Some of the best memories I’ve made in my lifetime have been on the water. Though I’ve spent many years out on the open ocean, I’ve arguably enjoyed my time on lakes and rivers just as much, if not more.
Thinking back on my childhood, there are few memories that compare with catching my first fish with my dad on a lake in the Pacific Northwest, or the seemingly endless summers spent on an inflatable raft with friends, pretending we were explorers.
At the Austinot, we’re invited to so many events and activities that we can’t possibly say yes to all of them. But one of the (nearly) surefire ways to get me out to an event is to tell me that it includes water and sunshine. With Austin boasting around 300 days of sunshine a year and an average yearly temperature of nearly 70 degrees, the opportunities for water+sunshine events are countless.
When we were invited to Austin Canoe & Kayak’s spring Demo Days event, we didn’t hesitate.
What to Expect at Austin Kayak’s Demo Days
Demo Days is your free opportunity to try out a ton of different canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards and outdoor gadgets with one of the most highly respected companies in the industry.
After arriving at the spring 2013 event and filling out a few easy forms (effectively signing our life away), we strapped on some life jackets and headed down to the water’s edge of Hyde Park Quarry Lake near the Domain in northwest Austin. By the time we arrived, there were already a ton of boats out on the water. People of all ages were having a great time.
Don’t think of Austin Kayak’s Demo Days as a place to duck sales pitches. The event is styled for casual awareness and familiarization, a place to get your questions answered and try out the various models of kayaks and stand up paddleboards. Price tags were subtle, and there was no pressure to buy.
This customer-oriented mode of operation is a representation of the way that Austin Kayak conducts business all the time. I’d say it’s one of the reasons that the company is growing at such a rapid rate.
Joseph, the Social Media Manager for Austin Kayak, wasted no time getting us into a Pamlico 145T (tandem) kayak. It was stable, fast, fun and easy to paddle. After our first adventure out on Hyde Quarry, we came back in and traded the Pamlico out for a Hobie Mirage Adventure Island. This Cadillac of tandem kayaks had a sail that took our breath away, pedals for high traffic areas, and was definitely the highlight of Demo Days for us.
Austin Kayak’s Demo Days takes place twice a year: in the spring and again in the fall. The dates aren’t set in stone for fall yet, but you can stay up to date by visiting the Austin Canoe & Kayak website. Fall Demo Days should happen at the end of September.
If you missed the spring event and don’t want to wait until September, Austin Kayak offers rentals any time of year. They’ll even refund the cost of a one-day rental if you end up buying the unit.
Story Behind Austin Canoe & Kayak
After our Demo Days adventure on the lake, we sat down with Steve Messana, one of the owners of Austin Canoe & Kayak. Steve shared that he bought the company in May 2005 with his brother, Peter. He and Peter had been wanting to get out of the corporate world and get into their own business. As triathletes and outdoor enthusiasts, they were interested when they stumbled upon an online “for sale” listing for an outdoor retail sales company.
“The online description was really bland; we didn’t even know it was a kayak company until we called. But we wanted to use our knowledge and experience to do something special. We were buying a business; we weren’t buying a kayak shop.” -Steve Messana
Though the two owners weren’t familiar with kayaking when they purchased Austin Kayak, their hard work, perseverance and business knowledge paid off. Realizing that they needed to buy in bulk in order to pass on discounts to customers, they got a warehouse in November 2005 to feed their retail presence. Not wanting any space to go to waste, they added a cash register to the warehouse and it became a retail store.
This expansion was followed by another store opening in San Marcos, and the addition of Chris Hackerd as VP of Store Operations and co-owner.
Austin Kayak’s success continued rapidly. Today, in addition to their Austin location at 9705 Burnet, Austin Kayak has two Houston locations and one San Marcos location. The company still buys in bulk, has merchandise delivered to the warehouse in Austin, and then ships the merchandise to all of their stores in the area. Currently, Austin Kayak is looking to open more stores in Texas, with their eyes on San Antonio and/or Dallas.
With four physical locations, an award-winning website store, 55 employees, 90 different models of boats in stock, and another related website called Rackboys.com which focuses on car rack solutions for outdoor enthusiasts, the team at Austin Kayak isn’t letting any grass grow under their feet.
Upon learning about the quick success of the business, I asked Steve if he’s happy with where the company is at. His response made me smile: “Definitely not happy where we’re at. We already are the REI of kayaks – people just don’t know it yet.”
Steve says that the company offers more brands, models, color and selection on kayaks than anyone else, and their reviews online are outstanding. When discussing the stellar reviews, he added, “I personally read every one of our product reviews and there are over 21,000 of them. It’s important to listen to customers, ask the right questions and to not be afraid to tell them that I don’t know the answer, but that I’ll find out.”
The average price for a kayak at Austin Canoe & Kayak is $700-800, and approximately $900 with accessories included. Theoretically, equipment of this quality should last forever. “You can get the cheap kayaks for around $300 at places like Costco, but they aren’t the quality that we’d be willing to put our name behind,” replied Steve when asked about Austin Kayak’s price point.
A kayak is a great investment for a lifetime of memories. And of all the places in the world to own a kayak, Austin and the surrounding Texas Hill Country has to be among the best.
Have you been kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding in Austin? Where is your favorite spot to get out on the water?