Our Company: O.A.R.S.
According to George Wendt, O.A.R.S. Founder and President, “My first trip in the Grand Canyon introduced me to a world that I didn’t know existed.”
That adventure trip for George, as one of the first 1200 people to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, fostered a dream of his to share such wild places, as well as preserve and protect them, for future generations. The dream later came to fruition, taking him from his life as a middle school math teacher and onto the world’s waterways—sharing those experiences, directly and indirectly, with nearly a half-million people to date.
After his first Grand Canyon experience, George spent summers taking friends to various rivers in California and the Desert Southwest. Those friends invited other friends. It wasn’t long before strangers began contacting him with requests to join his expeditions. Those trips featured equal parts accessibility, fun rapids, stunning scenery, side canyons to explore and companions with an inquisitive nature. It became clear it was to be his calling to deliver people to the wilderness and to share with them the excitement experienced there.
George’s dream of ‘officially’ taking people down river first came to fruition in 1969. With his friend Ed Gooch, George established Gooch-Wendt Expeditions, running professional trips on the Colorado River. Shortly thereafter, the company was selected as the first exclusively oar-powered rafting operator in Grand Canyon National Park, and was appropriately renamed O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists).
In 1972, George and his wife Pam took over full operation of O.A.R.S. and chose to establish the company and their family in the small northern California community of Angels Camp in Calaveras County just miles away from the free-flowing Stanislaus River. Through the early 1980s this stunning Sierra Nevada river became the lifeblood of the newly-formed organization. At the time, O.A.R.S. consistently had passengers for two-day trips, seven days a week on what was then a family-friendly Class III river. However, as the business grew, the spectacular Stanislaus River canyon was lost to a dam. Rather than close the doors in Angels Camp and relocate, the loss of this great run was an impetus to look elsewhere and expand trip offerings.
From early on, O.A.R.S. offered trips on other rivers in various regions throughout the U.S. West, including the Tuolumne, Merced, American and the Klamath rivers in California, the Rogue River in southern Oregon, the Salmon River in Idaho and the Colorado, Green and Yampa rivers in Utah and Colorado. Today, we offer more than 75 unique itineraries, including first-class rafting, sea kayaking and multi-sport trips, throughout Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as throughout western Canada, Fiji and Latin America.
In 2006, George’s passion for running rivers, and his unquenchable drive to share the rivers of the world with other adventurers earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Adventure Travel Trade Association for his pioneering efforts in the realms of whitewater rafting, ecotourism, and adventure travel.
Remaining true to George’s original dream, our company is professionally committed to the cultural and environmental well-being of the places we visit and operate. We follow expertly designed on-the-ground practices and seek to create inspirational experiences for guests and students. Our company supports a variety of institutions that further these ideals, including: the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, American Whitewater, Friends of the River, Environmental Defense Fund, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Idaho Rivers United, Alaska Wilderness League, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, the Outdoor Foundation, the International Ecotourism Society and Sustainable Travel International.
In the four decades since O.A.R.S.’ inception, our company has contributed, along with our guests, more than $3 million toward the protection and preservation of the places and communities we visit. Our California headquarters and other operations warehouses run on solar power, and we utilize alternative energy sources such as bio-diesel along with fuel-efficient vehicles and support vessels whenever possible to reduce our carbon footprint.
We are routinely recognized and rewarded throughout the industry for our integrity and ingenuity. National Geographic Adventure magazine recognized our company as “The Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth” multiple times based on education, sustainability, quality of service, spirit of adventure and references. More than 60% of passengers return for additional trips or are referred by past guests each year. National Geographic, Outside, Men’s Journal, Sunset and assorted other magazines routinely recognize O.A.R.S. as serving up some of the “Best Trips on the Planet,” as well as providing the best and friendliest guides and superior customer service.
Although O.A.R.S. has grown to become the most successful and respected rafting and sea kayaking outfitter in North America, our ongoing mission has remained the same: to help people of all ages enjoy the best outdoor experience of their lives.