The rivers are rising and paddle shops and boat makers across Colorado are reporting record sales as more families dip a paddle in the state’s waterways.
“It’s like strumming the perfect chord on your guitar. It just feels right,” said Mike McCormack, an Eagle dad who has two boys, 11 and 14.
He just bought his first raft, a 15-foot, self-bailing Star Super Bug. “This summer is about adventuring in place and the boat brings that adventure in reach. It’s the one thing the whole family agrees on. This was an investment in our family.”
Colorado is a hotbed of watercraft design, with innovative entrepreneurs creating all kinds of boats, rafts and boards for navigating the state’s rivers and lakes. And those designers all are reporting the busiest few weeks in the history of their businesses, with families placing boat orders as pandemic-related safer-at-home orders flow on.
When the ski resorts closed, ski shops reported a run on backcountry skis. As public transportation ground to a halt, the world’s bike shops were cleaned out. RV and camper dealers are reporting record sales as families explore a new way to vacation. And now formerly quarantined Coloradans are rushing the rivers.
“It’s on fire right now. Insane,” said Mike Harvey, the co-founder of Badfish, the Salida stand-up paddleboard maker that has seen booming sales through May. “Best four-week period we have ever seen.”
Phil Walczynski estimates he lost about $500,000 in sales after he was forced to shut down his 35-year-old shop in Wheat Ridge. The month-long shutdown began in late March, just as business ramps up at Down River Equipment, where a team of craftsmen make customized raft frames for all types of adventurers. Walczynski was able to keep a portion of his staff working through the shutdown and saw call volume and online orders double in the first weeks of May compared to last year. But of course, he said, walk-in traffic is way down.
“In general, most people feel like the river is a good place to stay separated from the general public while still being close to your primary group. Everyone is ready to get outside,” said Walczynski, noting growing interest among first-time buyers seeking family escapes on the river. “But I actually feel like we’ve seen less of this type of customer since things have started loosening up. We’re mostly seeing folks who have some experience.”
]Steamboat Springs stand-up paddleboard maker Peter Hall last year purchased Colorado Kayak Supply Online. He has seen “solid demand” both for his Hala Gear inflatable SUP boards and river gear orders at coloradokayak.com.
Hall said buyers are snatching up inflatable kayaks and shorter rafts, which he called “the easy button for solo river time.” They also are buying and upgrading rafts.
“The raft is the RV of the river and people are excited to get out there,” Hall said. “They are making more of their own plans for adventure. We are also seeing more people finally deciding to get into SUP after watching their friends for so long.”