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Like a shark fin from the water, information emerges gradually from Ben Cooper.  It takes months, for example, for us to discover that this curious Brit has been working on a flat packed kayak prototype, and many more weeks to find out that the project is something a little more ambitious than a garage hobby.  

Months later we discover he’s the Head of Innovation at M&C Saatchi, and that his recent trip to France wasn’t family holiday but business trip to Cannes – where he and his team pretty much performed a clean sweep.

So it goes with Ben Cooper – inventor, brand builder, and diehard kayaker.

It was Ben’s tshirt label, which he founded after finishing Uni, that lead to him building a website that in turn transformed into a career in digital.  So it’s no surprise really that his passion for kayaking, sparked during a six month stint in Chile after finishing Uni, has manifested itself in his newest business venture: OSixHundred

Based on the traditional, 4000 year old Inuit design, the OSixHundred kayak is made from an interlocking lightweight pine frame and translucent carbon skin.  Weighing in at less than 10kg, the flat packed hoop pine kayak can be snapped together and its taut Kevlar jacket laced up in under two hours – though most makers prefer to savour the project over several weeks.  After all, as Ben says, “Building a boat with your kids or folks is a wonderful thing.”

While the inspiration for OSixHundred came from Ben’s father who had a classic, canvas-wrapped ‘skin-on-frame’ kayak, the business came to life with the help of industrial designer and ex-champion rower and Vert Design founder Andrew Simpson – Ben’s business partner and also the founder of kit rowboat business Balmain Boat Company.

While Ben says the learnings from Balmain Boat Company helped enormously in accelerating the design of the kayak, the hard work was the design and establishing a structure that strengthened as one builds.

The production process, Ben explains, requires sending a design file to a computer numerical cutter, which in turn cuts out the 30 interlocking ribs.  The spines are created from flexible cedar.

 “The skin in truth is the hard bit, each one is hand stitched then heat sealed,” he says. 

Then it’s over to the owner who puts it altogether. Sandpaper, clamps and a plane are needed to get a good finish, though Ben says the process is “more about patience than being a competent woodworker.”

The final result is a freakishly lightweight, semi-transparent craft that glows in the sunlight as it cuts through the water.  The carbon skin is made from the same material used in bullet proof vests and sails, making it perfect for lake and harbour paddling.

“Kayaking is accessible to most and we believe keeping the craft light and manageable means even more people can get on the water,” says Ben. 

And why should they bother?

“Personally I love being self powered, the silence, calm and unique perspective,” he says.  “When you hit the harbour before most of the city has awoken it’s simply wonderful. You get to conquer the day before it conquers you.” 


The OSixHundred kayak is available now.