in each of their two market niches. No other New Zealand manufacturer offers such a large range. None of our current designs offered are built in moulds sourced from other failed manufacturers. Which means you can choose with confidence the kayak model that best suits your needs and skill level.
‘Utopian Dream’ model is not offered here
We have never been tempted to offer that wide (implied stable), long (implied ‘fast’) kayak for the multisport mid-market. Such boats, already offered by other kayak builders, all end up over buoyant (susceptible to wind drag and turbulence) and very high water friction drag (slow). Such kayaks promise more performance than they deliver. Which means your Sisson Kayak will not cause you to mysteriously “hit-the-wall” two hours into your race paddle section.
Zero model designs offered from other failed manufacturers
Sounds petty? No! Sisson Kayaks has developed 46+ models over the years. We know too well that when a model is dead – it is dead. Our observation is that the main #1 cause of kayak manufacturer ‘business-failure’ is dead models. Some other ‘new’ manufacturers are buying-up old moulds from failed manufacturers and offering renamed but out-of-date designs. Which means when you order any Sisson Kayak you can be assured that you will not be buying a market ‘Lemon’
Our production moulds are built 200% overweight
Heavy moulds equals good composite quality and less ‘flexi-mould’ induced ‘pre-release’. We can also apply greater pressure when rolling the wet matrix resulting in better fibre-link-up The downside is that the moulds could be difficult to handle. No problem – we have a ‘fleet’ of special trolleys to manufacture, trim, join and postcure the kayaks on. Furthermore we have electric cranes to lift the deck moulds onto the hull moulds and visa versa. End result – we get less tired and the manufacturing quality is less likely to fall. Which means that your own boat will be ‘the same’ as all the others that we make. Strong and tough.
Time tested lay-up specifications
Some other manufacturers would call our lay-ups “old fashioned”. Our customers just call our lay-ups “STRONG” and “TOUGH”. With regard to lay-ups, the “Good-old-days” are still with us every day here at Sisson Kayaks. We understand that the ratio by weight of the fibres and resin in the matrix are of the greatest importance. Other brands are sometimes seen to be ‘resin-rich’ and brittle. The results speak for themselves – Paul Caffyn finished every expedition* with no more than superficial kayak damage. Steve Gurney has never lost a race due to kayak failure. Which means you too can hit the water with confidence in your kayaks integrity.
We lay a ‘Crossbow spring’ into every kayak keel.
Every Sisson Kayak is laid up with a ‘keel’ of 23000 uni-directional glass fibre rovings, doubled to 46000 in the high impact areas at each end. This is ‘crossbow’ spring technology! This rope-like rovings ‘keel’ extends up the bow and along the foredeck to the cockpit. Coupled with the carbon bridges on the foredeck and back of the cockpit, our kayaks are engineered for strength where it is most needed. Which means you can even ram into rocks with greater confidence than before. And you can over-deck rescue your friends.
Time tested understanding of the properties of composite materials
Composite shapes are formed at exactly the same time the structural elements are formed. The wet matrix-consolidation (rolling) must be complete before the resin “gels”. Thirty years of composite experience means that every Sisson Kayak is likely to be as strong as the one made before it. Most kayak laminators roll the resin/fibre matrix just to get the air bubbles out. At Sisson Kayaks we keep rolling and rolling because that extra hard work creates increased fibre link-up within the resin/fibre matrix. Which means more impact strength. As we work on the wet resin/fibre matrix we are not in any way experimentally advancing our skills. That finished 25 years ago. In composites (FRP), 30 years experience (plus a bit of extra hard arm powered work) really does make a big difference to the life expectancy of your kayak.
Gelcoat shields Kevlar fabric from Ultra Violet light
Kevlar can lose up to 25% of its tensile strength after only 3 weeks exposure to strong sunlight. All of our Kevlar kayaks are gel coated. The opaque gelcoat contains UV inhibitors and the Kevlar is shielded from the UV light. Which means the Kevlar in your Sisson Kayak will retain its design strength – year after year. Proven!
