By MATTHEW STURDEVANT
The man behind the nation's largest on-water canoe and kayak demo got into the outdoor retail business less than 20 years ago as a former Florida teacher who moved to New York's Adirondack mountains and opened a store in a closed down pizza-and-mini-golf joint.
"Started in 1993 in an abandoned pizza shop in the town of Inlet, N.Y., population 350," said John Nemjo, 53, owner of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company.
The Inlet location closed and Nemjo's business is now a sprawling six-acre campus of paddlesports, boat rentals and outdoor equipment with 1,200 feet along the Moose River in the tourist town of Old Forge, N.Y. Mountainman's 14th annual trademark event, the Adirondack Paddlefest, is set for Friday, May 18, through Sunday, May 20.
The first Paddlefest in 1999 attracted hundreds of people when it was held on a Little League baseball field in Inlet. Before that, competing boat representatives would have demonstrations on different weekends and Nemjo decided to pull it all together into one festival.
"Now the event is, from end to end, the event is probably a third of a mile long or longer," Nemjo said. "The setting there is just ideal: right in the center of town, right on the waterfront with substantial beach for test paddling."
Old Forge more than doubles each year when about 3,000 boaters from as far away as Maryland, Delaware, Ottawa and New England flock to the event where they can test ride kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. Paddlefest includes boats and accessories from more than 75 manufacturers, along with clinics by famous paddlers and a showing of Rapid Media's 7th annual Reel Paddling Film Festival's contest winning films.
"This year, we made a real effort to expand Paddlefest," Nemjo said. "The number of free clinics and demos has increased dramatically."
New this year is the Adirondack Paddlers Photo Contest. The best in show award will be a Werner Carbon Skagi Kayak paddle from Mountainman, a free one-year membership to Old Forge's arts center, a three-year subscription to Adirondack Explorer magazine and publication of the photograph in Adirondack Explorer. Winners will be announced Saturday, May 19, at the Old Forge arts center on state Route 28, which is the main drag in town.
Paddlefest also has a number of clinics – some free and some that require a fee – with paddlers and company reps such as Danny Mongno, Cindy and Steve Sherrer, Matt Yablonowski, Woody Callaway, Dale Fox, Matt Young, Greg Weber, Skip Taylor, Charlie Wilson, Terry Kent, Bill Swift, Laura and Jeff Liebel and others.
Admission to Paddlefest is $5 per day or $20 for the weekend, and the fee can be applied to the purchase of a SUP board, kayak or canoe. Children 12 and younger get free admission.
Tickets for the Reel Paddling Film Festival showing are $15 on the day of the event, or $12 in advance. Click HERE for more information.
Click HERE for more information on Paddlefest. Click HERE for more information on Old Forge, N.Y., and lodging options.