Rafting Pioneer George Wendt: A Story of Family and Conservation

George Wendt and his sons, O.A.R.S. Rafting

There are some people who have found their passion, their purpose in life, and they work tirelessly to share what they love with others.  O.A.R.S. President and Founder, George Wendt, is one of those people.

George found his calling as a college student on the rivers of the West in the summer of 1962.  That’s when he and a friend built a raft out of inner tubes and planking and floated down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon.  In the short years that followed, as George continued to explore the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and other western rivers like the Yampa, it became clear to him that these special places needed to be shared, fought for, and preserved for future generations. The drowning of Glen Canyon had delivered a profound sense of loss for George and it became his calling to bring people into the wilderness and share with them his love for wild river canyons.

In the late 60’s, George started spending his summers taking friends on river trips in California and throughout the Desert Southwest. Those friends invited other friends and it wasn’t long before strangers began contacting him with requests to join his expeditions. In 1969 George married his sweetheart, Pam Larson, and O.A.R.S. (originally Gooch-Wendt Expeditions) officially started running professional river rafting trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as well as weekend trips on the Stanislaus River in California. Before long, George decided to quit his job as a middle school math teacher and devote himself full time to sharing his love of rivers and wild places.

Our latest video is a brief but intimate look at George’s journey over nearly 50 years—a story of a man with a pioneering spirit, steadfast determination and a family company with a commitment to conservation at its core.

Related: True Tales of an Early River Runner

  • Christine and Billy

    Great video of George and all the Wendt fellas! I love the historical footage at the end. We miss you more than you know!

  • Joel Young

    nice vid

  • Mary V. Dickerson

    Hi, OARS folks. I worked in Angels Camp in 1978-1980 to qualify SOBEK for air ticketing and travel agency. I miss it and all the great people. I can’t get the video to play. Tomorrow I will try on the computer. Tonite I am on a Kindle. Hello to George and the boys!

  • I spent ten years rafting with OARS from 1982 t01992. I convinced my medical patients to come on trips with me, filling entire groups. They were wonderful adventures and I deeply appreciate the efforts George made to create this kind of experience. Thanks

  • SSB

    We went down the Grand Canyon with George. It was the highest water the canyon had seen since the Dam was built (sometime in the 80’s). It was an amazing experience and we will never forget it. Once we had a family of our own we started going down other rivers.

  • Liz Crookston

    George is a true gentleman & real pioneer. It is an honour to be his colleague in the adventure travel community. Our trip down the Grand Canyon with OARS is one of the most memorable trips of my lifetime. I can’t wait to do the Salmon River this summer!

  • Great story

  • Jack Kloepfer

    OARS has been one of our best customers. We started selling Dry bags and Paco Pads to them way back in the early 80’s. I went to most of the rafting trade shows, and George would be there. I knew that he was busy, because he had a lot of irons in the fire. Oars was expanding. George would always come over and tell me how much he appreciated the work we did. These encounters were not long, but they had a huge impact. George cared deeply about every aspect of the river experience. Even the people who made his dry bags. We will miss him. I never really knew how involved he was in the river conservation effort. Reading this article has brought me some new understanding. I am grateful that we had him on our side, and that he was able to take the time to do this work. Thank you George for all the things you did for all river runners, all outdoor enthusiasts, supporting our company, and for just coming over and thanking us for being part of the river community. Thank you for letting us hook our wagon to your star.

  • Glenn Sotar

    A better man never lived. It is our loss. I hope someone preserves all those spiral notebooks. Wisdom for our times. Miss you

  • Ali Reynolds

    So Sad to hear about George’s passing. He was a sweet man with a generous spirit and he leaves an amazing legacy for the rest of the world to enjoy and support. He will be greatly missed in our community.