EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Building a business on the water does not guarantee smooth sailing, or in George Sluker's case, kayaking.
Sluker said he started Paddle Shack in 1999 in Mays Landing, hoping to pick up on some watersports business when major retailer I. Goldberg closed.
Selling and renting kayaks, paddles, stand-up paddle boards and other water-related sporting goods, Sluker has kept his business running, although it is not always profitable.
Sluker said his construction and contracting work has helped support the shop for the past three years.
This past spring, he moved the business to a new location along Patcong Creek in Egg Harbor Township, hoping its proximity to the water will aid the business.
"It think it was the economy and a combination of the old location didn't have room for growth," said Sluker, 65, of Mays Landing. "Hopefully here, I have room for growth."
The Outdoor Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, says participation in outdoor sports and kayaking has grown in recent years.
The nonprofit's recently released Outdoor Recreation Participation Report indicates nearly 142 million people took part in outdoor recreation in 2012, a number that has grown steadily since the survey started in 2006.
Recreational kayaking itself grew 10 percent in the past three years, the survey said.
Sluker sees the appeal of the water as an avenue for exercise and a tie-in with the natural environment and wildlife, including herons, egrets, ospreys and muskrats.
He hosts assorted paddle events, such as during meteor showers, in moonlight or during sunset along Patcong Creek.
Currently, kayak rentals make up a small percentage of business, something Sluker expects to change since moving his business alongside the water. Rentals start at $12.50 an hour with a two-hour minimum, he said.
Sales have always made up a large portion of the business, and there are plenty of options - from varying models and styles of kayaks to a wall of different paddles.
Particularly for those new to kayaking, a personal touch to business is helpful, Sluker said. If someone buys an inexpensive boat elsewhere and is unhappy with the experience, that person may be turned off to kayaking.
Sluker, as a businessman and a proponent of promoting the activity, does not want that.
"We spend a lot of time here working individually with the customers, getting to know what their needs and desires are - immediate and long term - to get them in the boat that will fit their needs. And we (fit) them with the key components to keep them safe."
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Location: 5012 Ocean Heights Ave., Egg Harbor Township
Owner: George Sluker, 65, of Mays Landing
Employees: Owner-operated, with help from friends
Revenue: Not disclosed