Gelcoat thickness applied on the ‘light-side’ of “correct”.
Especially on our racing kayaks, we minimise the thickness of the gelcoat. Thin gelcoat flexes – thick gelcoat cracks. At times our race kayak gelcoat may ‘eggshell’. That is normal. All good kayaks should be laid up this way. Our skill halts the dreaded gelcoat ’triping’ that inexperienced FRP beginners experience. Which means your boat is lighter, much more impact resistant and still UV and abrasive resistant
Gelcoat seals composite capillary ‘tubes’.
Beside every reinforcement fibre in a composite matrix, runs an air capillary that will allow the cured matrix to ‘leak’ water. Composite kayaks that display the ‘fancy’ woven fibre pattern on the outer surface should always be cured under high pressure in a NZ$2,000,000 heated autoclave. Dream on! These boats ‘look’ light but are often heavy to carry! Water ingress! We adopt the other option – we specify a resin-rich pigmented Gelcoat which seals off the cured matrix from the water pressure that wants to enter the capillaries by force of displacement. Which means your kayak will not be a mass of droplets over the whole internal surface after every paddle. Which means your boat will stay at its manufactured weight far longer.
Unique composite lay-up technique
Every Sisson Kayak is made using a technique that we invented in-house. One day we thought – why not – so we tried it and it worked – fantastically. This revolutionary technique results in faster more even wet-out of the fibre matrix. Likewise, because the resin is applied so fast to the fibres, the matrix consolidates faster – allowing for more time spent increasing the fibre link-up within the matrix. Which means that when you purchase a Sisson Kayak you are receiving 3 decades of experience – and that experience shows mostly after you have hit a rock – and the rock changes shape.
The hull / deck joins are cross-linked solid
All kayaks are joined within hours of the original hull and deck lay-up. All kayaks are joined the same day they are laid up using the same materials used to form the hull and deck. No ‘bog’ here! All boats keep their design shape – unlike other brands that are joined out of the mould. All ‘joined’ kayak hull / decks are ‘Post Cured’ in the mould. This demands ‘cooking’ overnight with heat for optimised hull and deck strength. Which means that the hull / deck unit is cross linked (chemically fused – not just bonded) together into a solid unit. This sometimes means extra hours must be worked into the evening. No substitution or compromise. Which means your kayak hull to deck join is the strongest in the business.
Fibreglass join strips are cut on a Sisson Kayaks made special machine
A typical racing kayak uses 15 join strips. Up to 40 can be used in a sea kayak. Cutting these by hand is very time consuming. Years ago we employed after-school-workers to cut these strips. But the widths were always uneven – meaning sticky frustration – and more skill needed to place the strips correctly. In 1986 we made a sophisticated machine (rebuilt after the fire) that will cut 45 identical join strips in one easy pull of the lever! Which means the joins require less skill to place properly – and your kayak ends up with a better crafted joint between the hull and deck.
All Sisson Kayaks are ‘Post Cured’ to add strength and toughness
At normal room temperature, polyester resin can need 30 days to achieve full cure. At any time a frost (or water immersion) can kill the resin cure process and it will never restart. Full cure means the maximum number of resin molecules are cross-linked. By applying heat over the first night after lay-up, while the hull / deck is still in the mould, the full cure is accelerated to only 8 hours. Any subsequent exposure to frost is harmless. Which means the resin component in your kayak hull, deck and join is full strength, now and into the future. Buyer beware – all kayak builders should post-cure their products – some simply do not have the equipment – ask to see their oven.
All Sisson Kayaks seat coamings are bonded to the deck using a special in-house developed compound
The special compound is blended in-house from resin and man-made (safe) fibres of equal strength as asbestos. This compound is at least 10 times stronger than the talc ‘bog’ used by some other kayak manufacturers. Which means your seat coaming is very unlikely to separate from the deck – meaning always a safer release of your spraydeck.
