You and your dearest friends are enjoying the short-sleeves weather, a cold IPA, and the lively type of conversation where no one feels forced to speak but everyone wants to when, quite abruptly, conversation halts and all faces turn in unison. From the deck of your riverside cabin, the patio of your favorite Floyd County beer garden, or any number of waterside hangouts, you notice the somewhat distant figure of what you assume to be a person walking on water. Together, you and your companions watch with expectant reverence for the arrival of this transcendent being. Closer and closer they come. With each subsequent step, you discover the figure, in fact, is a person – a person donning a backwards hat, brightly colored swimming trunks, and a pair of sunglasses complete with straps. Chuckling at your gut reaction, you soon determine this person is not a water walker. With conversation resuming, someone lightheartedly comments, “paddle boarders.”
Although the upright exploration of water-ways may be a novel idea to many, historians often date the sport back to the 18th century and place its cultural origin in the island-rich geography of Polynesia. How did these surfboard-canoe hybrids find their way to the rivers and lakes of a county at the foothills of Appalachia, you ask? You can thank Mike and Connie Sams.
Husband and wife co-owners of River Dog Paddle Co. and the River Dog Outpost, Mike and Connie love paddle boarding and love beer but had no intention of running a two-building, one-stop shop for both in Floyd County. For the Samses, the journey from enthusiast to entrepreneur has been all about being willing to say yes to a new perspective on adventure.
“The first time Connie and I went paddle boarding was May of 2013,” says Mike. “We had been going down to Destin (Fla.) yearly to spend time on the gulf and kept seeing all these people standing up and bouncing up and down on the waves.”
A lifetime lover of all things water, Connie was the first test pilot and, after an hour-and-a-half, was a raving fan. “When we came back to Rome, Connie, right away, started researching where to get a paddle board and the best kind to purchase,” he continues. “The difficulty was, of course, there wasn’t anywhere local to talk with someone who knew something about them, and, more importantly, actually try one out.”
Not discouraged by this hurdle, Connie soon purchased her first board. Mike, an avid kayaker, quickly discovered that their afternoons on the Coosa, with Connie on a board and him in the water, were leaving him envious and ready for a change of posture.
“After Connie bought it, we went out together, giving her a chance to try it out,” he says. “Quite hilariously, there I was hustling away to catch up with my wife who, with half the effort, was going twice as fast I was. It kind of sucked at first but, more than anything, it made me want one of my own.”
Again, Mike and Connie faced the predicament of buying a board without the convenience of testing it out. Their continued interest in the sport also produced a passion for educating others about paddle boarding and helping others navigate the waterways of online decision-making.
“Because we were out on the rivers, people were constantly asking us about our boards and where they could get one,” explains Connie. “Pretty quickly, we realized there needed to be a local resource where people could come with their curiosity, find out more from people who love the sport, and, if they so chose, try one out.”
Even with this newfound purpose, Mike and Connie were only planning on purchasing and renting out a handful of paddle boards to meet the curiosity-driven demand. However, small ambitions have a tendency to grow on their own, and opportunity is a frequent partner of adventure. After determining they needed more storage space than a trailer could provide, the “For Rent” sign at 5 Broad Street opened doors to open doors at River Dog Paddle Co.
“It all happened organically,” says Connie. “We didn’t sit around debating whether or not to open a shop; we just kept doing what seemed right.”
The Samses were not trying to compete with other local outfitters but, instead, wanted to bring a new recreational channel to the outdoor life of Rome. River Dog Paddle Co., affectionately named for a dog Mike and Connie rescued along the banks of the Coosa, provides paddle boards, both for purchase and for rent, water apparel, and other beach-life accessories.
“I think we really do fit in with the culture of Rome, but we are also in the business of bringing something different to Broad Street and to Floyd County,” says Mike.
With this attitude in mind and the welcome the Samses received at the storefront, those small ambitions did, in fact, continue to grow.
“We told the landlords, if the standalone structure right next door (1 Broad Street) ever became available, we wanted it,” Mike says. “We didn’t expect anything to happen for years but, sure enough, it opened up on Oct. 1 and by Christmas Eve, River Dog Outpost was open with ice-cold brews.”
Now, three months later, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Fridays from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Saturdays from noon to 2 a.m., you will find a steady crowd of folks who are quite at home with the beach bar vibe of this riverside beer garden. Mike and Connie see it as the logical next step in their promotion of paddle boarding and, more generally, their passion for highlighting Rome’s waterways.
“I think people were hungry, and obviously thirsty, for something different than the typical bar scene,” says Connie. “We like to think, when you’re at the Outpost, you might feel like you’re at the beach, you might feel like you’re in the mountains, but either way, you’re experiencing a total getaway.”
With so many changes over the last two years, the Samses are settling into their role as a part of the local flavor of Broad Street. Although Connie jokes she wants to start up River Dog Costa Rica, more seriously Mike and Connie say they want to continue to “build the relationship between Romans and their rivers.”
“You can get off the water and not worry about changing,” says Mike. “You can be dripping wet in your swim shorts and feel right at home.”
Whether you are asking if you, too, will be able to successfully upright ride the Coosa current or you are just enjoying 5 o’clock at 1 Broad Street, the Samses and, of course, River the dog want everyone to know they are more than a customer; they are a guest.
For more information about River Dog Paddle Co., visit riverdogpaddleco.com or call 706-512-5107.