Paddlers who got their start paddling iconic Prijon kayaks from Germany owe it to Prijon founder Anton Prijon, who passed away leaving a long paddlesports legacy on Dec. 30, 2016.
According to a story posted by the European Canoe Association, Toni Prijon was born in 1929 in Gorizia, Yugoslavia, and spent his childhood by the Soča River. Already building kayaks as a teenager in his father’s workshop (he won his first whitewater canoeing race in the first boat he built), he left Yugoslavia in the 1950s and moved to Germany where he married and started a family. In 1958 he became German Whitewater Champion and a year later, in 1959, the country’s first World Champion, winning the men’s kayak event at the Whitewater Canoeing World Championships in Treignac.
In 1962 he founded the Prijon KayakCompany with his wife Lotte in Rosenheim, Germany, first building paddles and later kayaks. Considered a visionary in his work, he contributed numerous improvements and patents in boat construction, among them inventing a machine for constructing polyethylene, or plastic kayaks. The process was known as blow-molding, leading to Prijon’s reputation for building super tough whitewater kayaks. Prijon was especially known for designing the canoe slalom and wildwater/downriver boats which dominated international competitions throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Prijon Special Slalom kayaks swept K-1 slalom at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich).
His pioneering work in design extended to include a broader influence on the paddlesport industry and the popularization of plastic kayaks for every aspect of paddlesports, from creek boating and playboating to recreational whitewater and sea kayaking. Popular models included the Hurricane, Tornado, T-Slalom, Invader and more.
In 2007 he was introduced to the International Whitewater Hall of Fame.
“It is with great sadness that we hear of Anton’s passing,” longtime North American distributor Landis Arnold noted on his Facebook page (Arnold’s first batch of Prijons ordered from overseas actually sank while being shipped across the Atlantic, leaving Arnold with some explaining to do to U.S. retailers). “He was a pioneer, artist, patriarch, paddler and mentor who did far more than a life’s work and lived with just as much love.”
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