The Feather-Raft has come a long way since its first prototype, which Hughson resident and Dutcher Middle School teacher Elias Ruiz created by connecting 88 two liter bottles to a sheet of plywood. Now, Ruiz hopes to produce the perfected model of his invention on a larger scale, and is asking for the public's help in making his dreams come true.
"It's been a long journey," said Ruiz. "One of my life goals has always been to invent something, so to see it on the shelf will mean more to me than anything else."
The Feather-Raft is an eight foot by four foot composite foam structure coated in a polymer plastic designed to float steadily in the water. An avid fisher and hunter, Ruiz wanted to design a raft that was both stable and portable - neither of which he could find on the market, but knew he could create himself.
"It's different than small, plastic boats because it doesn't have a hull. It's flat, therefore it takes up less space," said Ruiz. "It's different than stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, too, because it's wider and much more stable when you stand on it. You don't have to worry about the balance aspect of it."
Ruiz ventured to San Diego shortly after creating the Feather-Raft, presenting his invention at a "Shark Tank" audition. After he did not hear back from the show, Ruiz tried his hand at a more local version of the competition - the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge. Ruiz won the preliminary Turlock portion of the competition, then moved on to the regional portion where he bested inventors from communities like Modesto, Patterson and Oakdale for the top prize.
Since winning the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge in 2014, Ruiz has had access to both professional services and funds thanks to the competition's $2,500 prize. But, the Feather-Raft has not yet made it into the wholesale market, which Ruiz hopes to achieve.
He was able to open up a shop for his rafts in Hughson last year, he said, but since he makes every raft by hand it has not proven to be productive. Ruiz hopes to raise at least $150,000 through online fundraising to help bring the product to the national and international market.
To date, Ruiz has sold around 50 Feather-Rafts, but high shipping prices have made it difficult to get his products sent to customers who call from all over the country.
"If I were able to raise the funds, it would eliminate a ton of labor and start me off with at least 200 rafts to get the ball rolling," said Ruiz. "From there, we would be wholesaling them to sporting goods stores where customers can get them, and instead of having it mailed to them they can go to the local store and buy them."
The road to mass production has not been an easy one, said Ruiz, but he knew success would not come easily the moment he began his journey.
"I knew it would be a rigorous process, but I haven't taken any shortcuts or held back. I'm all out there, 100 percent," said Ruiz. "I've learned a lot and made some mistakes, but I knew this wasn't going to be easy."
To donate to the Feather-Raft production fund, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1102593291/coalface-creations-feather-raft.
During recent drought years, the fisher and hunter devoted hours to combatting excessive hyacinth, an invasive floating plant that often jams rivers and lakes because of its ability to double its mass in a matter of 10 days.