‘A 20-year startup’: Nationally known boat company anchored in Steamboat Springs
In a small workshop just off 13th Street near downtown Steamboat Springs, John St. John puts his brand on the side of skiff boats bearing the Hog Island Boat Works name.
For two decades, the Steamboat Springs man has created some of the most respected drift boats and skiffs in the country. Today, that reputation stretches from Alaska to Florida, where many people who enjoy hunting and fishing have come to rely on the Hog Island boats, whether in search of a trout, hunting water fowl or just looking for a day on the water.
“We are a small custom boat shop in the Dolomites of Colorado,” said St. John, the founder and owner. “Our farthest western dealer is in Boise, and our farthest southern dealer is in Orlando.”
On this day, St. John was joined by Adam Spector as they put the finishing touches on five Hog Island skiffs, taking a few minutes between tasks to check on dinner — a yak marinated in butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, ginger and garlic that was roasting just outside a roll-up garage door.
A sign above the door — “Float & Be Happy!” — tells the world St. John’s approach to life.
Hog Island Boat Works is the only manufacturer in the United States that creates skiff and drift boats out of roto-molded plastic. The business currently offers its boats at six dealers across the country.
“It’s a composite boat that has a very quiet, durable shell. A lot of my guys are just looking to run them up rivers, and they like to beat the living crap out of them,” said Vern Riches, a salesman with Marine Products in Salt Lake City, which sells Hog Island. “They just love them, and we can’t seem to keep them in stock.”
The boats are created using a triple-layer, polymer-hull construction that results in a durable surface consisting of a material similar to what’s used in whitewater kayaks.
“Our customers, literally 95% of them, are hardcore fishermen,” St. John said. “There’s some that buy our dory for the whitewater aspect, but not very many. Our boats have a reputation for lasting a long time, and they’re very fishing specific.”
St. John started guiding in 1984 in Wyoming, and started making his boats in 2001 in Steamboat Springs. He and his stepbrother wanted to create a small, shallow drift boat, called a dory, made out of roto-molded plastic that would be durable and could be used in rivers that featured whitewater.
“Roto-molding typically is a single-walled structure like stock tanks, or water tanks, or kayaks … boats with this double wall are pretty unique,” St. John said. “We’re making the world’s largest skin-foam-skin parts that are being used in our skiff and dory … and then our drain system that goes underneath the bench is patented twice for design and utility.”
The process starts with St. John and a few other guys building a 14-foot wood version of the boat to make sure what the computer is telling them is right. The digital version is then turned into an aluminum mold that is used by a California-based roto-molder to create the plastic version.
Then it’s returned to where the parts are assembled, the boat is branded and numbered before being sent to one of the six dealers, which will add the final touches — including a motor and accessories — before selling the boat to a customer who is normally waiting for the arrival.
Last year, dealerships sold 85 boats created by Hog Island, and the company has already made 47 this year.
St. John said he is unable to sell direct to his customers at this time because of the way his shipping works. He said that right now, he ships the boats to dealers who customize the boats for the customers and offer the trailers needed to transport the boats. He is thrilled the company continues to grow and looks forward to what the future might bring.
“We are a 20-year startup,” St. John said. “I still come to work every day like it’s a startup.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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