All Sisson Kayaks hanging pan seats (Elim, Esp &Centrix) have the hipboards bonded to the hull sides
After the coaming is bonded to the deck, the hipboards in the seats are bonded directly to the sides of the hull. This stops sideways flex and secures the seat against failure. Which means your seat will not flex when you brace the kayak in rough water – and you can be assured that the seat will never break away from the hull.
All Sea Kayak bulkheads* are ‘glassed’ both sides
Bulkheads are bonded into place using the same materials that the boat is crafted from. By laying strips of fibreglass both side of the bulkhead, the strength is more than doubled. Deckline fittings are formed solid by ‘top-hat’ glassing over plastic tubing. This creates high strength adjacent to the ‘voided’ holes in the structure – cockpit and hatch holes. The use of troublesome, leaky bolts and nuts is minimised. Which means your Sea Kayak is much stronger in all respects than most others.
All Sea Kayak hatch rings are handmade from fibreglass – and attached with fibreglass to the deck
So the hatch becomes a part of the hull / deck structure. Bolts and nuts are heavy, can work loose and corrode. None of our sea kayak hatches are bolted. Which means your Sisson Kayak becomes stronger at the time we fit the hatches.
Our standard ‘REAL’ 190mm Sea Kayak hatch covers are custom moulded in our own very expensive die.
We found that imported hatch covers degraded rapidly when exposed to normal summer UV light. Our suppliers were not interested in changing their ‘rubber’ compound. So we invested in our own die. We then enlisted one of New Zealand’s best rubber processors to formulate a special neoprene compound for sea kayak hatch use. Our REAL hatch covers last and last and last. They also retain enough elasticity to grip tightly to the fibreglass ring forever. Which means you can expect years and years of reliable service from your Sisson Kayak hatches.
Easy repairs to damaged Kevlar kayaks
Because of the lay-up procedure used, all of our Kevlar kayaks are super easy to repair – from the outside. The repair sequence (that will not work so easily with most other brands) is listed in our Manual web page. Which means you can minimise the cost and inconvenience if your kayak becomes accidentally damaged.
For example – every Sisson Kayak has sufficient strength in the foredeck to do “Overdeck Rescues”. This unique feature of longitudinal glass rovings with carbon fibre ‘bridges’ allows for the deep water rescue of a paddling partner to be executed without doing damage to the rescue kayak. Our Sea Kayak decks are free of surf-entrapment junk that these days seems to be the ‘fashion’ with other brands. Which means you can deep-water rescue your friends with confidence.
Racing kayak end-loops are cast solidly into hull ends
We have invented a special rack to hold the vertical kayak secure while we work on it. This allows us to cast the kayak end-loops into solid flexi grade resin – as are the racing kayak rudder mounting nuts. These fittings are fixed solid for the life of the kayak and the added bonus to you is even stronger rock ramming strength in your bow. Which means you can rely on the end fitting strength for car-topping security. And if you get off-line on the water and ram a rock, the impact will be backed up by the flexi-resin cast into place behind the glass rovings.
Your own preferred choice of footrests and seats
Unlike most other kayak builders, we offer our customers several different free footrest options. On some models we offer several different seat upgrade options. Our most popular footrests are the ones we manufacture ourselves in our own engineering shop – proving to us the continued need for these light strong designs. Which means you can order your boat with the footrest that best suits your paddling style.
All kayak models tested in real conditions
Refer the expeditions map on the “Who we are” page. Refer the “Race Results” on the Comings Goings Windups page. The testing started in 1975 and continues to the present day. You can find no circumnavigation of Auckland City listed here! Which means you can trust that the ‘real-world’ no-hype results speak for themselves.
Specialised factory contained mainly inside four relocatable 40ft shipping containers
Absolutely sweet set-up! Highly mechanised. We call this the Stand-Alone-Manufacturing-Facility. We have dedicated bays set up for every operation of kayak manufacture. Our kayak lay-up booth is fully air conditioned to control humidity (enemy #1 of FRP quality) and temperature (constant working times). This results in a high level of reproducible quality on every kayak built. All areas are set up to reduce un-necessary walking so that quality-sapping worker fatigue is minimised. And when Grahame Sisson decides to retire the business is very relocatable to the new owners site of choice! We manufacture most of the footrests and all of our own rudders in our fully equipped engineering shop. Our capital investment in kayak production is very large! Which means our manufacturing facility investment provides you with more reliable consistent kayak quality.
