In early March, after spending six years in the outdoor recreation business trying to expand brand awareness for Riverside Outfitters, Co-owners Matt Perry and Scott Turner agreed to a new marketing strategy: LivingSocial.com. When the deal hit the Internet it read: Riverside Outfitters Lower River Rafting Trip – Up to Three Hours Guided Rafting Trip with Drink and Snacks. LivingSocial.com posted this deal on a Friday, and Riverside Outfitters had to shut it down less than two days later. Riverside Outfitters received a record number of hits- nine hundred or so in the first day and a half.
Perry explained Riverside Outfitters “did not want to risk sacrificing customer satisfaction” in order to appease the popular demand for more online activity. By Saturday at 5 p.m., nine hundred local citizens had already signed up for a white water rafting voucher with the expiration date August 28th, 2011.
Charles Ware, a guide in the industry since 1978, offered another perspective. He said that last season the company rafted about 1300 customers; a significant portion of this traffic came from the tourism industry. In order to accommodate the increase in local interest, Riverside Outfitters hired its new guides for the season. This spring, they hired eight guides. These guides will be required to pass a series of water-based tests before working as fully seasoned guides in the summer and leading tours.
One of the new trainees for the company was named Derrick. Derrick is an avid outdoor enthusiast who spoke with humility about his interest in joining the team. On the water, his actions spoke for themselves; he listened carefully to Charles Ware’s demonstration at the beginning of the trip and quickly modeled proper foot placement aboard the raft. David Fary led us safely around the obstacles in our path, all the while snapping pictures of the raft as we paddled through Hollywood Falls, the Pipeline Rapids, and the rapids that followed, while Charles Ware wove in detailed histories about Richmond, the river and rafting experiences on the James River.
When asked what aspect of the river they appreciate most both Ware and Fary replied that they love the class III-IV section, Pipeline Rapids. Fary loves the natural play between the rocks, while Ware respects the “unique blend of natural and industrial remains” that frame the landscape. Pipeline Rapids formed when an old dam eroded. This change allowed the river to move again. The James River, Ware emphasized is “a free flowing river not one run by a dam system.” The benefit of this is that all you see around you is a gift from Mother Nature, while the downside is at times the business can be risky because if the river is running too low trips must be cancelled. The first class IV-V rapid participants will encounter is the Hollywood Rapid, which is landmarked by an historic old cemetery. Which significant historic figures were buried in the cemetery? Can you guess? Try on the rafting trip and you might find yourself in the water, as it is not wise to cease paddling in the middle of a rapid; but take the time in real life to visit the cemetery in person for a guided tour.
After successfully surviving the first two plunges past Belle Isle and around the bend, rafters will get to sit quietly and take in the picturesque view of the city of Richmond in the mid-afternoon sun.
Make sure that when you are on the trip you ask the guides what their favorite stories are. Perry said his was the “story about one of the workers who helped to build the concrete train-trestle bridge over Choo Choo rapids. When he died on the job, his body was buried in a pile of concrete and remains there today.” Little did I know, when I arrived on site the day I would take my first tour of the James River that the conditions were perfect; air temperature 68 degrees Fahrenheit, water temperature 54 degrees and even the water level was rushing at just the right height 6.7 feet. Respected by all, The James River offers Class I-V rapids; consequently, Riverside Outfitters has custom designed a trip schedule to serve Richmond outdoor adventure enthusiasts’ desire to explore the area. Throughout the customer experience, the guides of Riverside Outfitters prioritize customer service and safety. Before each trip departs from Reedy Creek, the drop off point in the James River Park System, one of the trip guides reviews the inherent risks of the activity. Guides, Managers and Owners all embrace these standards as they work to integrate their personal talents into the company synergy and achieve the Riverside Outfitters’ mission: “to significantly and responsibly increase the recreational use of Richmond’s natural landscape by guiding outdoor experiences and inspiring a return to natural fun.” One guide’s strength may be leading the way in a kayak and taking pictures with a waterproof camera in hand, while the other’s strength is storytelling and providing information about Richmond’s historic waterfront landmarks. The Managers are actively involved offering to lend a helping hand when a boat needs launching, or a fallen tree needs to be cut and cleared to make way for the vans delivering customers to the river.
Enter into the company’s shop on any given day, and listen to the music play in the background as the Managers check in each new customer and are greeted by a friendly black lab named Kira. Guests are signed in, provided with a wetsuit, a helmet and a paddle. Rafters are wise to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, waterproof cameras, a change of clothes, and a bathing suit to wear underneath the wetsuit. Once each customer has been fitted, the lead guide for the trip set up camp at the picnic tables outside and the customers may ask questions as the paddles are loaded into the van and the raft is lifted onto the company trailer. In order to meet safety regulations, before departure the guides fit the customers’ helmets and secure their life jackets. Although safety is paramount in rafting, customers on any given day may catch wind of conversations that illustrate the kinship these employees share. They share a language and it becomes a part of the experience. The guides and managers all seem to share a universal twinkle in their eyes as they commence a trip. Could this be from the stories they are privy to after and during their adventures on the river, the good company they keep or perhaps this joy comes from deep within from knowing they are a part of Richmond’s ever changing visceral landscape?
This love for the sport propels each trip forward. For more information on experiencing a great day on the James River, contact Riverside Outfitters at 804-560-0068 or online at http://www.riversideoutfitters.net.