A local couple is ready to give the Brazos River its own “Fixer Upper” moment.
On Saturday, Ross and Beth Harris will launch Waco Paddle Company, a boat rental business operating at the food truck park on University Parks Drive. Their fleet of 45 kayaks, 25 paddleboards, and 6 canoes will give Waco’s riverfront the drive-by appeal it has lacked since the stately Brazos Belle was dismantled in 2008.
“The Brazos in a lot of ways just doesn’t get used as much as it could,” Ross Harris said. “We provide a very easy way for people to experience it with family and friends.”
Ross is the Senior Corporate Buyer for Bicycle World, from which he recently purchased the fleet. Outdoor Waco, which was acquired by Bicycle World in 2014, had set up the rental business for an area that was underserved four or five years ago.
“We’ve obviously seen a boom in downtown since then,” said Kyle Hoff, Store Manager at Bicycle World and one of the founders of Outdoor Waco. “The City was great to us and had rented us a space for really next to nothing. Nobody was using the Brazos at that time so we thought it would be a good endeavor to have something for people to do on the water.”
Bicycle World’s planned expansion onto Mary Avenue opened a window for the Harris family to take over the rental business. “I couldn’t tell Ross anything he doesn’t know” about boat rentals, Hoff said, and the timing lined up perfectly for Ross and Beth.
Beth served as the Recreation Director of the Methodist Children’s Home for five years before entering motherhood. Her time spent working with at-risk youth helped her understand the benefits that come from pushing one’s boundaries in the outdoors.
“I got to see the way that people open up when doing something fun,” Beth said. “It allows them to let their guard down. New experiences, including going out kayaking or paddleboarding for the first time, can allow people to open up and really learn more about themselves.”
Once their son, Haydn, turned two, Beth realized she was ready to reenter the workforce.
“I love being outdoors and being on the water, and so for me this a good fit,” Beth said of the new venture. “I’d been looking for something where our family could be a part of the growth of Waco.”
Waco has indeed grown since Outdoor Waco first began rentals on the Brazos, but Waco Paddle Company can match nearly any demand with its variety of vessels. Kayaks and canoes are commonly seen in Texas, but paddleboards may be unfamiliar to some as they really only appeared on the aquatic activity radar within the past 20 years. Imagine standing on a surfboard with grips for your feet and a paddle in hand, trying to balance among the crashing waves and boat wakes. It’s a full-body workout and the most physically strenuous of Waco Paddle Company’s offerings, which gives even more incentive for exercisers to get on the river. The hope is that, one day, drivers passing through Waco along I-35 would peer out and see a body of water littered with colorful boats bobbing along the surface.
“You look at Austin, if you go to Town Lake, or even the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and you just see the growth around that and how many people are there,” Hoff said. “People love getting outside, being on the water, being by the water. There’s just something about having a river through the city and being able to do things on it. I think it’s really important to our city.”
The Harris’ clearly agree. Their love for Waco and for the outdoors has redirected their lives in a way they hope will draw them even closer together.
“We’re excited about this because we get to undertake a challenge, this very new thing, as a couple and as a family,” Ross said. “[It’s] a little family business that we can all be a part of.”