Wald returns flock, flotilla

Udo Wald, with swan boats Louis and Betsy. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Udo Wald, with swan boats Louis and Betsy.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

The swans have returned to Eagle Harbor.

The swan boats, that is.

After a year’s hiatus, the boat rental operation on the barge at the Waterfront Park dock is again open for business, resurrected by kayaker Udo Wald.

“We want this to be the new center for paddling activity,” said Wald, owner of “To the Back of Beyond” kayak shop on Winslow Way.

“It is not just a rental business anymore. We are teaching and giving tours. And don’t worry, I am resurrecting the swans!”

The rental fleet currently includes 27 boats, although the two swan-shaped paddle boats won’t be available until the Fourth of July, Wald said.

“I had to really clean up the barge from last year,” he said. “It was a lot of work with laying out new carpet, but it is all ready.”

In addition to rentals, the new operation’s offerings include guided excursions and activities for any skill level.

Day visitors and island residents can enjoy moonlight paddling adventures, hone skills with week-long intensive camps and kayak rescuing classes, or dip a cautious toe in the water with an introduction to the fundamentals of kayaking.

“I don’t want to duplicate what other groups are already doing, I want to add a new perspective,” Wald said. “We are kayakers, and we sell what we use.”

The concession was previously operated by islander Dave Berry, but was not in operation last summer and was put out to bid again by the city.

“Obtaining concession of the barge is not a huge profit center,” Wald said, “but for me it rounds out the complete business package.

“With my shop already in order, it makes it a full-service deal.”

In addition to running his retail operation, which opened on Winslow Way last year, Wald organizes paddling tours and activities for Bainbridge businesses and guides weekly excursions from Waterfront Park.

He also runs a five-week program for the Boys and Girls Club and conducts regular paddle trips for members of the Senior Center. “Extensive community involvement is vital to running a small business,” he said.

To keep pace with the expanding rental operation, Wald has broadened his store’s inventory of fiberglass, wooden and plastic kayaks to include camping equipment, trailers and Chaco sandals.

Wald, who grew up in Southern California, says that while he loved the water, he was not always the kayaking enthusiast he is today.

“I started out as a canoer,” he said, “but living in the area I did, there was not much opportunity to canoe, so I started kayaking.”

Wald took a job working in an outdoor store, which led to full-time teaching and touring. Deciding he needed a break from California, and wanting to open an store of his own, he came to the Pacific Northwest, and opened To The Back of Beyond.

“I always liked this area,” he said. “It is a mecca for kayaking, with so many areas you can go.”

* * * * *

The boat rental barge at the Waterfront Park dock is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends, weather permitting.

Reserve boats, book tours and sign up for classes at 842-9229.

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