Trailforks for Paddling? A Calgary Company is Making it Happen

Simon Coward of Aquabatics in Calgary is spearheading a project to create the equivalent of the popular mountain biking app Trailforks for paddling.

Simon Coward is an avid whitewater enthusiast who has thrown himself down rapids and rivers all over the world. Born in the surf town of Darwin Heads, Australia, he’s been surrounded by water all his life and it was when moving to New Zealand in 1996 that he took up kayaking. He spent about five years there and got his whitewater certification and then spent the next four years ticking first descents around the world.

Simon Coward

In 2005 he met his wife and started working at Aquabatics in Calgary and then the couple purchased the store four years later. They oversee a retail shop, kayaking school and they organize annual international trips and paddling festivals. They’re also in the throes of developing a mobile app that would be the equivalent of Trailforks for paddling. They got the idea when they purchased PaddlingABC.com, a website built by a paddler in Cochrane, Alberta, that offers river level updates and more. The interface of the site is old though, so Simon decided to approach potential partners to see if there was interest in helping fund an app with offerings similar to Trailforks for mountain biking except the paddling app would concentrate on water levels, river hazards and more. His hope is that the app is used by kayakers, whitewater rafters, canoeists, stand up paddleboarders and more.

We caught up with Simon at his store and asked him about progress on the app.

Hey Simon, this is exciting stuff. Have you ever done a guidebook before?

I’ve done a lot of writing for kayaking publications but never a guidebook…But this app isn’t meant to replace guidebooks – they’re still super valuable to have. But the app will be excellent for up-to-the-minute information about water levels, hazards, and more. Plus it will allow people to add rivers, information and alerts.

Where are you at in the process?

A screen grab of part of the app that will indicate river levels.

We have a demo model that starts with British Columbia and Alberta as a test market. An important part of the model for us is that it’s industry built. We want to engage local clubs and paddling organizations to get well-rounded info and over time see it turn into a paddling app that everyone around the world uses…We also want to build in metrics so local paddling clubs can get analytics about their particular area that’ll tell them how many people are visiting their regions, what they’re looking for, etc. We’re shamelessly taking a lot of elements of Trailforks and applying them to this because, well, it would be silly of us not to.

Why hasn’t something like this been done already?

I think it needs someone who’s always going to be here to run it, finance it and get it off the ground. There are sites out there attempting to do this but they’re passion projects and sometimes life gets in the way. The short answer is it hasn’t been done because no-one has been willing to put up time, money and effort.

So you’re the ones to grab the reins and run with it?

As a business our beliefs are true to paddling. Obviously we need to make money otherwise we wouldn’t be here but we want to continue providing services that help people get out there and paddle more…Realistically this isn’t going to be a corporate thing. We just went to a paddling show and pitched the idea and companies were falling all over themselves to be involved. We met with a dozen people from all over the world and everyone was like, “Wow! We need this!” Some of the bigger companies were hinting hard that they’d like to get involved. Relatively speaking whitewater paddling is a small pastime but when you add in SUP, canoeing, rafting and others it’s a huge market. But for this initial phase of the project we’ve decided to build the initial website and mobile app with the help of Rapid Media [publisher of such magazines as Adventure Kayak] and then get clubs and associations uploading. After that we’ll decide whether to do corporate investment or not.

Another screen grab from the demo version of the app.

How much money has been invested so far?

We’ve probably put in about $2,500-3,000 at this point. We’re committed about 10-15 grand and that’ll get us to the point where we have a workable website. But the whole project will probably be in the $30,000-$40,000 range. The key thing for this, though, is it’s not intended to be a money making opportunity. It’s an investment into the industry and to paddle sports in general. You’re not going to find any banner ads or pop ups. I have a demo app on my iPad that shows river alerts, new levels, how that transfers into a graph that shows low, medium and high levels, a legend, region overview and how to add new river. But we’re working with a three- to four-month timeline to try and get it online for everyone. From there we’ll use BC and Alberta as user markets to work through the fixes.

What are you calling it?

Right now let’s call it Paddling ABC version 2.0.

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