In sinking economy, Made in Portugal kayaks float on

The "Made in Portugal" label will dominate the waters at the London Olympics, with the country's kayak-canoe industry prospering despite a floundering economy.

Of the 200 crafts at the Games that begin July 27, three-quarters were built by Portugal's Nelo, the Olympics' official supplier since the 2004 Athens edition and a rare success story out of an economy in deep water.

As Portugal grapples with a recession dating back to late 2010, its economy buoyed by international funds since 2011, and tens of thousands of residents stream out in search of jobs, Nelo is alive and well.

Sales are expected to grow by a quarter this year for this company from the northern town of Vila do Conde founded by a Portuguese kayaker in 1978 in a moment of pluck.

"Foreign boats were too expensive, so I began making my own," said founder Manuel Ramos, 53, Portugal's first national kayak champion.

"I later started selling them to the Portugal clubs, then I went global in the early '90s," added Ramos, who started the company when Portugal still had few canoers, a decade before its 1988 debut at the Olympics.

Nelo, named after Ramos' moniker, now exports the majority of its canoes and kayaks to a roster of 100 countries, with this year's production slated to reach a personal record of 3,000 watercrafts.

The company expects 5 million euros ($6.28 million) in sales in 2012, or an uptick of between 25 and 30 percent from 2011.

According to Nelo CEO Andre Santos, the Olympic-year sales are no fluke.

"The Olympics are a particular challenge and a source of pride for us to see our boats represented at the top of the podium, but our sales go up every year with or without the games," the 35-year-old Santos said.

As London gears up for the Olympics, Nelo's 80-plus employees are tirelessly putting the finishing touches on last orders for the games.

In a spacious factory smelling of paint and carbon fiber, employees tweak watercraft, including the kayak of German champion Ronald Rauhe and the canoe of France's Mathieu Goubel.

At the last Olympics in Beijing in 2008, 20 athletes paddling Nelo's watercrafts walked away with medals. This year, Ramos is hoping for more.

"It's a hard number to beat, but we'll try," he said.

The secret to its success, according to Nelo CEO Santos, is a "boldness" that's in stark contrast to their "completely dormant competitors" unable to diversify their models and provide boats adapted to each athlete.

Portugal's financial crisis, he adds, has been a good thing for the company.

"The country has become more competitive on price thanks to the cost of labour and the euro's depreciation in particular," said the former competitive kayaker, a credential shared by many Nelo employees.

The currency's depreciation has enabled Nelo to export more to the US and Asian markets, Santos said.

But while Nelo has profited from its country's woes, it has also had a hand in beefing up Portugal's canoe scene to a competitive level, with some of the country's top paddlers hailing from Vila do Conde.

One is Leonel Ramalho, European kayaking champion in the 30-kilometre (19 miles) division -- which doesn't figure in the Olympics -- who credits Ramos with his success.

"One day Nelo said it was time I win something and told me I should swing by the factory so they could build me a boat. Two years later, here I am," the 29-year-old said after a few paddle strokes along the town's Mau river.

A manager of Portugal's canoe-kayak team at the London Olympics echoes the sentiment.

"It's been 10 years since Nelo dominates the world canoeing scene, so of course we're benefiting," Rui Fernandes said during a visit to the Nelo factory for final tweaks.

"We'll have six athletes in London and, more to the point, they are in the running to bring back medals. This was unthinkable a few years back," he said.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel
    Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel

    The $150,000 pearl-studded, custom-made Calvin Klein dress worn by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o at this year's Academy Awards has been stolen, police said on Thursday. The gown, embellished with 6,000 natural white pearls, was stolen from Nyong'o's room at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, during the day on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood said. "Ms Nyong'o was not in the room at the time of the theft," Deputy John Mitchell …

  • South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar
    South Korea decriminalises adultery, condom shares soar

    South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a controversial adultery law which for more than 60 years had criminalised extra-marital sex and jailed violators for up to two years. The decision saw shares in the South Korean firm Unidus Corp., one of the world's largest condom manufacturers, soar by the daily limit of 15 percent on the local stock exchange. "Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," said …

  • US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians
    US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians

    The US-led coalition has carried out air strikes against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, where the jihadists have launched a new offensive and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians. The raids on Thursday struck areas around the town of Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving information on possible casualties. The town remains under the control of Kurdish forces, but at least 10 surrounding villages have been seized by IS, along …

  • U.S. flies most advanced surveillance plane from Philippines

    By Manuel Mogato MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has begun flying its most advanced surveillance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, out of the Philippines for patrols over the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday, acknowledging the flights for the first time. The United States, the Philippines' oldest and closest ally, has promised to share "real time" information on what is happening in Philippine waters as China steps up its activities in the South China Sea. China claims most of …

  • Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts
    Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts

    BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants seized more Christians from their homes in northeastern Syria in the past three days, bringing the total number abducted by the extremist group to over 220, activists said Thursday. …

  • Purisima denies endorsing successor
    Purisima denies endorsing successor

    Resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima denied reports that he has been urging President Aquino to appoint his protegé as the new police chief. “Contrary to news reports, PDG Alan La Madrid Purisima is not in any position to recommend and has not in fact recommended anyone to the President for appointment as next chief of the PNP,” his lawyer Kristoffer James Purisima said yesterday. Sources said that Purisima may have resigned but he reportedly remains …

  • IS executioner 'Jihadi John' named as London graduate
    IS executioner 'Jihadi John' named as London graduate

    "Jihadi John", the masked Islamic State group militant believed responsible for beheading of at least five Western hostages, has been named as Kuwaiti-born computing graduate Mohammed Emwazi from London. "Jihadi John", nicknamed after Beatle John Lennon due to his British accent, is believed to be responsible for the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig. …

  • ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’
    ‘Noy angered by previous SAF failures to get Marwan’

    Supt. Raymund Train, who led the SAF team that killed Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, recounted in a sworn statement the meeting he and senior SAF officers had with Aquino in Malacañang on Nov. 30. Train said among the senior officers who attended the meeting were then PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas, SAF deputy commander Chief Supt. Noli Taliño and intelligence group chief Senior Supt. Fernando Mendez. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options