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Built from the Board Up

Owners of a Richmond-based paddleboarding business host race for river conservation

Richmond is one of those unique cities that offers an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities right near bustling downtown streets. With the James River flowing through the city, Virginia’s capital has a booming outdoor community loaded with passionate paddlers.

Enter Crosswind Paddle Company, a Richmond-based guiding company that is committed to getting people on paddleboards while also advocating for the James. They offer everything SUP from guided tours, board rentals, boards and gear, and plenty of paddling insight from the company’s founders, Alex Soulas and Colin Wilkinson. 

Courtesy of Crosswind Paddle Company

“We really built it from the ground up,” Soulas said of the independent business. “We didn’t have any big investors and we didn’t have many resources, but we set a few of our checks aside every month and bought our first fleet of paddleboards and then we just started growing the brand.”

After falling in love with the sport in the early 2010s and getting into the SUP racing scene, Soulas teamed up with his good friend, Wilkinson, and started Crosswind in 2015. 

“Fast forward to today, we have a full-size van with over 10 paddleboards and we probably take anywhere between 150 and 200 people out on the water every summer,” Soulas added. “We also sell a good amount of SUPs every year. It’s our passion project and has really turned into something awesome.”

Courtesy of Crosswind Paddle Company

Getting people out on the river is only half of the work they do. They decided very early on in the creation of Crosswind Paddle Company that a huge part of it would be about advocating for James River conservation. The friends reached out to the nonprofit James River Association (JRA) and asked how they could help. 

“Whether this is going to be successful for business or not, we don’t care, we wanted to link up with somebody who’s helping out the James River,” Soulas said. “Naturally, James River Association was that somebody. We just shot them an email back in 2015 and ended up grabbing lunch with a couple of guys from JRA and we said ‘look we’re nobody and would want to help out.’”

Soulas and Wilkinson volunteered at multiple river cleanups and festivals for JRA but wanted to do more. As two people who were also very involved in SUP racing, their big idea eventually hit them. What if they hosted their own paddleboard race and made it a charity event for JRA?

“The first race was in 2016 and it has grown exponentially ever since,” Soulas said. “Originally it was just paddleboards racing. The year after we added kayaks and the year after that JRA reached out and asked to add what is now called the mini rundown, which is a 22-mile canoe and kayak paddle down the James River. We get over 75 paddlers there from all walks of life from Maryland, North Carolina, all over Virginia who all get to know who and what JRA is and ways to get involved.” 

Courtesy of Crosswind Paddle Company

Today, the race is known as the Richmond Paddle Cup and runs every August on the James River. Crosswind Paddle Company teams up with the JRA to put on the race as a way to raise money and awareness for the nonprofit. This year, paddlers will compete on August 28th and can sign up at the race website.  

“To somebody who wants to do something similar, I would say to start small and build relationships with people who have the same visions and goals as you,” Soulas said. “We love this place we want to keep this place clean, which is JRA’s entire mission, making them our most ideal partner.”

In the past year and a half the pandemic has fostered new appreciation for the outdoors and motivated people to give back to their communities. Crosswind Paddle Company is currently offering free rentals to healthcare workers for JRA’s James River Relief Program and hosts regular cleanups at the river with JRA’s support. 

“It’s great to send money, it’s great to make donations, but we also need troops on the ground picking up trash, getting the word out at these different landings that people use recreationally,” Soulas said. “I truly believe that these James River cleanups are the easiest way to make an impact, just spending thirty minutes to an hour walking and picking up trash from these places we love so much.”

Cover photo courtesy of Crosswind Paddle Company

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