Company History | Powell River Sea Kayak
Powell River Sea Kayak Ltd. was first formed in 1995. The original owner, Helga Sheppard, operated Powell River Sea Kayak in the town of Powell River.
Offering a delivery service for those looking to paddle the waters of Okeover Inlet, Copeland Islands, Savary Island and Desolation Sound Marine Park - it soon became evident that north of Powell River offered the prime paddling. It wasn't uncommon during the summer time to make several trips a day between Powell River and the launch sites at Okeover Inlet and Lund.
By 1997, Helga had built Powell River Sea Kayak into a thriving little business. Her outstanding customer service and attention to quality helped nurture a solid customer base. However, it was time to move on. The lure of white water paddling was beckoning Helga to rivers such as the Chilliwack on many weekends. It was time for Helga to sell Powell River Sea Kayak and move to Vancouver.
In 1997, Adam Vallance and Laurie Heide were busy hiking and paddling the areas around the Powell River region - including Desolation Sound and Toba Inlet - in anticipation of setting up an outdoor business. It was at this time that a conversation surfaced regarding the sale of Powell River Sea Kayak. What timing! By December of 1997, negotiations were completed and Powell River Sea Kayak had been sold. The proud new owners were Adam Vallance and Laurie Heide.
After intensive business planning, the first season for Adam and Laurie was under way. It was 1998. What a year to take over the business! El Nino decided to visit us that year - bringing warm weather seldom experienced so early in the Pacific Northwest. Lessons were underway early March - sans wetsuits - and it didn't let up. In addition, sea kayaking in general was starting to take flight. Word of mouth was spreading into the masses that sea kayaking was an amazing way to experience the ocean.
It soon became apparent that Helga had done a wonderful job establishing the business. The phone rang steadily with past clients as well as word of mouth clients looking to experience sea kayaking in Desolation Sound and other local destinations.
This was also the year that the internet was truly becoming a powerful marketing tool. As a savvy visionary Helga had spent endless hours establishing an informative website. Not only was the phone ringing steadily but emails were pouring in.
That year, Adam and Laurie ran the business right out of their home in the old Townsite of Powell River. Many of Helga's systems continued, including the delivery of kayaks to the launch sites north of Powell River. As the chief cooks and bottle washers, Adam and Laurie ran endlessly to keep things going smoothly. In addition, a new segment of the business had been marketed: Multi-day tours in Desolation Sound. As these four day tours booked in, it became evident that the business was sorely understaffed. Thank God for family! While Adam and Laurie were out leading kayak tours, family members were getting a first hand experience at maintaining a booming sea kayak business.
By the end of the season, Adam and Laurie new it was time to move the business out of their home and into a commercial setting. In 1999, Powell River Sea Kayak moved to a new retail section in Powell River. Although this venture solved one problem - getting the business out of the house - it didn't satisfy the key problem of time. Powell River Sea Kayak still had to offer a kayak delivery service between Powell River and Lund/Okeover. In addition, the added commitment to a retail store pushed the envelope further - even with the addition of office/retail staff and a full-time guide. Despite the pressures of a new and ever expanding business, Powell River Sea Kayak was named Business of the Year at the annual Horizon Business Award.
With an ever increasing demand from people looking to rent kayaks and take guided trips into Desolation Sound Marine Park, it was time to shift the businesses into the next gear: close down the retail store and move to Okeover Inlet!
The search started for a waterfront site that would satisfy a variety of needs: proximity to key paddling areas (e.g.: Desolation Sound), parking area, basic infrastructure (e.g.: power, phone, buildings), and the most important factor: not too expensive. It's a good thing it was only 1999. Property prices hadn't taken off yet in the Powell River area, however, there just didn't seem to be a suitable location. Finally, the realtor called with an interesting property. A location on Okeover Inlet had come up for sale. Upon closer inspection it seemed to good to be true. It had unbelievable access for paddling Desolation Sound Marine Park, there were two outbuildings at the water: one which would act as an office and the other as a kayak shop, there was plenty of room for parking and it even had an old cabin. An offer was made and Powell River Sea Kayak had a new home: Penrose Bay on Okeover Inlet - once home to the Cougar Queen of Okeover.
Not only did Powell River Sea Kayak have a new home, but Laurie and Adam did as well. After a winter wedding in December of 1999, Adam and Laurie began renovations of the old cabin on December 27 and moved in January 31, 2000.
The 2000 season for Powell River Sea Kayak was a treat for both the owners and the customers. With no more need to transport kayaks, a great deal of time and energy was saved. In addition, customers could simply show up at the launch site without having to arrange exact times to meet. The site provided a quiet and relaxed area to gear up for kayak trips and there was safe parking as well.
With more time and energy, Adam Vallance continued to work hard on developing the business. Touring programs were a main focus. Day tours were fine tuned to offer clients more detailed interpretation. Multi-day tours were expanded into Toba Inlet, Hotham Sound and Jedediah Island - along with the popular Desolation Sound. More staff were brought on to handle the demand and to provide the best customer service possible.
By 2002, Powell River Sea Kayak's "Desolation Launch Site" had become well known as a key staging location for trips into Desolation Sound. 2002 was finally looking like the first season there wouldn't be a major business move or expansion. It was finally looking like it would be "business as usual" for owners Adam and Laurie Vallance - until... In spring of 2002, a call came from the new owners of the Lund Hotel asking if Adam would be interested in setting up a kayak shop at the Lund Hotel. Knowing that Lund was an excellent and known staging area for trips to Savary Island, the Copeland Island Marine Park and Desolation Sound, Adam agreed. Rockfish Kayak was opened in the spring of 2002. A different name was chosen for two reasons: it gave the Lund Hotel a separate name for some of their own marketing and it allowed for the development of a very cool logo.
