Meet the Small Team Running a Virginia-based Grassroots Kayaking Company
Past the open trails, through the rushing rivers, and over the Blue Ridge Mountains, there is a barn—a barn filled with big dreams, high stoke, and a whole lot of kayaks. It’s the home of Verus Kayaks.
Founded in 2017, Verus is the only Virginia-based grassroots kayaking company, run by three guys in Roanoke who have a serious passion for paddling. The owners design their specialized boats based on the waters they want to be paddling and pride themselves on creating kayaks by kayakers, for kayakers.
“We mostly make small batch boats and more aggressive designs that other manufacturers aren’t willing to take the risk on,” said Josh Pecaric, president of Verus Kayaks.
Along with Pecaric, Andrew Hawkins and George Fiske are dreaming up and manufacturing two different kinds of high quality boats: composite fiberglass and high-density polyethylene (HDP) roto-molded. While the HDP roto-molding process is the standard of kayak making, composite boats are a rarity.
“If you contact Verus Kayaks, you’re talking to one of us, one of the three people that literally has a large hand in the whole operation,” said Hawkins, director of operations. “We can make changes on the fly.”
The name of the company comes from the Roman era of Verus, the last gladiator to have ever been recorded fighting in the Roman Coliseum. The Verus team is motivated by displays of strength and agility to create high-quality kayaks meant for all levels of boaters.
Pecaric, originally from Roanoke, started dreaming up the idea of Verus kayaks as he studied at Virginia Commonwealth University with Hawkins and guided canoe trips in Canada during the summer with Fiske. They all shared a love for paddling and hopes of making it the center of their lives. So when Pecaric started the company in 2017, he went to Fiske and Hawkins to form a team of paddlers who felt as connected to the Blue Ridge as he did.
“This is our life,” Hawkins said. “We want to support people to carry this wonderful sport with them through life, not just get pushed too hard too fast and get scared out of it, like you see so often today. It’s so much more than the gunning for the big stuff.”
While a small operation, the company is growing quickly, offering a variety of whitewater and fishing kayaks. Their newest creations, the Hellbender and the Gladiator 2.0, are new whitewater boats set to come out this summer. Pecaric, Hawkins, and Fiske dream up all of Verus’s boats and bring them to life with the help of Adam Bagget, another passionate and experienced boater who helps design the boats as the company’s official CAD Engineer.
“The Hellbender, our slicey kayak, will be a really aggressive downriver boat that’ll be reminiscent of all the boats that came out in the early 2000s, when the sport was really exploding,” Pecaric said. “The Gladiator 2.0 is taking the original gladiator style and morphing it into a complete half slice boat, allowing you to actually play the eddy lines of the river a lot better. There is all new outfitting in all these boats.”
Giving Back to the Blue Ridge
Naming one of their newest boats the Hellbender was no accident. It was inspired by their home rivers in Virginia where the endangered species is found. “You find Hellbenders in local creek beds, but only in extremely freshwater streams around Virginia,“ said Fiske, creative director. “They are these cool, super big salamanders that are local to our roots and are in need of awareness. Hellbender is also such a cool name that has this sort of wizardry connotation to it. So that’s also where the Wizard Lizard came from.”
The Wizard Lizard is one of their mascots for promoting the fun and unique lifestyle of kayaking and the positive impact it can have on mental health. They want to design merchandise to help raise money for mental health awareness.
“Kayaking has a huge impact on us as people in terms of our mental health and how we feel after we get off the water,” Fiske said. “That’s something we can bring to everyone else and push it to the masses. I think the more people that go kayaking, the happier the world is.”
The Verus team is also currently working on a carbon inventory of their emissions as a company, which covers the carbon cost of production and shipping. From there, they plan to invest in local offset projects on a per-boat basis to cover the net carbon output for each kayak. Their future goal is to make carbon neutral kayaks and be able to invest in local river conservation.
“We love it here,” Hawkins said. “You can travel all over the country and paddle everywhere but coming back to Virginia and your home rivers will always feel good. Virginia always feels like home.”
Cover Photo: Josh Pecaric drops with style off Wonder Falls on the Lower section of the Big Sandy River. Photo by Andrew Hawkins