Interview with Rob Bossen: Branches, Grey Duck & the Future of Paddling in the US

6-minute read

Minnesotan Rob Bossen has his hands in several paddling-related ventures including Bending Branches, Grey Duck Outdoor and US paddling’s newest trade coalition. We were able to catch him for an interview recently. Here’s what we learned from Rob…

Rob Bossen on a Grey Duck paddleboard holding a huge fish

Rob Bossen, Branches sales rep and owner of Grey Duck Outdoor

Representing Bending Branches

Rob is part of a three-person independent sales rep company that represents outdoor brands across the Midwest. The team is made up of founder Chris Bindert, Tyler Henk and himself. Their client list includes Bending Branches and our sister company, Aqua Bound.

Their team is tasked to represent Branches with paddlesports retailers and outfitters throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois and Northern Michigan in the canoe and kayak fishing market. They not only work closely with businesses that already carry our paddles but continually look for growth opportunities.

“Bending Branches is very well known in both the canoe market and the kayak fishing market,” said Rob. “They’re the gold standard in both. We’ve been lucky because Branches is, in general, a very stable company—stable leadership, stable employee base, stable sales team. Operationally, they’re very proficient and make excellent products. We really enjoy our relationship with them.”

Rob had a few things to say directly to our readers:

“I think most people have an under-appreciation for how much time, effort and care the Bending Branches leadership team spends on their employees, their products and their customers. They put a lot of thought into how to best serve each of those groups and it shows up in a lot of different ways.

“It’s a very unique company in terms of how well they execute across the board. Customers should feel super confident when they buy products from Branches. They’re not only going to get a great product, but they’re helping support a great company and a great group of people as well.”

woman sits at the bow of a Grey Duck canoe using a Bending Branches Catalyst paddle on a calm fall day

Canoeist paddles a Grey Duck canoe with Bending Branches’ Catalyst paddle

Grey Duck Outdoor: Quality Paddle Boards and Canoes

Rob is also the founder and owner of Grey Duck Outdoor, a successful paddle board and canoe-making company based in Minnesota.

Grey Duck began in the stand-up paddle board (SUP) market and is a strong contender there with their line of touring, all-around and youth boards. They offer both solid and inflatable options and are continually refining their designs.

Rob’s passion project is their patented Quetico, a solid streamlined board designed for wilderness tripping. One of its unique features is the add-on Sit/Carry System. It’s the perfect seat when fishing from the board (or taking a break from paddling) and makes portaging a dream. It’s carried overhead like a canoe, with plenty of clearance to allow you to carry your pack, too.

Rob Bossen portages his Quetico paddleboard on a wildnerness trail through the woods

Rob portages Grey Duck’s Quetico paddle board

“Northern Minnesota and the Boundary Waters have always been important to me personally. And it’s always been an important part of the storyline that Grey Duck wants to tell,” said Rob.

This affinity with the BWCAW had much to do with Rob’s decision to enter the canoe market in the early 2020s. They began with a co-branding relationship with Canadian canoe maker Rhéaume.

Rob said, “That worked out well and led to the question of: Could we add some canoe models to our lineup, and build them here in Minnesota? That’s when Eli got in touch with me and we started to think about what that might look like.” Eli Nord, with several years of mentoring by some of the top names in the industry, is now Grey Duck’s lead canoe developer.

Grey Duck currently has three models in their ‘Made in Minnesota’ line of Boundary Waters-friendly canoes including the Vision 17, Vision 18 and the newest addition, the Orion solo canoe. All are designed for multi-day tripping.

“There was an opportunity to give consumers an alternative to some of the existing players in the market that have been here a long time. We’re different both in terms of the visual aesthetic and the use of resin infusion as the way we build our canoes,” Rob said. “We’re in a very competitive market with a lot of great canoes being built. A few markets have shrunk post-Covid so we’ve got some work to do to get better brand recognition.”

Overall, though, Rob is happy with where Grey Duck is and where it’s going. “The future is certainly bright from my perspective.”

closeup of someone portaging a Greg Duck canoe toward the shore

That leads us to our third conversation topic, the future of paddling in the US…

The Future of Paddling in the US

After a huge spike in outdoor-related activities during the Covid era—including paddling—the market has again slowed down as many people have gone back to their pre-pandemic, largely indoor lives.

One new thing happening in the industry that excites Rob, though, is the emergence of the Paddlesports Trade Coalition. He said, “The industry is coming together to acknowledge that the long-term trajectory for paddle sports is that we have an aging consumer base. The industry understands there are things that need to be done to try to bring new consumers into the mix.

“There’s a new group that’s formed called the Paddlesports Trade Coalition (PTC). It was originally brainstormed in January 2023 by a group of paddlesports brands that got together to talk about how we continue to grow as an industry. The PTC includes brands, retailers, outfitters, sales reps, the media, industry advocates—it’s very broad. The scope of the work is to try to grow paddlesports.”

Rob is on the Board of Directors, as well as Jason Eccles, Bending Branches President and co-owner. PTC is intentionally making room in its board for representatives across the various voices of the industry so it can be as well-rounded as possible.

“It’s going to be a function of stakeholders across all aspects of paddlesports working together to educate consumers, grow paddling access, and create a paddlesports ecosystem that’s healthy for all involved. And some of that education and increased access will result in getting more people into boats and enjoying time on the water. So there’s going to be a big push to expose more people to paddling in a way that increases the user base over time.

two people paddling a canoe with a person on a paddle board on either side of them

“The results of the PTC’s efforts aren’t going to be apparent overnight. It’ll take a lot of effort from a lot of people to make the envisioned future happen. But I’m super excited about the work that’s being done and the future of paddlesports in North America.”

We want to thank Rob Bossen for taking the time to give us his comments! You can learn more about Grey Duck Outdoor on their website, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

Learn more about the Paddlesports Trade Coalition here.

All photos courtesy of Grey Duck Outdoor.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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