WILSON LAKE — When it comes to stand-up paddle boarding, Chris Leach simply encourages everyone to give it a try.
“Worst thing that happens, you might get a little wet,” he said. “Best thing happens, you’ll have a smile on your face for the rest of the day.”
A native of Hawaii, Leach is an avid watersports enthusiast. Since moving to Lucas several years ago, he had been toying with the idea of starting an equipment rental company at Wilson Lake.
That dream became reality in June, and it all started with a chance meeting. Leach and Michelle Jager also own a screen printing shop in downtown Lucas. Sue Graham stopped to inquire about sponsorship for a fishing tournament hosted by Knotheads, her bait and supply shop located near the lake.
Graham also had been thinking of adding rentals, as lake-goers often ask about canoes and kayaks when they stopped by her store.
“I walked in to ask them for sponsorship. And now they’re my shirt company and we’re now Hell Creek Watersports,” Graham said. “We just got to talking and one thing led to another, and here we are.”
Hell Creek Watersports LLC began business a few weeks ago. The business rents space at Knotheads, 132 E. Shoreline Road, and offers stand-up paddle boards, canoes, kayaks and tandem kayaks.
While they expected the business to meet a warm reception, they have been surprised by the volume of rentals. Despite being open such a short time and not much advertising yet, demand has been so high that — at times — all 17 rentals are out on the water.
“We used to rent pontoons here at Knotheads. And we stopped when my step-dad got sick,” Graham said. “Then people were always coming in asking about boat rentals. ‘Do you have canoes, kayaks, anything?’ There’s a lot, a lot of interest.”
The canoes, and even kayaks, can be used for fishing, and those rentals likely will be available into the fall season, as they are not likely to tip over.
Stand-up paddle boarding, known as SUP, has been gaining popularity the last few years. Instructions can be given to first-timers, but learning that sport makes you a little more likely to get wet, Leach said. The business, however, did choose boards that are long and wide, making them surprisingly stable and ideal for beginners. SUP rentals will be discontinued for the season when the weather gets too cool.
The manual-paddle watercraft are small and quiet, making it possible for customers to navigate into narrow channels and get a closer look at the wildlife in and around the lake, Graham said.
“It’s such a unique way to explore the lake, because you can go into coves and get up to stuff that in a regular boat, you’re not going to see at the level of the water,” she said. “Like one time I was in mine … I saw this frog on a cliff, just kind of sitting there. And then I saw the snake that was watching the frog.”
Rentals are available in two-hour increments, with a minimum time of two hours and a maximum of eight hours. Pricing varies by the type of equipment rented and the amount of time chosen.
Life jackets are included, as well as vehicle racks to haul the equipment down to the shore. Wet bags for cameras or cellphones are available at additional cost.
The entire rental process can be done in person or online at hcwatersports.com. The website also includes pricing details and a calendar that shows what equipment is available at different times.
Customers must be at least 18, unless a child is sharing a watercraft with a guardian. The business is insured, and renters will be required to sign liability waivers before hitting the lake. Those forms also can be filled out online.
Boats cannot be taken on the water if wind speeds top 20 mph. Rentals are available seven days a week.
While the new business is less than a month old, organizers already are looking at ways to expand. They hope to add additional boats to their fleet, possibly including paddle boats. Hell Creek Watersports also might offer group tours in the future if there is demand.
“There’s definitely some room for expansion and some uniqueness,” Leach said. “We will be adding to our fleet.”