On January 17 Darrell Leidigh—the founder of Mohawk Canoes–died at age 78 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving a hole in the hull of the canoeing world. His boats were praised for their keen design and high quality, and gained a loyal following among whitewater paddlers and tourers alike throughout the Southeast and rest of canoe country.
“He was a non-stop thinker,” says Wenonah Canoe and Current Designs President Mike Cichanowski, a longtime friend of Leidigh. “He once told me that there’s been more money lost in the canoe industry than ever was made, but he did well out of sheer determination. He was known for making a good boat at an affordable price, and was a great regional manufacturer.”
Leidigh was born on August 16, 1929, in Hollywood, Calif. He served in the U.S. military during the Korean conflict and owned several businesses—one as a railing manufacturer–before he began producing boats.
His entry into the boat world began in 1958 when Leidigh moved to Orlando and started a business making pontoon boats. Six years later he married his wife, Bettye, and began building his acclaimed canoes. Mohawk Canoes was highly successful and grew to become one of the largest canoe manufacturing companies in the United States. Some of Leidigh’s most acclaimed designs include the Probe, Viper, Shaman and Odyssey, craft that gained a quick following for their attention to detail and high-performance.
In 1976 Darrell Leidigh and his brother Mark expanded the business to include the production of canoe paddles, and their ideas and innovations kept the company independent for thirty years. Mohawk Canoes was sold in 2006, and Mohawk Paddle sold in 2007.
The Leidigh family turned their profits back to the land in 2000 upon the purchase of 40 acres around Crystal Lake in the City of Lake Mary, WI, to protect it from future development. This land now forms the Crystal Lake Preserve.
In addition to being president of the Crystal Lake Preserve, the environmentally minded Leidigh was a member of the National Audubon Society, the Seminole Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, Operation Migration, the Sierra Cluband the International Crane Foundation.
Donations in his memory may be made to the International Crane Foundation, P.O. Box 447 , Baraboo , WI 53913 .
Darrel Ledigh – A Solo Canoeist’s Gratitude and Thanks
Let us count the open boat solos – Probe 11, 12, 13 & 14. Viper 11 & 12.Rodeo, Maxim, Shaman. XL 13, 14 & 15. Solo 13 & 14, Odyssey 14 and 15. Pack. Seventeen choices in solo canoes. Nearly double that if you count choices in Royalex and R-84. Thanks Darrel.
Let’s talk outfitting. Did you want that new canoe factory outfitted to your custom specifications? Saddles, thigh straps, knee pads, foot braces, floatation bags, anchor pads, lacing kits – just tell Darrel what you want where. Or order the parts and pieces and DIY the installation Thanks again my friend.
Innovation? Beyond keeping a paddler’s purse healthy with factory direct sales Darrel incorporated some form-follows-function ideas. Molded drain holes in deck plates. Why am I forced to drill a drain hole in other manufacturer’s deck plates? Seats that can be positioned to different heights or cant angles by simply repositioning a spacer. Why am I forced to buy different seat drops or cut down the stock drops on other manufacturer’s seats? Simple, always-there yokes straps for solo hulls. Durable and economical paddles. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Paddlers everywhere, solo boaters especially, thank you Darrel, from the bottom of our saddles to the tip of our deck plates. Your paddling legacy lives on wherever boaters gather.