Those cowboys in the old movies who changed horses in midstream have nothing on Chris Boland.
After more than 15 years in corporate medicine, Boland looked around and asked, "What do I really love to do?" When he decided the answer was fishing, paddling boats and being outdoors, it wasn't long until he figured out how to become an entrepreneur doing the things he so cherishes.
Boland dove headlong into a new and unusual business selling and renting kayaks and accessories about two years ago. Now, Saltwater Sports is the county's largest kayak outfitter and Boland couldn't be happier.
"I love every aspect of this business. I love taking out the trash. I love adding a rod holder to a boat. I love wearing shorts and a t-shirt every day," he said. "There's nothing bad about it. It's healthy. You get your exercise and have fun, too. You're outdoors, close to nature with plenty of sunshine. It's not dangerous. What more could you want?" Getting stocked with products that would suit the Naples' market was a challenge initially, but Boland hit the water with a lineup for every skill level including kayaks ranging from affordable $300 basics up to $4,000 specials made of lightweight carbon or Kevlar for speed. He compares himself to a bike shop where regulars come by just to see what's new.
"We've got all kinds of accessories from roof racks and carts to flotation and safety devices," he said.
Boland said people choose kayaks over canoes because they have a lower center of gravity and are more stable.
"You don't get caught by the wind as much and they're easier to paddle and lift. The recreational-style boats are easy to sit on or in," he said.
Surprisingly, Boland says about 75 percent of his customers are over age 50.
"Today's retirees don't want to stay home and play checkers," he said. They also appreciate the direct access to a private beach and mangrove tunnels, where they can take in nature tours and fishing trips on any of his 50-unit fleet of rental kayaks.
Boland recalled one hardy vacationer who set out in a kayak with a loaded fishing pack and even a sail. The man hooked a 14-foot tarpon, and rather than bail, hung on for almost three miles as the silversider dragged him out to sea. A flotilla of on-lookers following the unusual adventure burst into cheers when the determined sailor finally landed his catch.
Admitting it's a little tough to get through off-season, Boland believes the enterprise will continue to thrive.
"My business has doubled every year. It's always non-stop work," he said. Summertime brings a bevy of camp programs, teaching kayak safety and skills, in addition to organizing avid kayakers in the Paradise Kayak Club and updating his website, www.saltwatersportsflorida.
Summers hours at Boland's Saltwater Sports' retail store, located at 11369 U.S. 41 East, are 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Mondays.
Kayak rentals are available from 9 a.m.-dusk, seven days a week, behind the Fishhouse Restaurant, 203 Capri Boulevard on Isles of Capri. Call 262-6149 or 417-2200 for more information.