We are long overdue to give one of our favorite advertisers a shout out. It’s not easy to track him down, particularly by phone, but we finally caught up with our friend Dan Kaseler for a little Q&A about Raptor and the future of soft deck traction materials.
Pictured here is the incredibly bitchin’ cockpit floor they did for Anarchy…
SA: Please introduce yourself.
DK: My name is Dan Kaseler and I own and manage Raptor Deck.
SA: We’ve seen your name popup on SA a number of times over the years. What’s your background, and how did Raptor evolve to become what it is today.
DK: My origins are with windsurf and kitesurf product development, but I have a deep addiction to boat racing. I was closely involved with the birth of kiteboarding, a heap of windsurfing development and a couple of WSSRC overall speedsailing records. On the boat side, I have been involved with Velocitek, and Quantum. Raptor is a marriage of my two basic worlds, surf and sailing.
SA: Let’s back up. What is Raptor Deck?
DK: Raptor Deck is a peel and stick foam deck covering used for non-skid. In more technical terms, we use an EVA/PE blend with special additives create a product with killer grip and durability. The technology is an offshoot of surfboard stomp pads. At Raptor, we took this idea from board sports, improved it, and applied it to the boats we race and beyond.
SA: The oldest foam decks we can remember were not that long ago. What’s the history here?
DK: Raptor Deck got basically got its start on my trailer bunks in 2007. I had bought M24 USA 379 and there was this awful blue carpet padding that sucked water like crazy. After tuning up a few blisters, my first upgrade was to replace that stuff with some surf stomp-pad foam that I had in the garage. I knew from experience that the foams we were using on the windsurf and kiteboards didn’t hold water and could more/less handle the environment in Maui and South Africa. At the time, I considered briefly marketing a trailer bunk pad kit, but the idea flickered out.
A couple years later, I lined up a partial sponsorship Velocitek to do the Corpus Worlds and blog about it. Our old boat was an ice-skating rink, but with an insanely tight budget, I freaked out after pricing the 3M tape everybody was using at the time. One thing led to another, and I found myself contact cementing surf stomp pad material on my old girl, while huffing fumes in a Texas warehouse. At that same event, Bora had done his new boat with Hutch, and the Brick House boats had done a few detail pieces as well with jetski foam from California. At that time, like others in sailing, we didn’t realize that ski boat companies had already begun to switch on in a similar fashion.
After sailing in Texas that week, it was obvious. Soft-decks were rad, and everyone was going to want one!
SA: So that was that?
DK: Well, there were a few false starts to be honest. Our first seven production kits were built at the surf factory in Asia in 2011. We brought them to Whidbey Island Race Week, and then to the Melges Nationals in Lake Geneva, but nobody wanted them. We literally couldn’t pay anyone to take them. A look at the proliferation of decks at the last Worlds in Miami illustrates how big a paradigm shit has taken place.
SA: What changed? Now we see decks from Raptor everywhere.
DK: I don’t know exactly what clicked. We had been out there pushing the idea at every turn, and at every regatta mostly as a way to get to events, but people were resistant. It took some time for everybody to start seeing their boats as giant SUP boards. One day it just kicked. I can’t explain it, except for the product makes a heck of a lot of sense, and the boating community is pretty small. Once the coconut wireless got going, we started getting calls from boat builders and sailors. The phone started ringing we were off like a shot. Now we are shipping all over the world, and our market has expanded well past the reach of sport boats.
SA: We have seen a lot of your production stuff, but let’s say I want a custom kit. How does the process work?
DK: Everything starts with a pattern. Sometimes we pull this for a customer, while other times the customers provide us with a physical template by snail mail. These come in all shapes and sizes. Often we have customers on bigger jobs to coordinate with their naval architects to get us the cockpit in digital format. Once we have everything in Rhino we can dial in the layout and add the details. For custom logos, we work from everything from napkin sketches to designated artwork. When we are ready to go, our team passes a .pdf to the customer to sign-off on the design, or suggest modifications. Once everything is settled, we CNC cut the job right here in one of our two locations near Seattle.
SA: How big is your library of production boats?
DK: In sailing, we have a pretty huge library, which stretches from moths to TP52s. Every kit we have ever made has a digital footprint in CAD. Last spring we built a nice online app to manage our orders and keep track of our library. We haven’t gotten around to publicly publishing our full catalogue, but it’s pretty extensive at this point. Having that library helps with new jobs, but is also huge if you simply need a replacement panel. The way we set it up, it’s quite easy for us to drill down to your previous cut file in our Amazon AWS cloud and reproduce whatever you need.
SA: We see a few different surface finishes out there. What’s the deal?
DK: In the beginning, we used a simple machine to cut the foam surface into an X-grooved appearance. This was a direct trickle-down from the surf pads. As time went on, more and more customers were requesting a more subtle finish and we were chasing a way to increase durability. The best answer was to build a brushing machine into our process. This not only improved those items, but also opened the opportunity to develop the Teakster styles. Until now, we have shied away from embossed textures as their performance is varied.
SA: Ok. So why should people choose Raptor?
DK: We are sailors, and we know sailing. To be blunt, if you ask for runner hash marks, everybody on our team is speaking your language from the get-go.
There is a good reason that everybody in the sport boat market is switched on to what we are doing. Nobody misses the butt and knee pads that we used to wear. Raptor Deck grip is outstanding, especially when wet, and dropping a leatherman no longer means chipping your gelcoat.
With Raptor, we have a really worked hard on the foam itself, and our ability to cut and customize is top shelf. Our history and experience are our strength.
SA: More info?