It's almost Summer! THANK GOODNESS. The ice storms were starting to weigh me down. And by "weigh me down" I mean "make me lose my mind."
For paddle shops, this (April) is just about the time when you're starting to lose your minds. Ordering boards, hiring and training staff, getting the softgoods ready to go, planning the events and races you're hosting this year, etc. and etc. and so on and so forth until your to-do list resembles an ongoing medieval scroll. (How did they do that? Was paper making actually a form of magic?)
"How can I POSSIBLY ADD ANOTHER THING TO MY PLATE?" You will find yourself saying.
However, if you want to positively impact the paddle community in your area, one thing that you should try to do this summer is start a Meetup group.
The Mullet started the Distressed Mullet meetup a few years ago. Then Carolina Paddle started one for more beginner-type paddles.
The Mullet meetup group has morphed into more of a national gathering place for people coming to events near and far. Carolina Paddle is fairly Wrightsville Beach focused. It is where I and some others (THANK YOU APRIL) manage local paddle events and connect with our friends to paddle.
The main short loop in Wrightsville Beach is the Harbor Island loop. It is 3.5 miles and it can take someone who hasn't paddled before around 2 hours to complete. Our Wednesday night social paddle meetup is a paddle around Harbor Island followed by drinks and food at the Dockside.
The meetup got pretty big during the summer of 2012. We ended up having to put some restrictions on it 1) You need to be able to maintain control of your own equipment 2) You can't ask other meetupers to borrow their equipment 3) You need to have had at least one lesson with a certified instructor.
The people leading the meetups are volunteers and we're not certified instructors, and we were spending a lot of time teaching people. Not that that is a problem at all, but when you have 30 paddlers, 20 of whom have never paddled before, strung out across the waterway in the middle of summer with lots of boat traffic you can have problems.
What we ended up doing for beginners was hosting a beginner-only meetup with limited spaces (10 or 15). I went along (non-certified cheerleader), as did Ann and Jason (both certified instructors). We made sure to spend time with everyone and make sure everyone was ok. We also gave them safety pointers, took pictures, and encouraged them to come back to one of the Wednesday night meetups. We charged a small fee $10 or $20 (I can't remember) plus board rental. (Or maybe it was a lesson + board rental for $20 or $30.)
Anyway, it was a meetup event JUST for beginners. A chance for people to try it out and see what they thought. We plan to do some more of those this summer.
What a Meetup can do for You
Running a meetup group requires a few things:
- Central clearing house. Probably a paddle shop, but it can just as easily be a group of friends.
- Leaders. There have to be some people to make the rules, post meetups, host meetups, etc. The CPC meetup has several organizers, all of whom like to do different things. We take turns posting, hosting, and managing.
- Money. Just a small fee to maintain the website membership each year.
- Enthusiasm. There's nothing more of a bummer than grouchy paddlers. If you don't like people, don't come to paddle with the group. Meetups are not just safety nets, they're ways to meet new people and grow a community.
What you'll get out of meetups:
- Loyalty (Be nice to your meetupers. They are your best potential customers)
- Community of responsible paddlers (You can make sure people know how to paddle safely and follow coast guard rules)
- Word of mouth marketing (If people have fun, they'll tell their friends to come)
- Fun! (I've met some of my best friends through meetup, and one of those is Jason, the shop owner at Carolina Paddle!)
It's early and I'm running on not a lot of sleep. April, Julie, other people who help with the meetups/ paddle communities, care to weigh in?