REI Expands Paddling Business

This year, REI is offering customers more ways to enjoy their favorite watersports by adding Hobie products to its line of specialty water brands, adding boathouse activity centers and paddling experiences across the country, and increasing its demo and rental options, said the co-op. REI will offers a collection of Hobie specialty brand kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, pedalboards and accessories.  

“REI looks for brand partners who align with our values, and who deliver consistently innovative gear to the market. We’re excited to offer Hobie brand products to our members,” says Ben Johns, REI’s general merchandising manager for action sports. “Hobie is one of the most innovative brands in watersports. From surf to sailing to kayaks, Hobie has created category-defining technologies for decades and they care about connecting more people to the outdoors.”

Hobie products will be available in 10 REI stores, as demos at REI boathouses and on

This year, REI also is increasing its paddling field programs and tours, including classes (e.g. Learn to Kayak, with 150+ classes) and exploration-focused tours (e.g. Sunset Kayak Tour) with options across the nation.

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In addition to the current boathouses in Chicago; Atlanta; and Lincoln, R.I.; REI is opening two boathouses in Bellevue, Wash. and one in Denver. REI boathouses offer guided water-based outings and classes, plus gear rentals, including stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Select locations will also include bike rentals, allowing guests multisport opportunities. All boathouses will be open by May.

“Now, from the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast, REI’s boathouses allow both locals and visitors a way to explore and enjoy various cities by water,” said Jason Lane, manager of REI activity centers. “Guided tours, classes and equipment rentals at these activity centers create unique opportunities to connect with the local outdoor community, no matter your experience level.” 

The co-op has also added experience-first retail locations where the co-op offers guided outings right outside the store’s doors. As an example, REI re-located its Lincoln Park store to be next to the Chicago river, so customers can conveniently pick up product demos or rentals from the REI store and be walking-distance from the water.