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Shop Spotlight – Active Water Sports

Just over 40 years ago, Active Water Sports opened its doors as a new ski shop and boat dealer outside of Portland, Oregon. What started as a rickety ski shack on the shores of Lake Mayfield has now evolved into one of the premier dealer networks in the Pacific Northwest, now with four locations throughout Oregon. With five of the best wake boat brands to choose from, not to mention all the best LF’n gear, AWS has you covered. But what makes AWS different is the passion and energy of its staff, the work they put into making not only their shops better, but to contributing to the entire watersports scene as a whole. Whether it’s local events or demos, or their now famous “Evening With the Stars” get-togethers where top pro riders from around the world come hang out for a weekend, AWS does it right. So much so, in fact, they were recently rewarded by the WSIA and named “Retail Shop of the Year” at the WSIA Leadership Awards. It’s more than well deserved, and we thought it was a perfect time to see what the AWS crew is up to heading into the 2023 season, so we caught up with General Manager Dan Lay to get the lowdown.

Go find Active Water Sports online!

How long has Active been in business – what’s the quick rundown of its history?
AWS was established in 1982 by our current owner, Warren Freece. Warren founded the company while teaching his friends how to waterski. After companies like Kidder and Centurion approached him, he decided to attend the 1982 Portland Boat Show where he was met with great success. Fast forward over 40 years and Active now sells five of the industry’s top brands in four locations spanning the state of Oregon. If you want to get more of the story and our history in the Pacific Northwest, check out our documentary we made a few years back!

Where can customers find Active these days?

You can find AWS in-store and online. Our flagship store is located in Oregon City where customers can find the Pro-Shop, boat service, Malibu and Axis boats, and Barletta Pontoons. Our Portland location is right across the street from an easy-to-use launch on the Willamette River. There you can also find a Pro-Shop, along with Supra and Moomba boats, and Barletta Pontoons. AWS Portland is also the home of our e-commerce warehouse. Our Canby facility is where you can find state of the art boat storage and boat servicing, along with Nautique boats and Barletta Pontoons. Our newest facility will be opening this summer in Redmond, Oregon. There we will have another full-service Pro-Shop, a service center, storage and Malibu, Axis, Supra, Moomba and Barletta sales. Our website – www.activewatersports.com – is home to all of our pro shop gear and our boat inventory across all locations.

What makes the Active shops such a unique experience for customers, especially as it relates to boating and watersports?

Active’s motto is “We Take Your Fun Seriously.” We make a point to surround ourselves with a staff that understands what that motto means. We host many events throughout the year, from demos to in-store customer appreciation events, it’s always a party at AWS. In the past few years we have also added a “Hassle Free Boating Experience” for our customers. With this service all our customers have to worry about is having fun on the water. Once you are done with your boat for the season we will send a driver to your house, pick up the boat, take it to our Canby facility where we perform annual maintenance before we tuck it into storage for the winter. When you’re ready to have your boat back for the season we will prep and detail it and have it ready for you to go have fun on the water. One of our core values is experience and we try to do everything we can to make boating as easy on you as possible.

The Pacific Northwest is all four seasons, which can mean less time on the water. How passionate are the watersports enthusiasts in the area?

It’s funny, over the years I’ve heard the excuse many times, “Why would I spend that kind of money on a boat if I can only use it for three months?” Those people just don’t get it. The NW watersports enthusiasts understand that when the sun is out and the water is good, it is boating season! Our customers hit the water HARD during the summer months. I guess we just appreciate the time we have that much more than people who live in climates where they can use their boat whenever they want.

What trends have you been noticing with customers and sales over the past couple summers?

We have seen a flood of new boaters flocking to our industry. Wakesurfing has made wake sports easier to comprehend in the last decade. And with the power of social media, it seems like everyone wants that shot of them surfing behind a boat on their TikTok and Instagram. Any CEO of a company can offer clients courtside tickets, but there is no experience like hitting the water on a luxury wake boat and dropping the surf rope for the first time.

What are Active’s big plans for this coming season?

Covid killed our events over the last couple of seasons, but we have a stacked list of events coming down the pipe for this summer! Keep an eye on our social media and website for more information on that. Another big focus this coming season is opening our fourth location in Redmond, OR. That has been a project our team has been working on for years and we are excited to see it come to fruition.

Over the years Active’s “Evening with the Stars” event has become a pretty big deal. When did that start and what makes it so special?

Evening with the Stars started back in the mid-80’s. At the first ones Warren’s mom would cook food for all of the customers and pro athletes. It had much more of a small town vibe back then. Now it has grown into a nationally recognized event. Being hosted in the month of November, I always get nervous that no one is going to show up, but year after year people flock to our shop to get a taste of what’s to come in the season ahead. If you’ve never been to an Evening with the Stars it’s worth checking out.

What does it mean to you for Active to have been named Retail Shop of the Year at the WSIA Leadership Awards?

It was an unreal feeling to hear our named called out by the WSIA as retail shop of the year. There are so many great shops out there that do such an amazing job. I gotta give it to our amazing staff. From lot porter all the way up to owner and everyone in between, AWS has a team that bleeds a passion for water sports. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have that recognized this year.

What’s your favorite piece of LF equipment at the moment?

I had to strike through the “equipment” part of that question and just tell you my favorite piece of LF overall…The TEAM! Liquid Force has such a stacked team of young riders. I’ve been following the wake industry closely for over 25 years and it’s been weird to see the same names get recognized year after year. It was getting to the point where it almost seemed impossible to come up in the pro wake industry. But LF has always made a point to find up-and-coming riders and give them an opportunity to make their mark. And when I say “team,” I don’t just mean the athletes. The heads behind the scenes are some of the best people you will ever meet! Shoutout to Don, Colin, Grace, Jimmy, and the content bros, Cortese and Shane! Haha!

Your first session on the water this summer… what are you going to do/ride?

My brother in-law and I originally met at AWS and quickly became friends through our passion for wakeskating. My first session will probably be with him on his newly purchased 1989 Malibu Skier ripping the LF Tao hitting some rails we pounded into the river a few years ago.