Wednesday, October 1, 2008

20th Anniversary of Aqua Adventures!

No, I haven't been working for Aqua Adventures for 20 years! That would have made me about 12 when I started (close enough!). But Aqua Adventures turns 20 this fall and it's worth pausing to take note and recall all the fun! I've put together a timeline and it's fun to see the evolution - some things have changed a lot, others have stayed remarkably the same! The founder, Eric Hanscom and I share some surprising similarities - Eric and I both have undergraduate degrees in science. We both started graduate school programs in science, but left only to spend our lives kayaking. We both hold BCU 5 Star awards (me for sea kayaking, Eric for surf kayaking). Eric met his first wife when she attended a Kern River class he was teaching. A few months later she moved from Orange County to San Diego and started working for Aqua Adventures. Many of you know that Jake and I first met 2 years ago when he was a student on a Kern River class. 4 months later I'd conned him into moving from Ventura to San Diego to work for me. He hasn't had a day off since, but it's been the best 2 years Aqua Adventures has ever had (and not bad for me too!).

We threw a party to celebrate the event and my Dad surprised me by showing up completely unannounced from clear across the country! I wouldn't own Aqua Adventures if not for the generous support of my parents and it was really fun to have him here! Thanks to everyone who came to celebrate with us!

Here's a quick history of the milestones in the evolution of Aqua Adventures
Eric Hanscom quits grad school to compete internationally at kayak surfing
(Jen graduates high school)

Eric wins his first World Championship title and decides to try to make a living at his passion.

Eric opens Aqua Adventures with $3,000 and "six very, very old kayaks"
(Jen attends Colorado College, studying geology)

Eric's philosophy is to guide where he wants to paddle. An enormous variety of trips appear in newsletters as experiments. The core lessons and trips appear early, prove their value and last for decades. More ambitious trips appear and dissappear just as fast. destinations include Big Sur, Kauai, Nepal, Tetons, Merced River, Kern River, Costa Rica, Baja, Lake Powell, Vancouver Island.

The Perception Dancer XS is considered "the hottest surfing kayak around"

A 2 hour private roll class in a pool cost $70 and a 3 hour tour of Mission Bay cost $45

Kevin Montgomery headed up the San Diego kayak club and for $7.50/year you could subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter.

Guides included Marla Hettinger, Joe Hettinger (haven't heard from them in ages), Steve and Karen Jewel (still hear from them from time to time), Jim Kuhns and Christo Matthews/Kuzmich (still see them regularly!)

The offices/headquarters is an industrial warehouse and Aqua Adventures fills a growing nitch by using primarily sit-on-top kayaks

Eric Hansom decides to "get a real job" and sells Aqua Adventures to Greg Knight who promptly moves the company to a new industrial warehouse.

Greg, desperate for new guides who work for beer, hires Jen Kleck

The Perception Pirouette has replaced the Dancer as the "hot boat" and that's what Greg paddles (he doesn't own a sea kayak). Jen paddles a Perception Matrix (which she got really cheap) and a Necky Narpa.

WaveSport begins a whitewater revolution with planing hull kayaks. The Kinetic and X are the hot boats of the day.

Jen and Greg being the process of becoming certified sea kayak instructors with the ACA and our fleet has a growing number of sea kayaks.

Aqua Adventures incorporates and makes Jen a shareholder.

There is talk of merging with Southwest Sea Kayaks owned by Ed Gillet & Katie Kampe, but the hurdles are too significant.

We find 800 square feet of waterfront retail location on Mission Bay late in the year and just as Southwest is shutting down, we're opening up. We still close when the surf is good or there's a good winter storm blowing the sea up.

Scott Fairty shows up seeking dealers for Valley and NDK. He assesses Greg and Jen for their first BCU award.

Our tiny shop is home to a growing community of paddlers. And a great group of guides and staff come and go with the seasons.

A 2 hour private roll class costs $100. A 2 hour guided tour of Mission Bay costs $35 (except on Thursdays when it costs $15).

A big retail space opens up across the parking lot and we jump on it. We spend long winter nights moving walls, laying carpet, painting, hanging fixtures, building counters and buying product to fill the new space. We bribe friends with beer and pizza and while the work goes slowly, it's cheap labor!

The average whitewater kayak is a "playboat" about 7' long.

Jen buys Greg's share of the business and takes it on solo.

Jake Stachovak attends a whitewater class in September. Jen invites him paddling the following week and cons him into working for her a few months later. Aqua Adventures has never had a more competent and hard working manager and thrives under his influence. Jen does too.

Jen passes her BCU Level 5 Sea Coach award, becoming the first person in North America to achieve this level of certification.

Aqua Adventures adds canoes and standup paddleboards to it's fleet as we look forward to an ever evolving future!

We're looking forward to what the next decade brings - stay tuned!

1 comment:

JoeHettinger said...

Jen you really are the center of where opportunity meets hard work. You made some really gusty moves and it's exciting they paid off. Who would have guessed that a Gobstopper sugar chasing junkie would evolve into such a top-rate business professional !!
To add a little more to your story. Twenty years ago kayaking in Southern California was isolated to small groups of mostly sea kayakers. Eric changed all of that when he brought a small fleet of river boats to the shores of San Diego. The initial growth was slow as it took some time to become proficient in a closed-cockpit boat. It was in the early 90's when Ocean Kayak introduced their sit-on-top line of boats that enabled boating to become mainstream. Soon there were boaters of all ages and abilities all over Southern California and Baja Mexico. While Jen has built Aqua Adventure into a model business, its beginnings resembled more of a dysfunctional family with a common hobby. There were a few really great guides before me who's names I don't remember. They were the energy and inspiration which kept AAKS alive and vibrant in its beginning. Before the first industrial space AAKS was a trailer full of boats and a clothesline in a back yard. Some of the guides who's names I do remember were: Leo Gordon an active Navy Seal, Karl an active Marine, Sonny a pre-med student, Jeff Duda a marine engineer from the Alaskan crab boats and his camping kayaking cat Bonkers, Pat Lafser who was also a Ski-patrol, and Jim Worthington.
Thanks to you Jen for turning a ragtag outfit into a city treasure. Best wishes for your next twenty years. Joe Hettinger