A little ice does not deter Jeff and Jen Defoe from dipping their paddles into the region's water. Even in 2015, the Defoes were already paddling the unfrozen edges of Harmon Lake by March 23.
“Personally, we’ll go as soon as absolutely possible,” Jen Defoe said.
Dressed in jackets and boots, the Defoes steered their paddleboards along the shore where the ice had crept away. After a few more weeks, the ice would be gone completely, allowing recreators and businesses, such as the Defoes’ Paddle On kayak and paddleboard rentals, that support them, to take advantage of local waterways.
Mandan has seen a number of water sports companies move into the community, making a business of enjoying the area’s natural resources.
“Come summertime, everyone wants to do something outside,” said Kenny Dragswolf, who rents pontoons and personal watercraft through his business, Motorsport Rentals.
The Defoes have kayaked and canoed all their lives. When they bought their first paddleboard five years ago, they fell in love with the sport.
The family-run business started with five paddleboards and their personal kayaks and has grown over four years to more than 30 kayaks and more than 20 paddleboards and canoes.
“We don’t run out,” Jen Defoe said.
They started Paddle On thinking “a lot of people have (kayaks) but a lot of people don’t,” Jen Defoe said. Interest in water sports continues to grow in the area, and the Defoes are surprised each year when a new person discovers their business or discovers Harmon Lake, where much business is generated.
When Dragswolf was growing up, his parents didn’t have a boat but that did not stop him from wanting to be on the water.
When he moved to Bismarck with his father in 2005 he would overhear conversations from those without watercraft of their own wishing there was a place to rent.
So in March 2017, he sold his car for cash to start his business. He would end up with eight personal watercraft and two pontoons by the end of summer. And the business would keep him busier than he thought.
“It actually took off, gaining popularity fast,” he said.
Many of Dragwolf’s customers were people who had just moved to the area or were visiting from outside the state.
Dragswolf plans to begin rentals again in May. He also aims to get more watercraft and would like to expand to ATVs and maybe snowmobiles, giving him a year-round operation.
The Defoes’ client list is a mix of those new to the area and longtime residents.
“The biggest draw, especially at Harmon, is just the beach-goers,” Jen Defoe said of renters who can walk up and find Paddle On set up on the beach starting Memorial Day weekend.
They'll teach anyone who needs help learning to use the equipment. They also have yoga classes on the boards, which are popular and bring out a crowd.
For those who prefer the river, the Defoes have a lot of groups rent for day trips down the Missouri and Heart rivers. Their company will haul the boats and boards anywhere within a 50-mile radius of where people want to use them.
Motorsport Rentals operates out of The Drink at Lakewood bar and restaurant in Mandan’s South Bay development.
Dragswolf supplies wetsuits and shows an operations and safety video before renting. He rents to those 16 or older. People younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult and have some form of boating education.