Last month, at the Denver-hosted International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) event – the “largest international gathering of fly fishing manufacturers, retailers, sales reps, media and fly fishing organizations in the world”, we met up with Shaun Hargrave of Boulder Boat Works. After a killer couple of days on the water with him this summer (and a few beers consumed – if you’re wondering, he’s a self-proclaimed Busch Light guy, when asked about his beer of choice), it was time to sit down and talk shop.
Boulder Boat Works (BBW) isn’t a huge operation, but it sure does have some big passion, thanks to Shaun and the rest of the team. If floating rivers and chasing fish are your jam, you might just want to check out what’s happening at their growing shop.
Where is BBW located and better yet, why?
Our shop is based in Carbondale, CO – a location we moved to from the front range about 3 years ago – to get us quicker access to floatable water. We’re five minutes from the Carbondale put-in of the Roaring Fork and a short drive from the lower sections of the Colorado River (Glenwood Springs and points downstream).
The move has been really good for us for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a great location to bring current and prospective customers. If [current boat owners] need a repair, they can come into the shop, try out a new boat and fish for a few days while we dress up their boat or complete any add-one.
We also love the community aspect of our customer base. When you buy a Boulder, you become part of our community; we want to see you as often as possible, we want you in the shop.
It’s also really good to be entrenched in a guide community. We have a lot of float guides that are running the Fork, so it’s easy for them to let us know what’s up with the fishing and give us feedback on the boats. When we’re going through research and design phases (R&D), we’re constantly getting new and progressive ideas, too.
And finally, it’s really important for us to recruit and retain the right talent. We have guys in the shop that love to fish, and to keep those guys around, we want to put them in a spot where they can fish.
What’s your team like?
We have eight of us total in the organization – and we all fish – and the majority of the team is local to Carbondale, with a few of us moving here to be part of the company.
But we’re growing. Over the course of the next year, if our new product launch goes successfully, I can see us creating a couple new positions, so on and so forth as we continue. It’s so rewarding to grow a company, to be sustainable, and to be able to create new career opportunities for people seeking a career in the outdoor industry.
We heard BBW changed hands in the recent past, but you kept the name and all that comes with it. Tell us more.
We wanted to keep the name because it’s synonymous with the state of Colorado and it’s been around for a long time. The company moved to Carbondale prior to the latest ownership and we fully supported it. Once the new regime took over, we brought in the original owner and creator of the company (Andy Toohey) and it really let us get the new team acquainted with the roots of the company and how everything ran over the course of the first 18 years. I’m a big believer in history. I think it tells a great story and it’s where you can learn so many great lessons. We didn’t want to miss out on that as we move BBW forward.
What about your product line?
Our product line features three different hull formats. The first hull is the original hull from when the company was launched. It was (and still is) a High Side (McKenzie style dory); a perfect boat for the local waters (big gradient water of Colorado) with all-wood (white ash) interior.
Realizing a low-profile boat was needed, we came up with a new boat – our second hull, the Low Side. We used the same rocker profile as the first, but cut out about six inches to help mitigate wind.
For both of those hulls, we have two interior options – The Guide (metal) or Pro Guide (wood). Around the time the US was taking a bit of an economic downturn, we decided to offer alternative options for the interior of both the high and low profile hulls. This allowed us to extend some cost-savings options to customers.
Where’s your latest BBW stoke coming from?
The newest addition: The Skiff (the third option in the BBW product line). Thanks to some market analysis and talking with our customers – something really resonated with me during a trip to Montana. I was approached by several people at the boat ramp, no affiliation or knowledge of who they were, and they came up and asked ‘When’s Boulder going to have a skiff?” People had been asking for ten years, but the company wasn’t ready at the time. So we took it on.
To get it right, we invited Andy Toohey and a couple of guides to an October 2018 Guide Summit. We started with a blank piece of paper. We said, ‘let’s forget all preconceived notions’ and spent three days brainstorming with all kinds of burritos, LaCroixes, beers, and eventually, whiskey. From this data dump of ideas, we drew pieces, cut pieces and developed a hull by late spring 2019.
We ran that on the Smith with wild success – it’s a special river to us and seems to be where we keep coming back to to get good data and understanding when it comes to why Boulder makes sense to so many people. We spent two weeks on the water and we got it.
We came back from that trip and started working on three key components of the interior: 1. Rod storage, 2. Casting braces 3. Walk-around design.
Cue November 2019, and we have our third boat in the BBW lineup. We’re feeling really good about where we’re at. When we work with a customer, we want to make sure they get the boat they want – and now we feel really comfortable and confident that we have the right options that play in any river/fishery throughout the US.
Speaking of customers – who’s buying a BBW, anyway?
The person that gets into a Boulder is either a hardcore angler or has nature at heart. When you get into a wood boat, it’s because you want to make an investment in fishing in the best, and is bombproof – it’ll stand up to how hard you’re going to fish it. [I think] it’s cool that we can look at [potential customers] straight in the face and say ‘this boat is going to be your last boat’. Maybe we ask for a little bit more of an investment up front, but you don’t have the downstream maintenance costs and we’re looking to sell you a boat that will stand up to the time you spend in it.
Any final words?
We [BBW] have a world class team. I couldn’t ask for much more. The guys all work hard in the shop, some days they play great tunes, some days they play average tunes, we talk trash… we have a good team; we’re family. That’s the most important thing about Boulder, the guys, everybody – there isn’t a dud in the crew and everybody works their tails off. If I could tell the world anything anything else, it’d be about them.
To get your BBW stoke on and to learn more, visit boulderboatworks.com. Meanwhile the guys will be hard at work filling boat orders. Particularly, the new Skiff, which features a new bracing structure (solid and rigid, but still featuring quintessential BBW slight malleability), variety of dry storage options, ability to hold eight rods in the rod trays, and three different formats of (removable) casting braces, among other fun, unique and beautifully crafted features.