Erik Weiseth, manager at Orange Torpedo, says the white water recreation company has stopped using the Sevylor Tahiti and started using inflatable kayaks from Merlin-based SOTAR. Photo by Jeff Duewel

Tahiti era winds down on Rogue River

For decades, one of the most popular ways to navigate the Rogue River has been in a Tahiti. The bouncy inflatable kayaks began to flood the Rogue in the 1970s after Jerry Bentley founded Orange Torpedo trips in 1969.

But a year ago, Orange Torpedo finally quit using the Sevylor Tahiti for its client trips down the lower Rogue, and went with 120 new custom inflatables made by Merlin-based SOTAR, a leader in the industry. This year they've added another 50 to rent to customers, out of their Merlin facility, for $30 a day.

"This is a higher performance and more controllable than the old boat," said Orange Torpedo Manager Erik Weiseth. "But it's still beginner friendly."

Local outfitters say Sevylor is no longer connected to the Rogue River after it was sold five years ago. That's when Weiseth and head guide Mike Slagle started working with SOTAR.

"For a long time we were one of Sevylor's biggest clients; then we were no longer a priority," Weiseth said. "We thought it was time for something new. And we had the best raft maker in the world right up the road."

The Tahiti appears to be on its way out at other local businesses.

Galice Resort quit using or renting them, said owner Debbie Thomason. Bradbury's on Rogue River Highway won't be renting inflatables any more, and U-Save owner Troy Whitaker said he'll still rent Tahitis but may have to look for a different boat next year.

"When Coleman bought them out, Coleman didn't realize what a big part of history the Orange Torpedo was on the Rogue River," Whitaker said. "When I went to a show, I was told I had to make an order of at least $5,000, and they don't even want to make the seats anymore. You can still get a $79 one at Bi-Mart or Walmart but you can't get the heavier Orange Torpedo."

Sevylor's Tahitis for Orange Torpedo were more durable than those available in stores.

A Bi-Mart of Grants Pass spokesperson said they expect a shipment of Tahitis, which will retail for $109, in time for summer.

Weiseth said the new SOTAR still bounces over the waves like the old boats, but is more durable.

"Our guides and our clients loved them last year," he said.

Cheryl Sanders, sales manger at SOTAR, said the company also is making a custom inflatable for ECHO trips, another Rogue outfitter.

"This is a good compromise between our high-end boats and the cheap Sevylors," Sanders said.

SOTAR's top-of-the-line inflatable kayak runs about $2,000.

Sanders said SOTAR will not sell the new, custom kayaks to the general public, but Weiseth said Orange Torpedo could start selling the used ones in a few years. And for those who want the old Tahiti, Orange Torpedo will be selling off much of its Tahiti inventory in mid-May.

Jeff Duewel is a reporter with the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Reach him at 541-474-3720 or email

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