Latvian boat manufacturer gets a shot at Rio Olympics

The Latvian boat manufacturer Prestol Boats has taken a big step to ensure Latvian boats made in Rīga are used by the best rowers in the world, LSM's Matīss Vecvagaris reported Tuesday. 

Over the last 20 years only four boat manufacturers have been greenlighted for the Olympics - Portuguese Nelo, Polish Plasex and Slovak Vajda. The German state factory FES also makes boats, along with bobsleigh carts and bicycles, but only for the country's own athletes (others can only hope to rent their products).

In the 2015 World Rowing Championship the Latvian company Prestol Kompozits was the only boat manufacturer that was able to pass plagiarism checks and to receive a certificate for participating in Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016. 

The plagiarism checks take place by measuring the boat in five separate places, and the distance of the waterline between two points cannot be the same as for another manufacturer, Oto Dzenis from Prestol Boats told LSM.lv.

This result was achieved with a work of five years, and almost all this year's manufacturing resources were allotted to the cause. Almost everyone in the company's team of eight is a former rowing professional, while most of the project was tested digitally, experimenting and testing myriad boat models.

A total of 128 kayaks participate in the Olympics, and it is unlikely that any athlete will use a boat manufactured in Latvia, though the certificate gives a chance to work for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The sticker on the boat is also a pass for the yearly World Championship where 8,000 boats participate.

Oto Dzenis realized right away that the acquired certificate butters some parsnips as acclaimed Russian canoe rower Maxim Opalev praised the boat after testing it, so representatives from other countries expressed interest about purchasing the boats for their teams.

Next year teams from Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Turkey may use Latvian boats in the World Championship. The company's canoes have been certified as well, and plans are under way to manufacture two seat boats.

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) boards are also being manufactured, and perhaps the new sport will make it to the Olympics. Prestol Boats' boards are suitable both for 8-10 kilometer distances and for 300-1000 meter sprints.

The company is also participating in manufacturing bobsleigh and luge sleds as it has proven to be able to work with high-tech carbon fiber. They also manufacture yacht parts and sell composite materials to other manufacturers.

About 10 percent of the manufactured boats are sold locally, and there's no lack of champions in Latvia who have used SUPs from Prestol Boats. 

"The boat has to be as stable as possible, so that the athlete is thinking about the rowing technique, not about [keeping] equilibrium. That's when they give 100% and concentrate on the competition," said Oto Dzenis. That's why the company's boats are wider in the middle and narrower in the ends so that there's the lowest possible water resistance for every square centimeter of the displaced surface. 

Of the nine models manufactured by the company two have been certified for the Olympcs, while others are meant for tourism, training and health. For example, fitness boats, particularly popular in Spain, are loved not only for sports but also for health and recreation after a long work day.

Despite this, the company mostly makes professional sports boats. A good boat costs about €2,500. The company can make a boat in three days, while about 10 to 15 can be made in a week.

In 2014 about 86 last year's models were sold, of which two thirds were the cheapest available. While this year only 28 have been sold, but almost all of them were the 2015 models. The year could be closed with about 35-40 sales, according to Oto Dzenis.

The company doesn't have second thoughts about the fact that it abstained from selling 2013 models and focused on the new model to pass the Olympic qualification. Clients who didn't have the chance to get the old model are now able to buy the better one. 

In 2016 the company plans to manufacture some 200 sports boats, chipping away at the market share of the Portuguese (3,000), Slovak (1,000) and Polish (1,000) companies.

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