Startup: Paddle Sports and Hiking Expo

A group of us want to start a local Expo in our small town. It will be geared toward kayaking and hiking in our area. We have use of an event center and we’re looking for vendors, information booths, and sponsors. Has anybody tried to do this? If so i’m asking for advice on building excitement in my community.
Florence, OR.

If there is a club or community around these activities, you could always start with a swap meet type thing. Also invite local retailers and other related companies (tour companies and the like) to display.

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I used to work in the wilderness sports biz and still have friends who own an independent shop (including kayaks and running a kayak and SUP riverside rental concession during the summer). So I’ve been involved in expos like you are describing. Looking at the map, you look to be pretty far from major metro areas, so I wonder what sort of turn out you might expect having that located in your town. You might want to start by talking to Oregon Paddle Sports in Eugene and see what they might suggest. Outfitters and manufacturers are usually pretty receptive to having a public venue to increase awareness of the sports they provide for and to give them free marketing exposure. But there has to be sufficient attendee traffic for these things to be worth their time and expense.

Good luck to you. It’s a worthy endeavor.

In Lansing Michigan we have what is now the Quiet Adventures Symposium (QAS)( This is happening this Saturday (March 2, 2024) at an Agricultural Pavilion on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU). This will be the 29th year for this event (including two virtual events during Covid). I’ve been a part of this event in some manner or another since the beginning when it was The Quiet Water Symposium (QWS). For all but 5 years of the event it has been 100% volunteer and is now. For five years there was a small event management business that handled some level of coordination but was responsible to a volunteer board.

  • QWS started small with support from a strong local paddling club (Lansing Oar and Paddle Club (LOAPC)

  • Also support from MSU including initially no charge for the venue

  • Initial focus was on paddling including boating building and trips, watershed groups, and environmental groups. Access to vendors came through these connections as the event grew & changed focus

  • We were fortunate to get the local Subaru dealer onboard as a primary sponsor early on. One of the event organizers had connections there.

  • Pull a techie person in early. You will need a website for info and registration early on. Also to deal with various social media. Pull in an AV person too.

  • Put a succession plan in place and expect burnout & conflict. It happens with intense people & you need some type A folks.

That’s a start of some thoughts. Come out to QAS next year. Always (well almost always) the first Saturday in March as the event is a part of Agricultural and Natural Resources Week at MSU


You probably know about Canoecopia in Madison; Darren Bush, who bought Rutabaga Paddlesports about 22 yeas ago, after working there as a long term employee has turned this event into a regional expo and it’s the largest in the US probably the world. Darren is very approachable and interested in keeping outdoor sports and paddling as sustainable businesses. I would contact him a few weeks after the event is over and ask for advice on specific issues.

That being said the audience for such expositions from the paddling point of view is probably dwindling. In San Diego around 2000 -2008 there were two popular symposia and expos for paddling. The businesses that supported these have either disappeared or have shrunk. Now most paddlers of kayaks and canoes pretty much buy rec boats from box stores. My son lives in Portland and from what I have seen over the last 14 years or so the market for kayaks and canoes above the rec-boat level is shrinking pretty fast.

I bought a new pair of nordic skis a few weeks ago from a store that has been in business for about 70 years, it was a slow day and the manager was interested in hearing what things were like here in the 70s and 80s for cross country and back country skiing. He mentioned that this year business is really down as the post pandemic surge in interest for outdoor activities is dropping off as younger people just are not as interested in skiing (expensive), kayaking (expensive) and hiking ( companies try to market high end gear to young folks who don’t have tons of money.)

Thank you for the advice. I like including local retailers for community building.
We’re debating on charging local vendors for booth space vs charging for door entry to the public.

We’re expecting an older turnout to the event. Most of our community are retired but very active. Oregon Paddle Sport is in support and will be attending. they’re our closest contributors. I’m wondering if larger outfitters like REI would be willing to support such a small group like ours.

Thanks for the awesome advice Rich! We also have a local dealership and i will make it a point to contact them for support. what you have started in Lansing is exactly what we’re trying to replicate here.

Great Info on Canoecopia! I would agree the starting market to get into paddle sports is high. One of the reasons for starting this expo is to try and keep that community excitement. I will follow your advice on reaching out to Darren after our event.