Building a Better Grip

Whitefish man launches Kickstarter to fund production of a new oar grip

By Justin Franz
Jeff Gilman of Whitefish has launched a Kickstarter to fund the production of a new oar grip that he said will improve rafter’s control, comfort and power. Courtesy Photo

WHITEFISH — The oar has been propelling boats forward for centuries. In that time, the oar’s design has changed little — a grip attached to a shaft attached to a blade.

But just because the oar has been around for thousands of years doesn’t mean it’s perfected, said Jeff Gilman, a Whitefish woodworker who recently started a Kickstarter fundraiser to launch his newest creation into production, the Gilman Grip.

The grip is an ergonomic handle that is built to form to almost any hand. Not only is it more comfortable for users, it also offers more control and power, Gilman said.

“Rafting oars have not changed in thousands of years,” Gilman said. “But this grip is going to take the oar to the next level.”

Gilman has spent most of his life as a carpenter and for years has sold fine cabinetry through his business Jeff Gilman Woodworking. But true passion has long been whitewater kayaking. As Gilman got older, however, he decided to get into rafting. While Gilman said he has always been comfortable on the water, something didn’t feel right when he got into rafting. After awhile, he realized it was the oar.

Most oars are round with a rubber grip, but Gilman said they can easily spin inside your hand when going through whitewater and that it can be exhausting trying to keep the oar steady. Three years ago, he started thinking about how he could make a better grip and put some ideas on paper. Once he came up with a design he liked, he went into his woodshop and began carving out a better grip. The following summer, he put his new design to the ultimate test: a whitewater-rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The grips performed flawlessly.

“After using these grips for 200-plus miles down the Grand Canyon, I knew that this was a design that would work,” he said.

Since that trip, Gilman has perfected the design and made a few demo oars. He said one of the advantages to using his grips is that not only do they feel better, but because of their shape, they also prevent the oar from twisting in your hand. That means a rafter knows what direction the oar is facing at all times.

Now, he’s ready to take his product to market and is raising money to purchase the tooling to get the grip into mass production. Gilman said the tooling molds would cost approximately $40,000. He hopes to sell the grips for about $60. He said that they are adaptable to almost any oar on the market.

Gilman said he’s hopeful that he will be able to have the grips made somewhere in Montana, although he will consider having them produced elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest if that makes the most financial sense for the company.

“I would really love it if we could make these locally,” he said.

Gilman said the Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $2,000 in just two days, and the product is already getting attention from national rafting publications.

For more information, visit the Gilman Grip Kickstarter.

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