Rod building legend Ken Whiting dies
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Ken Whiting, one of the foremost rod designers of his time and the winner of eight ICAST awards, has died aged 72.
With his slight build, vintage flat-top haircut and prominent ears, Whiting played to his image of the wacky professor, but in truth he was anything but, writes Mel Bagnall.
A pioneer of nano technology, Whiting challenged the way rods were made and changed the way people fished. His rods, including the Airrus and the Carrot Stix, are acknowledged as significant turning points in rod design, introducing features never seen before.
Whiting eschewed the trappings of today’s rod developers. Those invited into his office – the garage at his Las Vegas home – were confronted by a chaos of cardboard boxes, rod blanks and components, piles of paperwork and bottles of assorted concoctions, with a small workbench buried somewhere in the middle. “Welcome to Airrus world headquarters,” he would grin.
Whiting was born in Chicago South Side in 1940 and began fishing with his mother and father at Sister Lakes in Michigan, likening himself to Tom Sawyer. As a teenager he was interested in bowling and went on to become a pro in the PBA. He also designed, made and flew model airplanes.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1962, but after joining the US Air Force was sent to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. There he married and had two children, who he raised along with his wife’s two sons. When the Vietnam War broke out he was made Loadmaster for the planes going to and from the war zones, a position given top-secret clearance.
In 1966 he went back to Weber State College in Ogden, emerging with a BS in psychology and a double major in marketing, before gaining a masters in business administration at Utah State University. To support his family and fund his way through education he worked night shift at a bakery, getting home in the small hours of the morning.
Later, using money from a bowling business that he initiated and managed, he assisted in the start-up of two production facilities, one produced ceramic bowling ball cores and the other driver heads for golf clubs. Both were industry firsts.
It was his involvement in the golf market that gave him the idea of using the technology employed in golf club shafts in fishing rods. Whiting had found his niche. His familiarity with business practices and what he modestly called a ‘knack’ for marketing took him to the peak of his profession.
He made his first rod for Lamiglas before developing the Sirrus rod. After a trademark dispute with Shakespeare, he renamed the brand and became founder and president of Airrus Rods.
In 2007 he designed and developed the Carrot Stix, the first rod branded by colour, and was later a consultant for Duckett Fishing and Pure Fishing. In 2011 he returned to Airrus to develop the first rod to use buckypaper in the construction of the blank.
The industry was quick to recognise Whiting’s genius. His designs won the best of show rod category at ICAST in 1998 and from 2002 through to 2007, when Carrot Stix earned a unique triple clean sweep of best freshwater and best saltwater rod categories, plus the overall best of show accolade. A global buying frenzy ensued.
During the same period he received Outdoor Life’s Editor’s Choice award, Field and Stream Rod of the Year (for Airrus) and was the readers’ choice winner in the prestigious Outdoor Life 25 and Outdoor Life Innovation awards.
Seemingly nocturnal, he would invariably call me when it was way past midnight in Vegas to talk about a new product idea or business venture. We spoke just a few days before his death about a potential new deal that he was excited about. Equally, he was an invaluable sounding board for articles that I might be working on where technical accuracy was vital.
Whiting always believed too many rod manufacturers were using similar methods to produce lookalike rods. “There’s really no reason why things can’t be different,” he said.
A Field and Stream journalist who spent three days in Whiting’s company dubbed him the ‘Wizard of Rods’ – a fitting epitaph for a man whose fertile mind produced some of the most technologically advanced rods in the world.
Whiting is survived by his wife, Ann, and four sons.