Boats line the beach at Paddlesfest, awaiting test paddlers.
For paddlers, spring in the Adirondacks is charged with the excitement of a new paddling season. Nowhere is that anticipation more palpable than at the New York Paddlefest and Outdoor Expo, a pair of paddling expositions in Saratoga Springs (April 30 and May 1) and Old Forge, New York (May 20, 21 and 22). Hosted by Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, more than 1,000 canoes, kayaks, and SUPs are available to test at Paddlefest. Entry is to the events is free and a $20 fee lets you paddle hundreds of boats over three days. (The fee is refunded should you purchase a boat.) With so with so many paddlers and so many products, the atmosphere is electric.
"New York Paddlefest and Outdoor Expo features the best that the paddling industry has to offer,” says John Nemjo, owner of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company and founder of the New York Paddlefest. “Our manufacturers attend the show and help our customers find the best boats, boards and accessories to meet their needs. There are canoes, kayaks, SUPs, life jackets, paddles, footwear, rack systems, trailers, etc., etc. Everything you need to get out on the water is there."
The icing on this great, big cake is 15 percent off all paddling accessories. There are also products for dry land activities. “We have vendors from pack and tent companies, hiking boots, stoves, sleeping bags, etc., and even bikes to get everyone outfitted for whatever their outdoor preferences are," Nemjo says.
Want to learn some new skills?
"We have free on-water clinics and demos from everything from paddling techniques and safety, boat construction and design, kayak fishing and outfitting. There are clinics on pack fitting and trip planning. We have on-water kayak and SUP lessons for adults as well as kids," Nemjo says.
There's toe-tappin' music and good grub too.
"Both our Adirondack event and our Saratoga Springs event feature live music from some of the best local musicians in the state and food ranging from bar-b-que to wood fired pizza and craft beers,” he says. “It is truly a fun experience for the whole family."
Mike Farmer, who describes himself as a "flat water, whitewater, freshwater, saltwater, soft water, and hard water/snow fun seeker," has been attending the New York Paddlefest since 2010.
"I love joining other paddlers in our first paddling event of the season, and sharing the enthusiasm,” Farmer says. “The size and scope of Paddlefest is exciting and infectious and makes for great deals. Plus, the job done by the Mountainman staff makes Paddlefest fun, complete, and professional."
The Mountainman staff share the attendees' love of paddling.
"Our love of paddling is what brought us to the Adirondacks in the first place,” says Nemjo. “Almost everyone who works for us is a paddler. We could not think of a better place to run a business like ours and to host a show like Paddlefest than where we are now. We have had Paddlefest attendees from as far away as Michigan, Maryland, and Maine."
Part of the allure is the Adirondack Park, Nemjo notes. The park is a major destination for those seeking nature, and draws over 12 million visitors a year.
Mountainman and Paddlefest began humbly, Nemjo says. "I started Mountainman in an abandoned pizza shop with $6,000 and six canoes in a place no one knew. Today, we sell anywhere from 1,600 to 2,000 canoes, kayaks, and SUPs each year.” Nemjo confesses that in the beginning, even his own sales reps held out little hope for the fledgling business. “But we've grown into the best known outdoor specialty shop in upstate New York and sold almost 40,000 boats. I've seen our Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company stickers on boats from coast to coast and down to Florida," he says.
The Paddlefest has similarly swelled, splitting into two shows to accommodate growing demand.
"The opening event took place the third week of May on Fourth Lake in the town of Inlet, New York and was called the Adirondack Paddlefest. We remained on Fourth Lake for eight years before moving the show to its present location in Old Forge,” Nemjo explains. The second event, Saratoga Paddlefest, began in 2013 and served as the grand opening of a new Mountainman shop on Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs. “This year we are re-naming the two shows as New York Paddlefest to broaden our reach and appeal to more visitors from downstate and beyond," Nemjo says.
Paddlefest became a way to gather vendors at one time and place rather than have them trickle into town, week after week.
"After years of hosting one brand after another during weekends in the summer months, we decided that the future would be difficult for our reps and our vendors to continue with so many on-water demos and we wanted to make sure that they supported ours first and foremost. Building on the idea of large consumer shows like Canoecopia, Kittery Trading Post, and the former Paddlesport Show in New Jersey, we decided we had the unique opportunity to add the on-water test paddle component to our show that they lacked."
The on-water component worked like a field of nectar-laden flowers to bees.
"Being able to test boats on water immediately brought consumers from a wide area to our show,” Nemjo says. “Being blessed with good weather that very first year in 1999, we hit a home run and exceeded our own expectations. We would not exist without our marketing campaign, boosted by the full support of our vendors and also Subaru, which has been our major sponsor since day 1. Today, we're a household name in upstate New York."
The testing component attracts evermore paddlers. As Farmer notes, "The 'Try before you buy' feature is unbeatable, and the on-water demos are not to be missed. Also, the clinics and manufacturers' demonstrations are great and usually include one or two brand new products."
There are also deals for those who pedal and hike. "Since Paddlefest is hosted at the Mountainman Outdoor Supply Center, great deals are also available on bikes and other gear," says Farmer.
There are fishing events too, with a free fishing kayak for the first place winners at both Old Forge and Sarasota Springs. "We also have our annual Saratoga Paddlefest Kayak Fishing Tournament and annual Adirondack Paddlefest Kayak Fishing Tournament, which takes place on the Old Forge Pond, which is the start of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail."
Will Crimmins, a whitewater paddler and Mountainman manager, says, "The atmosphere is vacation-like. It's a great environment for family. People are happy and carefree, just glad to be outside and surrounded by so many neat products."