A Kayaking Journey Can Soothe a Stressful Soul
By Gary Kauffman
Sometimes, when the stress of the business world begins to weigh heavily on the soul, a little quiet time away is just the right medicine.
“I cannot think of a better place for that than in the solitude and peace of God’s creation,” said Leslie Wright, who along with her husband, Steve, owns Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental.
Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental operates along the Augusta Canal, a few hundred yards from the headgates. More than 90 brightly colored kayaks are available to rent for a cruise along the canal that winds up at Lake Olmstead.
The journey can be as short as two hours when paddling but can take longer for those who are content to let the current pull them along. It can be a soothing, soul-cleansing experience.
“There something about the water that refreshes your soul,” Wright said.
The Wrights got into the business when they retired as school teachers (Leslie was an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Greenbrier Middle School, and Steve was a biology teacher at Hephzibah High).
Bruce Cliatt, of Escape Outdoors, started the kayak rental business but because of a full slate of other interests, after five months sold it to the Wrights on Sept. 1, 2012.
It was a great fit.
“We kind of grew up on the canal and the river,” Leslie Wright said. “We’ve been on the water all our lives.”
There’s also a historical connection – Leslie Wright’s parents had their first date at Savannah Rapids Park in 1947, and her grandparents had their first date at Lake Olmstead in 1927.
The Wrights initially had 36 kayaks (“and one lonely canoe,” she added) but have built up their fleet to more than 90 kayaks, plus paddleboards. They expanded the business to be open weekdays and longer hours on weekends.
“This is all about location,” Leslie Wright said. “The beautiful historic Augusta Canal – what a treasure.”
The most popular kayaking route is the Augusta Canal. Kayakers launch in Savannah Rapids Park, paddle about three miles to a turnoff into Lake Olmstead, then another three-quarters of a mile across the lake to a boat ramp. There, a van from Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental picks up the kayaks and kayakers and transports them back to the park.
But kayakers have other options – they can also explore the Savannah River above the headgates, where several islands can provide views of wildlife. Paddling down the Savannah River is also an option if the water levels are right.
Wright said the kayaks are built for safety – low and heavy for stability. She said it is an activity that can be enjoyed even by those who aren’t into sports or who are wary of being on the water. Tandem kayaks allow two people to work together, although the person in back can do the bulk of the paddling while the person in front becomes acclimated to the experience.
“It’s a confidence-builder,” she said.
Kayaking along the canal is a popular family activity for all ages – and can include the family dogs – and groups often create their own flotillas by stringing several kayaks together. There might not be an upper age limit – Leslie Wright said one 86-year-old woman piloted a single kayak on her own.
“It’s a great thing to do with family because it’s so easy,” she said.
The kayaks are popular among youth groups, church groups and family reunions. Locals also find it a popular option to give their out-of-town guests a unique experience. Often trips include stopping along the way to have a picnic.
There is a sense of camaraderie that happens when cruising the canal with others.
“When you do something in nature with someone else, something magical happens,” Leslie Wright said.
But there are also ample opportunities to enjoy solitude. She said weekday afternoons offer a great chance to paddle the canal without seeing too many other people.
Last year, the Wrights opened a second location at Wildwood Park at Clark’s Hill that will soon be known as Keg Creek Water Sports. It will include some jet skis in addition to the kayaks and paddleboards. That location also offers paddleboard yoga classes.
Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental is a family business. Children Katie and Steven helped the business get off the ground, although Steven is now a tour guide on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Katie works at a ski resort in the winters and helps out with the daily operations of the kayak business during the summer. She also has a business degree, which Leslie Wright said is vital to their success.
“We’re just old retired schoolteachers,” Wright said. “We didn’t know what we were doing.”
Wright said she and husband expected to stay active after retirement, probably playing golf and tennis and enjoying their 35 acres along the South Edisto River in South Carolina. But, she said, Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental has been an unexpected blessing that allows them to stay active in something they enjoy.
“We give God the glory for this business,” she said. “I can’t believe I get to do this every day.”