travel & recreation
O.A.R.S. takes adventure, adds water
PHOTOS COURTESY OF O.A.R.S.
By Claire Sykes
NO WAY WOULD he do it. The pool was too deep
and he was too scared. But if 12-year-old George
Wendt was ever going to become an Eagle Scout, he
had to earn his swimming merit badge first, and that
meant jumping into water over his head.
For someone who “didn’t like the water,” says
Wendt of himself then, he ended up taking one heck
of a U-turn eight years later. His Eagle rank long
realized, he found himself for the first time gripping
a paddle as he dodged boulders and logs in a rubber
raft charging through the white-water rapids of the
“It was captivating,” he says. “I was hooked.”
Today, Wendt runs one of the most successful rafting and sea kayaking operations in North America.
Since 1969, Outdoor Adventure River Specialists
(O.A.R.S.) has enjoyed a steady stream of business,
with more than 500,000 boating enthusiasts drifting
and whipping down 35 rivers and coastlines from
Alaska to Chile and Colorado to Fiji. The adven-ture-travel leader offers 75 eclectic itineraries
(mostly on the water) by raft and sea kayak, hiking
boot and horse, and mountain bike.
O.A.R.S.’s special-interest options focus on geology, wildlife viewing and photography, wine and craft
beer tasting, gourmet dining, chartered trips, and
family and singles vacations. Whether it’s a one-day
white-water jaunt or a two-week journey, the company’s tours guide everyone from the budding boater
to the experienced explorer.
Wendt (not to be confused with the famed
Cheers actor) kicked off his own outdoor adventures
with the Boy Scouts in Pacific Palisades, California.
“I was fortunate to be in such an active troop and
have a scoutmaster who encouraged me,” he says.
While a history major at UCLA, in 1962, Wendt
tackled his first rapids, on the Colorado River
through Glen Canyon. “As we approached them,
their roar engendered in me a sense of eager antici-
pation and a joy of living in the moment,” he tells
The Connection. “And there were beautiful scenes
around every corner. It was like a magic carpet ride.”
The following year the Colorado River was
dammed, and “the Grand Canyon was my next best
choice,” says Wendt, who became one of the first
1,200 people to raft it. In 1965, two years after grad-
uating, he and a couple of buddies bought four
military surplus rafts, and ran weekend outings in
California for Scouts and students.
IT’S NOT ENOUGH just to have
fun on the water. You also need
to be safe. Here are some tips
from George Wendt, founder
and president of O.A.R.S.
Never boat alone, unless
you’re highly experienced.
Always wear a properly fitting personal flotation device
or life jacket.
Keep alcohol and other intoxicants on shore, and remain
sober while boating.
Never, ever dive into a river,
and be vigilant when jumping into any water.
Never strap yourself into a
boat or wrap fixed lines
around your wrists.
If you fall into a river, float
downstream on your back
with your feet up to push
yourself off any rocks.
Never stand in a moving current unless it’s calm and
below your knees.
Know how to signal for
help—by waving your arms
high in the air.
Protect yourself from too much
sun, with ample sunscreen, a
hat and sunglasses.
Wear lightweight, secure
and comfortable shoes (not
Expect to get wet, so dress
Don’t drink untreated water
from a river, lake or ocean.
MAY 2011 ;e Costco Connection 69