50 Years of Sykes
In early 1966 Jeff Sykes designed and built his first racing scull that would assist him winning the Australian Interstate Sculling Championship – the Presidents Cup, held on the Huon River in Tasmania on 26th March 1966. That first boat was the beginning for what became Jeff Sykes & Associates Pty Ltd, now generally known simply as “Sykes”.
Within two years of commencing in business, a Sykes boat was competing at the Mexico Olympics and within eight years, our first rowing gold medal boat (also Australia’s first) was achieved at the 1974 World Championships.
Today, 50 years later, Jeff’s passion and desire to be the best still lives on – that very first wooden Sculling boat and the 1974 Gold Medal boat still exist too.
Sykes - Home of Excellence
Four Olympic Gold Medals and over 30 other medals at Olympics and World Championships is a testament to the excellence in design and quality of manufacture begun by Jeff Sykes and still continued at our Geelong manufacturing site today where 45 talented staff contribute to the success of our boats.
During 2013 we established a dedicated facility in China for production of our Australian designed boats the ‘Initiator’ Single Scull range, but Geelong, Australia will always be our home for the design, manufacture and repairs of our Racing boats.
Since 1966, our boats and designs have been the choice of many Australian Rowing Teams – a fact highlighted by the majority of all medals won by Australian crews being in Sykes boats, as well as most Schools and Rowing Clubs around Australia. Since the 1990’s we have exported extensively to almost all corners of the globe and our success in part is due to a long line of continuing innovations.
The Innovation Journey
Having been innovating for more than 50 years, we have an impressive list of world firsts in everything from hull design, to permanent seat ties, and even drink bottle holders in boats. Whilst drink bottle holders may seem a very simple and obvious requirement, they had never been incorporated into rowing boats. With modern training methods, increased time on the water and in the hot Australian summers, more and more rowers were going afloat with drink bottles – but with no holding fixtures, bottles were irritating due to the constant back and forth motion in the boat, and gradually caused damage to the inner hull. With the desire to minimise weight in racing boats, a light and practical solution was produced by Sykes and is a standard in all boats produced in our range. As one customer remarked, “you don’t appreciate its use until you row a boat without one”.
Apart from our current designs, Sykes have had five major impacts on global rowing boat designs. These may be regarded as commonplace now, but were cutting edge at the time of their introduction:
- Sykes were the first to establish specific designs for lightweights, winning Gold in 1974.
- Sykes were the first to develop "low-drag hulls" (Men’s 2- Mexico Olympics) which were then adopted in Europe.
- Narrow, rounded hulls, for a "least wetted area" were developed at Sykes too. Perfect for elite shells, these too are now standard in our industry.
- Sykes developed and introduced the now universal design of a seat slide. Traditional slide rails were made from a number of materials that were heavy, time consuming to manufacture and, in most cases, fixed in place. With Australia being a producer and, at that time, a world leader in aluminium production and extrusion, Sykes saw an opportunity to innovate in this area. An extrusion was designed that reduced weight, was self-supporting, fully adjustable and could be used in almost all rowing boats. The product was so successful, it was supplied around the globe and soon became known as Aussie Rail and an industry standard.
- Sykes developed the Foil wing rigger and in 1992 were among the first to produce a carbon fibre bow mounted wing rigger used then by Peter Antonie and Steve Hawkins, though for their time the riggers were seen as a bit too radical.
What else does Sykes do?
It may surprise you to know that we also do lots of things apart from our Rowing Boats and the incredibly successful Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine, oars and associated products. Sykes expertise lies predominantly in the field of advanced fibres – where for over 30 years we have been involved in the design and manufacture of many products using composite materials such as Carbon Fibre and Kevlar. Using and expanding our knowledge and skills from Rowing Boats, we have designed, manufactured or been involved in (and continue to be so) many growth sector areas including:
- Defence: Radomes
- Transport: Carbon Fibre Car Seats, Aeroplane and other marine industry components and moulds
- Construction: Building and architectural moulds
- Medical Technology: Prototype imaging equipment
- New Energy Technology: Solar Car Challenge integration of full body solar panels into composite vehicle body
Just like the rowers in our boats, we love to win too and sharing in your success is an important part of our business which continues to drive us.We would like to thank everyone who has been a part of the Sykes journey over the last 50 years and we wish everyone success and enjoyment in the sport that we have come to enjoy so much.
Jeff Lawrence (Managing Director) and Stuart Wilson (General Manager)