The push for paddlesports

by Scott Holley ([email protected]) 979 views 

On Jan. 27, I joined over 40 other senior leaders in the paddlesports industry in Bentonville for a first-of-its-kind leadership summit.

Our hastily convened meeting was necessary to discuss important and urgent issues in our industry, and to see if there was an opportunity to formally organize a trade coalition to coordinate our efforts to address those issues.

After a full day of meetings our group decided to pursue the formation of a formal trade organization. We first began discussing a possible leadership summit just a couple of months ago, and our group requested a venue that was central for folks flying in from all over North America. I offered up Bentonville as an option without hesitation.

I made my first trip to Northwest Arkansas for pleasure in 2018, and like so many others, was astounded by what I saw. Later I returned to Northwest Arkansas for business with my company Eddyline Kayaks.

We opened up a dealer at Ozark Kayak and found a mission-aligned investment partner in RZC Investments, the investment fund of Steuart Walton and Tom Walton.

The folks in Bentonville rolled out the red carpet for our summit. Visit Bentonville and Runway Group teamed up to make sure that our food, venues and activities were lined up and did so seamlessly. What we thought might be a dozen or so attendees soon ballooned to more than 40. An unusually large snowstorm the night before brought additional logistical challenges. Our hosts did a wonderful job rolling with the changes. After the summit, a reception brought together folks from across the outdoor recreation ecosystem from philanthropy to government in the state of Arkansas to meet our industry attendees.

Serendipitously, the week of our summit, Gov. Sarah Sanders signed an executive order promoting outdoor recreation and appointing the first gentleman, Bryan Sanders, to head the council overseeing that initiative. A group of us industry professionals were invited to meet with Bryan and members of that council and provide our thoughts on how to grow paddlesports in Arkansas.

Among the attendees were Arkansas’ outdoor recreation leaders, including Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation Director Katherine Andrews, and Arkansas Game and Fish Director Austin Booth.

As one of the organizers of the first-ever Paddlesport Brand Leadership Summit, I want to extend my thanks, and the thanks of all our attendees, for the gracious reception our group was given, and for the ongoing commitment to outdoor recreation and paddlesports from everyone that we met. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the reactions of our industry leaders as they discovered the region that I’ve come to know and love.

Seeing the alignment and coordination of such a talented and diverse group of people in the region was impactful to all of us. Arkansas is setting the standard we hope other areas can follow in growing opportunities for families to find joy in paddlesport recreation.

Scott Holley is president of Eddyline Kayaks, a recreational kayak manufacturer headquartered in Burlington, Wash. The opinions expressed are those of the author.