Only sold directly to you
Except for the good folk at PaddlerZone in Christchurch. Including Dana and staff – No high-pressure sales staff! No lies! No fantasies. No ‘fitting-up’ into some obsolete dust covered ‘dead stock’ kayak regardless of your on-water skill level! The only place to buy a Sisson Kayak is right here – GroundZero®! Which means less confusion and a custom made kayak made just the way you want it.
Our on-line Order-form guides you through all the kayak build options and upgrades
You can check out all the options at your leisure, talk them over with your friends then make your decisions. Once transmitted, the order-form gives us a very clear information source to follow. On receiving the order, our automated internal system allows for few mistakes between the office and the moulding booth. However, we make no promises that later verbal or emailed changes can always be guaranteed because our automated internal ‘build-sheet’ system has inertia that is not easily altered. Which means you can easily order your boat with the custom colours, lay-up and fit-out to best suit your needs, provided always that you get-it-right at the time when you send the original order-form.
Free quotes to ship kayaks anywhere in the world
We have shipped kayaks to Northern Norway and Finland! So wherever you are we are happy to quote you a CIF price. Which means you can find the cost to enjoy the ownership of a Sisson Kayak anywhere.
The finest New Zealand made kayak accessories made available worldwide from GroundZero®
Available worldwide. Yes – check out our GroundZero Wet Stuff Direct pages on this website. We source and list the finest of the finest of NZ made kayak gear. Which means, wherever you are, maybe buying a kayak off us or not, you can now easily source the best paddles, foam seats and other top quality, unique New Zealand made kayak gear from GroundZero Wet Stuff Direct.
innovation – innovation – innovation
Over 3 decades Sisson Kayaks has had a long string of kayaking firsts. Too long and boring to list here. We would have to be one of the most copied kayak brands in the world. Which means we actually fully understand the reason why (for example) long race boats should be exactly 6.1m long.
Often copied – seldom equalled
There is a difference
* Paul’s’ first Alaskan kayak suffered pressure damage while in the Boeing 747 hold whist travelling over the Pacific. The boat ‘exploded’ and the bulkheads leaked. This problem – unrelated to any production factors resulted in the kayak needing to be replaced.
* The Side-tanks bulkheads of the Voyager are glassed on one side only
Now a little bit of company history.
Between 1975 and 1996 the company produced many many thousands of kayaks. In 1997 we started producing after the fire – but then we closed – too hard on the health. Late in 1997, at the request of Manibu Matsumura I decided to reopen the business along the lines of a one-man-band ‘hobby’. In true Reginald Perrin fashion, I came first, Family came right behind, and the customer came third. This resulted in some very low pressure – high volume kayak output.
From 1975 until 2005 the kayaks were made in Nelson. Our previously open countryside Nelson Factory had become surrounded by concrete tilt slab neighbours – no view of the hills – get me out of here.
In 2005 we relocated the business onto some farm land that we owned, not far from Methven Mount Hutt Village. We like skiing. It worked – we now get heaps of the best snow lines.
We now live at Anakiwa and build the kayaks in Methven. Officially I am ‘retired’! This is now a one-man-band retirement hobby business! But I still see many years of kayak building ahead. I have a very very refined manufacturing facility that I operate in secret. And the electric cranes to do the heavy lifting. At age 67 I am faster that I was at age 40. Because of the mechanised equipment. Call it productivity!
My favourite quotation is “Take your task seriously, but never yourself” General Eisenhower (when he was given the task of properly burying the US soldiers who died in Europe between 1942 and 1945).
If ever the kayak making fun and satisfaction stops, the business will be either sold or closed. By choice I choose to find customers who are pleasant to deal with. All others can go elsewhere.