The 2002 season was another busy one. The addition of Rockfish Kayak created new challenges that had to be worked out as the season unfolded. By the end of 2002, Rockfish Kayak had made it's mark and Powell River Sea Kayak was well on it's way to establishing itself as one of the premier sea kayak companies on the West Coast of British Columbia.
2003 to present
Finally, business is as usual. 2004 marked Powell River Sea Kayak's 10th year in business. Throughout this time, systems have been developed to provide customers with the best possible experience. Area knowledge is unsurpassed. Owners Adam and Laurie Vallance continue to thrive on the creativity a business such as this allows for. Planning is an ongoing activity as there is always room for improvement. There is still so much to learn! Now, with two young children of their own, Adam and Laurie get to see this area in a new light - through a child's eyes.
With a strong compliment of smart staff and guides, the Chief Cooks and Bottle Washers (aka: Adam and Laurie) now focus on more specific roles within the company. Laurie's "real job" as an Emergency Room nurse has once again become more dominant. Adam continues to work full-time at this so-called seasonal business. Time is now spent in land and water use planning - ensuring that this area will have wonderful paddling for generations to come. Marketing, Research and Development and Communications all occupy a great deal of Adam's time.
We would like to welcome you to call or email us with any questions you may have. Or why not join us and experience this wonderful area in person!
Article from the Powell River Peak
Making the most of natural resources Experience a Colorful History!
Powell River Sea Kayak showcases natural beauty and cultural heritage in Okeover Inlet
By Laura Walz
September 18, 2001
Operating an ecotourism business from an historical homestead has proven to be a successful formula for an enterprising Powell River entrepreneur.
Adam Vallance, who owns and operates Powell River Sea Kayak, bought the property originally owned by a pioneer Okeover Inlet family in 1999. Nancy Crowther, who became known as the "Cougar Lady," grew up on the 140 acres homesteaded by her parents. Word of her expertise with a rifle and the number of cougars she shot spread from Okeover to the Lower Mainland, where a number of publications featured stories about her.
"We were told in her life span she killed 22 cougars out here," says Vallance. "By the time Nancy was 13, she had killed about a dozen cougars using a single-shot .22." Eventually she upgraded to a more powerful gun, because with the single-shot .22 she had one chance to kill the cougar "before she had to turn tail and run."
Crowther's homesteading lifestyle included a large number of goats and chickens. Because the property was isolated, it was also excellent habitat for cougars and bears which, naturally, were attracted to the livestock. She became very knowledgeable about cougar patterns and was called upon to hunt them down in far-flung areas.
Taking over the home of one of Powell River's colourful, historical characters has added depth and texture to his clients' experience. Vallance finds the history of the location is a perfect fit with people's expectations of a sea kayaking adventure. "People show up and right away when they see the old cabin, they're like, 'This is going to be good.'"
The property is located at the head of Penrose Bay and came with the Crowther's family home, a log cabin Vallance believes was built around 1927. He and his wife Laurie had one month to renovate what was then "a very dilapidated cabin. We went at it seven days a week, 15 hours a day."
The cabin was built from dead wood which was gathered from the property, then split. Single-pane windows didn't provide much protection from the southeast winds that rip through the bay in the winter.
Despite the daunting task and with "lots of help from family and friends," Adam and Laurie moved into the cabin in February 2000. Since they've been on the property, they've converted other buildings on the site, including an old boat shop which has been turned into a kayak storage shed, and another old building which now houses clothing and other gear for kayakers.
Powell River Sea Kayak, which just finished its seventh year in business, provides kayak tours, lessons, sales, and rentals. The first five years, the business was located in Powell River. "It just finally became so apparent as the business grew that we had to get out here," says Vallance. "We can't even describe how well it's worked for us."
The sheltered bay provides the perfect waters for lessons in the summertime, as well as being an ideal launching site for adventures up north. "Most of the paddling happens through the inlets here, from Lund out into the Raggeds [Copeland Islands] and Savary [Island] and, of course, out into Desolation Sound. We're doing a lot of stuff into areas like Toba Inlet and beyond now."
The touring program is growing each year, mostly due to word-of-mouth. Last summer Powell River Sea Kayak had three guides, plus Vallance. "We're going non-stop, with day programs, right through to four-day and seven-day trips."
Being "off the beaten track" has enhanced the business. "The first thing people say is, 'Wow, you guys are really out here.' But that's all part of it. They quickly forget about that 30-, 40-minute drive from Powell River and get caught up in the atmosphere. It's pristine, and that's what they want on their adventures with the kayak." Vallance says developing Powell River's historical aspects will add to the tourism potential of the area.
"People seek a variety of things on their vacations. They're coming out here because we're advertising our sea kayaking. That's what we're promoting. But we found after our second year that there's a very keen interest in the historical part of it as well. I know whenever I travel anywhere (different cultures), their history become a big part of my trip as well."
Cultural tourism has been successfully developed in many other areas of the West Coast, and Vallance has proven it marries perfectly with what is arguably Powell River's greatest strength in the tourism arena: the myriad opportunities for outdoor adventures in a stunning natural landscape.
Courtesy of the Powell River Peak 2001