Werner Paddles Vice President Don McClain poses with paddles at the company’s headquarters in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Werner Paddles Vice President Don McClain poses with paddles at the company’s headquarters in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Werner Furrer needed a paddle, so he made one — then another

That was in 1965. Today Monroe-based Werner Paddles is still innovating, though not so much with wood.

This is one of a series of Herald Business Journal stories about legacy businesses in Snohomish County.

MONROE — The first fiberglass kayak that Werner Furrer Sr. purchased back in 1965 didn’t come with a paddle.

It was like a rod without a reel, a toy without a battery.

Instead of heading to the store, Furrer, an engineer by trade, disappeared into the family garage to build his own.

Three months later, he emerged with his new, hand-built paddle.

In the years ahead, the paddles he designed found favor with his wife, children and fellow kayakers.

In the early 1970s, he and his oldest son, Werner Furrer Jr., launched Werner Paddles.

It was a part-time enterprise, headquartered in the aforementioned garage.

Furrer Sr. had been constructing his own and his family’s outdoor gear since immigrating to the U.S. in the mid-1950s from Switzerland via Canada.

Werner Paddle’s first mass-produced paddle was “a heavy wooden coat rod with a rudimentary fiberglass paddle attached to either end,” said Taylor Robertson, Werner Paddle’s marketing director.

In the 1970s, a then-small Seattle outfitter, Recreational Equipment Inc., “bought a bunch and sold them for $17 a piece,” Robertson said.

“It was pretty cutting edge for the time. It had a round shaft, and the paddles were lightweight, flat fiberglass blades,” he said.

By the mid-1980s, the family business had incorporated and moved to a manufacturing facility in Everett.

Werner Paddles shipper Crystal Habowski stacks kayak paddles before boxing them up at the company’s plant in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Werner Paddles shipper Crystal Habowski stacks kayak paddles before boxing them up at the company’s plant in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The growing company moved to Sultan in 1996, then Monroe in 2011.

Today, Werner employs 60 in North America, including 45 at the Monroe headquarters and production plant.

The company’s patented, adjustable-ferrule system, which locks the shaft into the angle of one’s choosing, is used by other paddle makers through license agreements with Werner, Robertson said.

Werner Furrer Jr. retired in 2005. His younger brother, Bruce Furrer, is now in charge.

Besides kayak paddles, Werner produces paddles for canoes, kayak fishing, whitewater rafting and paddles for people who prefer to stand up.

Local artists and in-house designers add artistry and flair to the blades: a kayak-fishing paddle is decorated with shimmering orange and green scales; a stand-up paddle sports a blue-green abstract of Puget Sound.

Werner Furrer Sr., in his 90s, still drops by the office to check out the latest designs, Robertson said.

The company’s first kayak paddle weighed more than three-pounds; its latest models weigh 28 ounces or less.

Handles and blades are made from carbon fiber composites, the same strong, lightweight material that Boeing and other aerospace manufacturers have incorporated into the latest generation of jetliners, including the 777X.

While a heavy paddle may give your arms workout, it won’t get you far, Robertson said.

“It takes about 1,000 strokes to go a mile. The lighter the paddle, the longer you can stay on the water,” he said.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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