Tuesday , August 01, 2017 - 4:59 PM1 comment
Floating the Ogden River became a hot way to cool off this summer — and it swamped one tubing outfitter by the end of July.
On Sunday, Tube the Ogden announced it would cease operations for the rest of the season. The outfit is a cooperative between Gear:30 and the Weber State University Outdoor Program, which started renting tubes for $5 on the river last summer.
“It’s not a business, it’s a way to help build awareness for the river and get people outside,” said R. Brandon Long, marketing director for Gear:30. “We hire for it and staff it at the shop, then Weber State helps supply the tubes and stuff.”
A deluge of customers took the small staff by surprise last month, resulting in waits of up to two hours to get on the river. The source of the tuber flood seems to have come from a simple social media post.
“What happened was, the Weber State Facebook page ... posted a relatively benign post with two fairly normal photos of the river, and said, ‘Come on up this week, tube the Ogden.’ It’s the only thing I’ve seen in real life legitimately go viral,” Long said. “It went nuts.”
Apart from the two river photos, the July 8 post offered free shuttles on Saturdays, $5 single-float rentals and $10 all-day passes. It got nearly 1,000 shares. Weber State and Gear:30 staff scrambled to respond to questions in the hundreds of comments that followed.
“The following weekend, we had lines of people waiting at least 45 minutes to rent a $5 tube,” Long said. “Our staff wasn’t fully trained to handle the amount of people showing up.”
Meanwhile, river levels were low and tubes were getting popped. The final blow came last weekend, when a teenage patron went missing for hours.
“We sent people down the river to look, they found him — he was playing in the river. It wasn’t a big deal ... but it was enough to make us re-evaluate what’s going on and see if we should be running this,” Long said.
Tube the Ogden decided to close for the rest of the season. Long isn’t sure if it was the Facebook post or July’s hot weather that brought the boatload of business.
“If I knew what caused it, it means I’m a genius marketer. But nobody knows. Nobody knows,” he said. “The only other marketing we do is our canopies at the put-in and take-out.”
The organizers intend to return next season with a bigger crew and better training. They also hope to keep the same price point, Long said, although the low rental fee makes it tough to operate efficiently, especially when there are loads of popped tubes to replace.
“We don’t make any money doing it, it’s a courtesy,” Long said. “It’s five bucks. We can’t pay our staff a ton of money.”
In the meantime, Take it Easy Tubing still offers $10 tube rentals near the Walmart at 1865 Wall Ave. Owner Trevor Widdison said he doesn’t want to take digs at a competitor, but figures Tube the Ogden’s offer for $10 all-day tubing did them in.
“We’ve dealt with the same kind of crowds. The way we rectify it was, we don’t do all-day passes,” he said. “We can’t have any all-day pass and keep people happy.”
They do, however, offer second floats for $5.
Widdison, who started his outfitting business with his wife, Ashley, last summer, said he’s seen his customer numbers grow this year, too. He figures his past experience as a river guide and outfitter for Barefoot Tubing on the Weber River helped prepare them for the midsummer surge.
“It’s good to be busy,” he said. “It’s hard work to do it every single day, but I guess that’s why we do, we love it.”
Tube the Ogden will return next summer. Take it Easy Tubing will continue to rent tubes through August. For hours, prices and more information, visit its Facebook page or call 385-626-1900.
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