Steve and Leslie Wright took over Escape Outdoors’ kayak rental business in September, renaming it Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental.
Steve Wright, a retired biology teacher at Hephzibah High School and his wife, Leslie, who teaches language arts to eighth graders at Greenbrier Middle School, thought running the business at the Augusta Canal Headgates was a natural transition.
“We’ve kayaked the river for the last 35 years – or canoed it or tubed it,” he said, “or floated down on air mattresses. We’ve done it all.”
Sports have always been a main facet of the couple’s lives. The pair met on the tennis courts at former Augusta College, where Leslie had a scholarship.
After the couple married and had two children, sports and, more specifically, water-oriented activities became an integral way for the family to spend time with one another. Their son, Stephen, learned how to water ski by age 3 and daughter Katie took her first boat ride in a car seat at 2 weeks old, Leslie said.
Throughout the years, the family has gone on whitewater rafting trips in north Georgia and Tennessee, kayaked along Florida’s Gulf Coast and taken advantage of local resources, such as the canal, Savannah River, Brier Creek and South Edisto River, where they just purchased 35 acres of land.
“Everything is centered around water,” Leslie said. “They’ve (Stephen and Katie) just pretty much been little fish for all of their lives.”
Katie Wright, 22, is also a part of the family business. Having graduated with a business degree from Georgia Military College, she helps run the day-to-day operations and handles marketing and the budget.
She, too, has inherited her parents’ love of the water. An avid wakeboarder, Katie frequents Thurmond Lake on her boat.
“I’m out there almost every day,” she said.
The kayak business allows Steve and Leslie to not only enjoy the outdoors but also use their teaching backgrounds when giving paddlers instruction. The Wrights estimate that about half of their customers have never been in a kayak.
Steve leans more toward working outdoors than being stuck inside.
“It’s a very welcomed change,” said Steve, who retired in 2011. “I was in the classroom for 30 years. After a classroom, this is like paradise.”
He’s also more apt to apply his master’s degree in herpetology, the scientific study of reptiles and amphibians.
The kayak kiosk offers nature-watching, with turtles, snakes, otters, bald eagles and the occasional alligator, among other creatures.
“There’s not a day that goes by he doesn’t jump in that canal to cool off,” his wife said.
In addition, the Wrights enjoy meeting people who want to give kayaking a try.
So far, their list of international visitors includes those from Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, England and Saudi Arabia.
Large groups from local churches, schools, clubs and even wedding parties also have booked trips down the canal.
Single kayaks are available, but Leslie said that most people opt for the tandem model.
The Wrights also have recently added the “floating picnic,” a circular paddle boat that can hold half a dozen people with room for a cooler in the middle.
The two-hour trip down the canal to Lake Olmstead has been the most popular route for paddlers, though there are other options.
“It’s a freedom,” Leslie said. “I think we all get a lot of solace out here.”