Born Into Rafting: The Next Generation of OARS
7 Questions with Tyler Wendt
After 45 years growing his rafting company from the ground up and helping make the adventure travel industry what it is today, OARS Founder George Wendt definitely isn’t going anywhere. But when the time is right, his family business—now one of the world’s leading whitewater rafting companies—will be in good hands.
I recently chatted with one of George’s sons Tyler Wendt, OARS Operations Manager, about the future of OARS, but not before I got some good stories about what it was like growing up in a rafting family…
You must have had some incredible adventures as a kid. What’s one of your best memories?
To this day I love telling stories about a trip Dad took me on, along with a good friend of mine, Richie Davis, and a foreign exchange kid from Sweden named Kale (I think). We were about to be seniors in high school, so late summer of 1995. I was 17 at the time. We drove from Angels Camp to Moab, Utah, left Mom in a motel room and rented two Jeep Wranglers from one of the outfitters in town. We spent 4 full days, tops down, driving 4×4 tracks through some incredibly rough terrain in and around Canyonlands National Park, overnighting on the way into the Park at Cathedral Point, followed by a couple nights at Devils Kitchen. Camping out under the astonishing display of stars, exploring the otherworldly landscape of Canyonlands, was very impactful for me. I was blown away by the beauty.
How old were you when you went on your first river trip and where did you go?
I’m pretty sure I was 4. My first trip was on the San Juan River. Memories are spotty; I can’t even say I really remember seeing any of the amazing archaeological sites on the trip. Might be the only thing I actually remember is one of the guides burying himself thigh-deep in quicksand on a side canyon hike. Funny! But scary, too. In my four-year old mind, there was a distinct possibility he was getting sucked under.
Not many people can say their dad helped launch the adventure travel industry. How has he inspired you throughout the years?
He’s certainly inspired me with his entrepreneurial spirit. As an early player in a burgeoning travel industry, he had a dream and made it happen. OARS has been his baby from the beginning, and he’s put a tremendous amount of time and energy into making it what it is today. The whole idea behind building and maintaining a sustainable adventure travel business, while trying to do things the right way, is very exciting to me.
You’ve recently become a daddy and are probably looking forward to introducing your daughter to rafting some day. Why is a river trip the ultimate family vacation?
I hope I’ll still be able to say this in a few years when we’re ready to take her on a multi-day river trip—and that cellular signals haven’t encroached too much further into the canyons—but one of the most important things a wilderness river trip experience can offer is the forced disconnection from our wired lives. The longer, the better.
Where’s the most amazing place you’ve gotten to travel to recently?
Hands down, Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. We were only there briefly, for about 48 hours on the Zambian side this past November, but saw the falls from a helicopter and from the lip of the 108-meter drop at Devil’s Pool. Awesome! Not to mention the thrill of running the Zambezi’s signature rapids, 1-10. (We’ve heard that this famed stretch of whitewater, even the rapids immediately downstream of the falls, is under threat from a dam project. So, if you think you ever want to raft the Zam, probably better go soon.)
If you had to pick one, what’s your favorite river trip?
If I had to pick one . . . It’d have to be rafting the Grand Canyon. That place influences who you are and who you want to be. I can’t help but be affected every time I make it down.
OARS is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. Where do you see the company headed as you step up to the helm?
Let’s be clear about this, Dad loves his job, and won’t relinquish the “helm” anytime soon. But we work well together (most of the time!) and I see myself learning from him for years to come. I think we’re headed in the same direction we have been for the last 45 years—toward the best trips with the best guides on the best rivers in the wildest regions in the American West. And, we’ll probably continue to expand our portfolio of international trip destinations, because if our loyal travelers want to trust us with their worldwide explorations, who are we to disagree?
We’re also committed to opening doors for returning veterans and under-privileged youth to experience the magic of a river trip. Over the next 5 years, I think you’ll see us operating a lot of trips at low- to no-cost for segments of our population who need a wilderness outing more than anyone.