British Columbia·Still Standing

Deep Cove Kayak paddling strong after 39 years

After 39 years in business, Deep Cove Kayak is adapting and expanding to weather the pandemic.

The business is adapting and expanding in order to weather the pandemic

Erian Baxter and Bob Putnam at Deep Cove Kayak in North Vancouver. (Rachel Sanders)

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio's The Early Edition.


Ingrid Baxter started Deep Cove Kayak almost by accident. She was looking through the North Shore News classified ads hoping to buy a canoe, and instead ended up buying a boat rental business.

"It came with canoes and a rowboat and a couple of pedal bicycle boat things," says her daughter, Erian Baxter, who now co-owns the company along with business partner Bob Putnam. 

"On April 1, they opened the door and just started renting things. It used to be in this cute little old bunker building that was right on the water." 

That was back in 1981. Thirty-nine years later, the building at the edge of the stunning blue waters of Deep Cove is a fixture in the community and a destination for both local and international visitors. Baxter says her mother still plays a role.

"She has this seat of wisdom where she reminds us of things," she says.

A staff member prepares stand-up paddle boards for use at Deep Cove Kayak. (Rachel Sanders)

These days the company rents stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and surf-skis. But Baxter says their community programs are the reason they've thrived for nearly four decades. Those include Tuesday Night Races and the weekly Women on Water event, which sees dozens of women paddling together on Thursday nights. 

Putnam says the business's longevity is due to its fabulous location and its excellent team of employees. 

"Deep Cove is a great place where people want to go and visit and and we're right in the heart of it," he says.

The kayaking community they've built, he says, has resulted in numerous relationships among both staff and customers. Many have even ended in marriage, including the one between operations manager Mike Darbyshire and his wife Karly. 

"Kayak romance," Baxter says. 

The team wasn't sure at first how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect their business. Kayaking, after all, is an individual or small-group activity and there's plenty of space out on the water.

But, knowing how busy the shoreline can get, they closed down for a few weeks to try to figure out how to operate safely.

They re-opened at Deep Cove in mid-May and opened a new location at Jericho Beach the same month.

"What a year to start a new location," says Baxter.

But she says their multiple locations have helped them survive the past four months. 

"We're really paddling all over Vancouver," she says.

They also started running their Tuesday Night Races online with a virtual version that allowed people to participate however they could — biking, running, open water swimming, paddle-boarding or kayaking. People posted their results and the Darbyshires made highlight videos with their kids each week. 

Deep Cove Kayak operations manager Mike Darbyshire and race manager Karly Darbyshire with their kids Kanemi and Kane. The couple's relationship was a case of 'kayak romance,' says Deep Cove Kayak co-owner Erian Baxter. (Rachel Sanders)

The event turned out to be very popular, attracting participants from places like Australia, Hong Kong, and the U.S.

"It was a real bright light for a lot of people," says Baxter. "We're still able to be the community builder that, organically, we have ended up being, and that's our passion."

For Baxter, the best days at work are ones where the team is working hard but having fun. And most of all she enjoys the impact her business has on its customers.

"People get here a little hustled and bustled and a little stressed and then they go out for two hours and when they come back … it's like water therapy," she says. "It's relaxing, it's good for your soul, it's healing and they come back with a smile."

To hear the full interview about Deep Cove Kayak, tap here.

If you have a suggestion for a store or business in the Lower Mainland that's been around for a while and provides a specialized service or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

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