Colorado boat sales soar as people use rivers to continue adventure during coronavirus

The rivers are rising and Colorado’s paddle shops and boat builders are reporting record sales as more families take a paddle in the state’s waterways.


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“It’s like strumming the perfect chord on your guitar. I feel great,” said Mike McCormack, an Eagle dad who has two boys, ages 11 and 14. He just bought his first raft, a 15-foot self-draining Star Super Bug. “This summer is all about on-site adventures and the boat brings that adventure to your fingertips. It’s the one thing the whole family agrees on. It was an investment in our family.

Colorado is a hotbed of watercraft design, with innovative entrepreneurs creating all kinds of boats, rafts, and boards to navigate the state’s rivers and lakes. And these designers are reporting the busiest weeks in their companies’ history every week, with families placing orders for boats as pandemic-related home security orders continue.

When ski resorts closed, ski shops reported a race on touring skis. As public transport came to a halt, bike shops around the world were cleaned up. RV and motorhome dealerships are seeing record sales as families explore a new way to vacation. And now the once-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 saw sales boom through May. “Best four week period we’ve ever seen.”

Grand Junction resident Ben Garland, former Denver Bronco football center and current San Francisco 49ers player, rides a Badfish paddle board in Montrose Water Sports Park in Montrose Colorado, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Garland said that it was his first time on a board. (William Woody, Special for the Colorado Sun)

It’s the same story all over the state.

Phil Walczynski estimates he lost about $500,000 in sales after being forced to close his 35-year-old store in Wheat Ridge. The month-long shutdown began in late March, just as business is picking up at Down River Equipment, where a team of craftsmen make custom raft frames for all types of adventurers. Walczynski was able to put some of his staff to work during the shutdown and saw call volume and online orders double in the first weeks of May compared to a year ago. But of course, he said, walk-in traffic is down.

“Generally, most people think the river is a good place to stay separate from the general public while still being close to your main group. Everyone is ready to get out,” Walczynski said, noting growing interest from first-time buyers looking for family getaways on the river. “But I feel like we’ve seen less of those kinds of clients since things started to ease. We mostly meet people who are experienced.

Read more outdoor stories from The Colorado Sun.

Last year, Steamboat Springs stand-up paddle board manufacturer Peter Hall purchased Colorado Kayak Supply Online. He has seen “high demand” for both his Hala Gear inflatable SUP boards and river gear orders on

Hall said buyers are snapping up inflatable kayaks and shorter rafts, which he calls “the easy button for solo river time.” They also purchase and upgrade rafts.

“The raft is the RV of the river and people are excited to go there,” Hall said. “They do more of their own adventure plans. We also see more and more people finally deciding to get into SUP after watching their friends for so long.

Paddleboard shops that were canceling Badfish board orders are now calling Harvey with big orders, he said.

“I think paddle and river sports are the perfect activities for the times. If you’re standing on an 11-foot paddleboard, you have the perfect social distance,” Harvey said. “Perhaps two months of limited travel highlights what is actually a priority: being healthy, spending time outdoors and being with your loved ones.”

Telluride resident Ali Griswold paddles his Alpacka raft through Montrose Watersports Park in Montrose, Colo., Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (William Woody, Colorado Sun Special)

Thor Tingey of Alpacka Raft, 20, in Mancos, saw sales fall 70% in the last two weeks of March after year-on-year growth in the first two months of the year. The rebound was slow in April, but as rules eased and stimulus checks landed in May, orders for handmade Alpacka packrafts soared.

“The past few weeks have been some of the busiest in our history,” said Tingey, who has spread his workers across four buildings along the Mancos River to provide nearly 1,000 square feet of space per employee. “Because we’re a make-to-order company, managing the higher volume of sales has been quite a challenge — and I’m not complaining. We are happy to get back to work. »

All-new stand-up paddleboards and demo boards along with other river gear are on display at the Montrose Surf and Kayak store in Montrose Colorado, Thursday, May 28, 2020. (William Woody, Colorado Sun Special)

This winter, Nate Robinson feared he had ordered twice as many raft trailers as he would need for the summer season from his truck and trailer store. In the last couple of weeks he’s sold out all the raft trailers on his lot and the summer selling season hasn’t really started.

“We could probably use another 20. It was awesome,” Robinson said. “Everyone seems to be canceling their Disneyland vacations and they’re staying local and investing locally.”

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