John Menth, San Miguel Charter School sixth-grade math and science teacher, found serenity four years ago at Christmas in the Exumas Islands of the Bahamas. He remembers it as “the day I stood up in the kayak.”
“It was a transitional, cathartic time of my life. I had a wonderful awakening and spiritual connection. I went by myself and rented a place that had a kayak. There was a beautiful bay protected by white, powdery sand bars.
“One day while kayaking, a couple of yellow lemon sharks came up to me. I stood up in that kayak in the Bahamas, looked down at them and I haven’t sat down since. It gave me a completely different perspective,” Menth said.
Today the owner of Russian River Paddle Boards finds serenity standing on a paddleboard on the Russian River or Lake Benoist in Riverfront Regional Park in Healdsburg.
“You feel like you’re walking on water,” said the 52-year-old Sonoma County Regional Parks lifeguard, who also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro during his five-year vision quest before he met his 46-year-old wife, Annette. The Windsor couple have six children.
In 2014 he told the Regional Parks’ aquatics director he wanted to start a paddleboard business. He had been paddleboarding on his days off, and he solicited tips from local paddleboard and rafting businesses. In 2015 he got a business permit and began operating his stand-up paddleboard business in Riverfront Regional Park. A friend developed a website for the business.
“I don’t have a business mind so I reached out to people,” Menth said. His initial investment in the business was $5,000.
Menth rents 14 inflatable paddleboards and guides paddleboarders twice a day on weekends on Lake Benoist and in the Russian River. His paddleboard inventory was shipped from China to Oakland. The boards are 10 ½-feet long, 30 inches wide and weigh 26 pounds.
“They are made of military-grade PVC material using drop-stitch technology. This means every few millimeters a vinyl stitch connects each side. The inside resembles a web of sorts, which gives the board incredible strength. They are durable, portable, safe and show almost no wear and tear,” Menth said.
He uses a small electric pump hooked to a car battery to inflate them.
Menth’s 17-year-old son and Windsor High School graduate Leonel works part-time transporting the paddleboards by SUV to and from the park, but he also plans to travel.
Advertising is by word of mouth, the internet and placing brochures in hotels. He treats fellow teachers and others in the tourism industry to a free paddleboard ride. Sixty percent of his business is from local residents, but some have been Europeans visiting family in the area.
“East Coast callers about the business are all about pre-planning. I become their mini-travel agent,” Menth said.
A 2015 report by The Outdoor Foundation and the Coleman Co.said the number and percentage of Americans who tried paddleboarding between 2010 and 2014 increased from 1.1 million to 2.8 million, or 9 percent.
Fifty-five percent of them put their paddleboards in the water between one and three times a year, and stand-up paddleboarding was most popular in the Pacific and Mountain time zones.
On a recent Saturday morning, Menth shared his knowledge about the river as he guided Brigid Flagerman, a landscape manager, and Marna Cooper, an educational specialist, both 51 of Novato, on Lake Benoist and a calm stretch of the Russian River. Both said they thoroughly enjoyed their nearly three-hour excursion.
“I want to keep my hands around the business and maintain the intimacy you see here,” he said. “The business wants to grow, I can feel it, but I want to keep it in check.
“I try to give that contact and let people know I care. The best things are their stories and friendships. I’m always interested in learning about people,” Menth said.
Menth has been working four days as a lifeguard supervisor at Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg this summer and on weekends with his paddleboard business. He’ll return full-time to teaching this month, but will keep paddleboarding on weekends through October.