Adventure venture: Apple River Kayak finds water levels and weather keys to success
Adam Sutherland and Dai Green had been tossing around the idea of creating a kayak rental and shuttle service operating on the upper Apple River for the last three years. Dai introduced Sutherland to kayaking five years ago. After he caught the bug, Sutherland said, “I acquired seven kayaks personally and would take friends and coworkers. It’s always fun to kayak with more people.”
After hauling enough friends, family and co-workers up and down the river, they decided, “We wanted to make things easier for everybody.”
The hassle with kayaking is the shuttling back and forth between where you get off the river back to where you put in after you’ve completed your trip down the river. “Having to have two or three vehicles, and then when you get out, you can’t just get out and go home. You have to go retrieve vehicles from 10 miles in the other direction,” Green said.
Apple River Kayaking solves that problem.
“Clients leave their cars at wherever they’re going to get off the river. We meet them at that point, load their boats on our trailer, load them into the van and drive them to where they want to get onto the river. That way when they finish, they’re ready to go.”
In addition to the shuttle service, Sutherland and Green also offer kayak rental and an assortment of specific length trips down the river which include the shuttle service. Their trip packages include kayaks, life vests, paddles and dry bags as well as a short instructional session if needed.
“I show them how to use the paddle, how to get in and out and how to adjust the seat. I prefer they sit in the kayak before we put them in the water (for more stability). That way the seat is adjusted and the pegs are adjusted and they know where their knees should be on the kayak for extra balance,” Sutherland said.
They also offer to take photos of your experience, especially for first timers, which can be emailed to you at a later date as a remembrance of your experience and hopefully as a reminder to come back and do it again. Be warned, they have a strict drug and alcohol policy.
“We don’t tolerate drinking or drugs,” Sutherland said. “If you are impaired or intoxicated, we may not rent to you. Drugs and alcohol don’t mix with kayaking because it’s an interactive sport.”
Finding a rhythm for a seasonal business can be tricky. In the kayaking business, unpredictable weather and water levels can spell the difference between a great season and a forgettable one. Initially Sutherland and Dai were hoping to operate from April through the end of October.
“We’re looking at this as our learning year. We really didn’t know what to expect,” Sutherland said. “Our expectations were higher at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on, we adjusted our expectations.”
“We’re doing a little rain dance most evenings these days,” Dai said. “People who have used us, have enjoyed the experience, though it’s yet to turn into repeat business other than family members,” she added.
The majority of their customers this year have come from out of state including Minnesota and Iowa.
“Our main goal is to get people to stay longer in the area whether they’re staying at the AmericInn in New Richmond or one of the campgrounds in Somerset. We’d like to give them more to-do in the area, and kayaking is a wholesome family activity.”
They estimate about 100 people have use their services so far this season and there’s still a month or two remaining, depending on the weather and water levels.
“We thought we’d give it at least a three-year shot to see if we can make the business sustainable,” Sutherland said.
When they’re not working on the river, Dai works as a systems analyst for the State of Minnesota while Sutherland manages an office for H&R Block.
Compared to doing taxes, “People are happy to do this,” said a smiling Sutherland.
Added Dai, “It’s like being the sample lady at the grocery store; everybody loves you.”
Currently Apple River Kayak offers four different trips ranging from one-to-two hours for $25 to their most challenging trip, six-to-seven hours for $75.
They’re quick to point out, the short routes are great for beginners.
“We’re trying to get people who thought, ‘I could never kayak, it’s just too out there for me,’ to give it a shot. Our short trips are a great way to find out if kayaking is for you,” Dai said.
If you’d like to enjoy their company on your journey, it will cost you an additional $25 for their expert guidance.
They’ve learned they have to be flexible when it comes to changing or skipping various routes when low water levels become a reality late in the season. Additional routes and other local rivers, such as the Willow and St. Croix, could be added once they begin to get a better sense of the length and logistics of a season.
To avoid the tubing crowd, the furthest south they run now is to just north of Somerset, however, they are considering adding that section of river to their trips after the tubing season ends in early September.
Watch the company’s website, www.appleriverkayak.com, for further details.
They’ve also talked about other rivers, such as the Brule and Upper St. Croix, that might be set up as guided day or weekend trips, but for now they’re content with mastering the resource close home.