- Photo courtesy of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe
It's one of those phrases that many have defiantly declared, sarcastically uttered, or just merely wished were true: "Living the dream."
For Geoff Frank, owner/operator of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, it appears to simply be a fact—though he was reluctant to concede it during our interview. We sat down early on a Friday afternoon in a quiet loft space above the din of activity buzzing below us on the ground floor of the store, just off the banks of the Deschutes River. Outside, the sun was shining brightly, the temperature well on its way into the high 90s, and the water was calling people who came to get outfitted for their aqua adventures.
"Our philosophy is sharing the experience and getting people introduced to the sport and falling in love with the sport," Frank says. "We're here to help people and help facilitate people getting on the water and enjoying what our lakes and rivers have to offer." A side effect of that, he adds, is having people take care of the river, maybe picking up a little trash on their way, or perhaps becoming involved in protecting a fragile area.
The store's mission ranges from teaching the basics of paddling to instructing customers in how to carry out multi-day trips, to installing the proper vehicle rack to safely transporting the kayak, canoe or board, says Frank.
"We're very welcoming here. We want to limit down the barriers to entering the sport and make it welcoming to everyone," he says. This includes working with Oregon Adaptive Sports and sponsoring youth paddling programs with the Latino Community Association.
The store caters to all paddle sports, but Frank says the majority of people find the niche they enjoy most and stick with it. He says he has customers up to 90 years old, and recalled an 80-year-old woman who went on one of the trips to the San Juan Islands last year. "She paddled harder than some 45-year-olds. She was fun."
Today the store is open seven days a week, year round, with over 40 employees—including six full-time, year-round staff members. But the place had more humble beginnings.
"There were three of us when we started," Frank says. It used to be a four-month business, but that busy time has been extended to eight months by doing more marketing during the shoulder seasons, according to Frank. "It started off as a good lifestyle job for me, and it became a place where I can provide a lot of employment in this lifestyle."
Stationed on the northern edge of the Old Mill, the location is convenient for patrons who can rent and/or purchase practically anything that floats, as well as getting guided tours. There's also a shop in Sunriver.
So does a busy store mean Frank no longer has time to get out on the water himself? It may have been that way in the beginning, he says, but no longer.
"The first 10-15 years were more challenging, but the last few years we've developed a really strong team that I can trust. I have a great management team that runs it, and now I have enough flexibility to take time off." As testament to that, by the time this issue hits the stands, Frank will be river rafting somewhere in Idaho. He says it's his favorite way to "recharge [his] batteries."
"I do everything, but I'm a rafter. I like spending my time on multi-day rafting trips. Water sports were always my summertime passion and activity." When he's not on the water, he enjoys mountain biking and skiing.
Frank is also a co-founder of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, which planted roots in 2004 and became a nonprofit not long after. The group raised money to establish the whitewater park near Bend's Colorado Bridge, and a few years ago presented to Bend Park & Recreation a check for $1.3 million. He says he spent about 10 years helping on the project.
Originally from Portland, Frank earned a business degree in resort management and outdoor recreation from Portland State University, and was living on Mt. Hood and working in a ski shop before moving to Bend during the winter of 1999 to run the Bend store. At that time the company was doing business as Alder Creek. Frank became the sole owner in 2007, rebranding as Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe in 2008.
"We're just going to keep doing what we do. We've been here 17 years, and our goal is to be here for another 17 years or longer," Frank says.
And as for "living the dream," he reflects, "I have a pretty good life. There's definitely a challenge to being a small business owner, especially a seasonal one, but I love my life and I enjoy it."