Issue date: 27 February 2001

Not satisfied with winning the world surf kayaking championships, UWE student Ben Thomas, has built his own kayak.

As part of his final year project Ben needed to design and manufacture a kayak which will contribute towards his award as a qualified teacher of Design and Technology. Ben is now ranked in the world's top ten for International surf kayaking and he is due to compete and fulfil his quest to regain his title at the World famous Steamer Lane in California, 13 to19 March.

Ben said, "The challenge was to come up with a design which combines ease of manoeuvrability with speed. There are many regulations governing design set out by the surfing authorities (BCU Surf Regulations). These include restrictions to hull design and the inclusion of fins and concave areas. Very recently the official acceptable length of an International class competition kayak has been reduced from 3.5 metres to 3 metres. This has presented me with the problem of deciding what features to include because a shorter kayak is easier to manoeuvre but the reduction in length could potentially reduce the kayak's speed."

Ben commented on the relatively crude process used to design his kayak though the manufacture was based entirely around Smart materials such as carbon fibre. "I decided that it would make sense to utilise existing products - there is little point in starting with a blank because I wanted to adapt current designs with the intention of improving overall performance. I took a kayak and made modifications by hacking bits off and adding bits on. I then made a mould which was used to manufacture the finished product."

Mega Performance Kayaks of Sussex, who have sponsored Ben's project, supplied all materials which enabled the manufacture of his final design. More recently they have announced that they are to market his design to the general public. UWE will help sponsor Ben's trip to California. Ben said "UWE has been very supportive of my sporting activities during my time at university. I am especially grateful to the support of Mike Hibbert, Recreation Manager, who runs an Advanced Athletes group which offers advice and support to UWE athletes who have reached National/International level in their chosen sport."

Ben's interest in kayaking started because his family who live near the sea all enjoyed the sport. He first went kayak surfing on the Gower Coast near his home in Llanelli, South Wales, at the age of seven and hasn't turned back. "I think the surfing conditions in South Wales are difficult to surpass", he said, "It's just that most people are put off as they venture by the scenery offered by Port Talbot Steel Works. The swell here is as good as anything you might get in Cornwall and I'm sure the practice I enjoy here has helped at the world championships."


Editors Note:
Visual available in Jpeg format upon request

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