MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — “I entered my first canoe race when I was 8.”
Raised in Indiana, Ted Bell found there are 10,000 reasons to fall in love with Minnesota — and one big reason why he moved here.
“Raced around the circuit in that area and ended up moving to Minnesota to be closer to the Boundary Waters,” said Bell, founder of Northstar Canoes.
“Canoe Country,” as Bell calls it, offered a chance to explore his passion for paddling. He was then able to turn that passion into a living.
“We are always trying to make a better mousetrap. Lighter, faster, dryer,” said Bell.
It’s become a science inside his Princeton workshop.
In the 1970’s, while still in college, Bell began making his own canoes. He started Bell Canoe Works and then sold the company in 2006. But he couldn’t stay away, so he opened Northstar Canoes in 2012.
“Over the years we’ve made just about any type of canoe you could imagine,” said Bell.
The company has manufactured marathon racing canoes, whitewater canoes and even flatwater racing boats.
Bell says Kevlar is key. Each boat gets its own cut of the light, yet durable fabric.
The fabric gets put into a canoe mold, then resin is applied to laminate the material.
“It can be laminated in the morning and out of the mold in the afternoon,” said Bell.
Trim, seats and yokes are then added to complete the project.
Northstar is capable of making about three canoes a day. They aren’t built for racing, but rather comfort and space.
“I like to think of my canoes as more of a Prius. It’s very efficient,” said Bell.
“I’m about to take a newborn with my wife into the Boundary Waters. We can take a boatload of diapers, we can take a heated tent, a wood stove, all kinds of things. Because a canoe can carry it,” said Bear Paulsen of Northstar Canoes.
Now, the current is taking Northstar overseas. They sell from Oregon to Rhode Island, but also to canoeists in Germany and Japan.
“We have a load of canoes over here that are heading for London tomorrow. We have a distributor in Finland,” said Bell.
He isn’t worried about selling canoes as much as he’s worried about what people do with them when they buy them. He wants his customers worldwide to enjoy what he enjoys.
“Once in a while they end up in somebody’s garage and they sit there. You need to get that out and use it. There needs to be scratches on the bottom of the canoes,” said Bell. “t’s not about the speed when you get out in the wilderness. It’s about the enjoyment. It’s about the efficiency.”