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Interview: Buffalo Paddleworks – Urban River Adventures

A new urban river adventure operation has just launched, with the intentions of taking paddling adventures to the next level in Buffalo. Co-owner Jeff Liebel says that the team has “created Buffalo Paddleworks – Urban Paddling Adventures – as a way to put Buffalo and Western New York on the map as a great paddling destination for kayak, canoe, and SUP. Our overall vision and plans are big and multi-year and are meant to change the way people think about and interact with the Buffalo River and the other waterways of WNY in human powered craft. Paddling is an incredible gateway to so many things various people seek – recreation, fitness, social, nature, mastery, completion, acceptance, challenge.”

To kick off the great aquatic adventure, Jeff and his team are hosting a major event on March 20 (6pm – 10pm), touted as “A Paddling Film Festival“. The event, hosted at Buffalo RiverWorks (359 Ganson Street) will feature a mix of films from around the world on the big screen, along with food, beverages, and prizes (see Facebook event – tickets on Eventbrite). 

When did you start the business?

Discussions started last year when Laura Liebel and I were introduced to Earl Ketry (owner of RiverWorks) through our association with the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper (I am a recent former board member and chair). We discussed the vast opportunity that is opening up with the revitalization of the Buffalo River and the great variety of water that we have in WNY that is conducive to all types of paddling – canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboard (SUP), then flatwater ponds, creeks and streams, big lake water; our rivers etc. An underappreciated and underdeveloped resource.

Our objective is to make the Buffalo River and WNY a world-class paddling destination for urban themed paddling.

We officially started Buffalo Paddleworks, Inc. in partnership with Earl in January 2019. Planning began spring of 2018. Our official kick off is the event we are hosting on March 20 at RiverWorks – the screening of the 2019 International Paddling Film Festival. There will be food, drinks, prizes, etc. – details at

We will also be announcing that night a local event for film makers that we, Buffalo Paddleworks, will be sponsoring called “WNY Watershed Moments Film Festival”. We are asking for films of paddling in the WNY watershed. We are working with Full Circle Studios to create this event. This will be fleshed out later in the spring once safe paddling season starts.

What are your backgrounds?

Laura and I are American Canoe Association certified Instructor Trainers (2 of only about 600 in the world). We have been paddling together for nearly 25 years, first just as a family who enjoyed the outdoors but over the years we took classes, became instructors and continued to personally invest in acquiring skills and doing a lot of teaching at paddling symposiums, consumer shows and events to spread the word about fun and freedom of paddling, and of course safety.

We have operated our own paddling certification school Wekanu for nearly 15 years, traveling around the eastern US certifying camp staffs, outfitters, outdoor program directors and other paddling enthusiasts as canoe and kayak instructors. Wekanu is an “avocation” for us.

I am a past member and chair of the American Canoe Association and both Laura and I have served on the national safety and curriculum committees for the ACA. Laura is also a contributing author to two books published by the ACA, Canoeing and Kayaking. I am a management consultant. 28 years ago I founded CounterPoint Consulting, a firm that works with family and closely held businesses across the US in leadership succession, management development and organizational strategy. Prior to that I spent 10 years in large corporations. I moved to Buffalo in 1978. Laura has extensive background in corporate training and was an instructor, trainer and supervisor in the ski industry for many years. She moved to Buffalo in 1981.

Our backgrounds in business, training, and working with companies will be leveraged to create programs in leadership, wellness and team building for organizations. We love playing around in canoes and kayaks and sharing our passion.

What are the services that you are offering?

This year out of RiverWorks we will be starting with:

    • Kayak and Canoe rentals
    • Tours of the Buffalo River
    • Safety programs – focus are spring cold water paddling preparations and shared water safety in the Buffalo River; Niagara River and other tributaries.
    • Group paddling programs for fitness; relaxation; seniors; competition; social
    • Corporate wellness and team building programs
    • Social and vendor events
    • Adaptive paddling programs
    • Beginner, Experienced and Expert Mastery instruction programs in kayak and canoe. One of our specialties is couples canoeing in tandem canoes. Learning to really paddle a tandem canoe is a great relationship builder.
    • Paddling lore and history series social events
    • We are planning a kayak/canoe storage and concierge service – but details are not worked out yet. It will be for those that do not want to transport their craft, they can store it at RiverWorks, make a call and it will be waiting at the dock for them.

    In 2020 at Riverbend we will widen the service scope and are planning a first class paddling shop. Click here to see some of what the future of RiverBend beholds.

    It seems as if canoes have been largely overlooked so far. Why is that? Supply? Demand? Lack of novelty? Too cumbersome? 

    Canoes have seen a resurgence mostly due to their versatility for families and those that like to camp. However kayaks are easier for the novice to handle and they feel more stable because the paddler sits much closer to the bottom.

    Kayaks are primarily a solo craft and as one moves through life there comes a time when singles become couples and children and pets are added in, and canoes become the preferred craft. Many paddlers have both canoes, kayaks and even SUP’s (stand up paddleboards – the next biggish thing). We personally own and paddle all three types of craft and we have both solo and tandem canoes.

    Why did you choose RiverWorks?

    Having a paddling focused event and instruction operation in the heart of Buffalo is soooo overdue and RW has all of the amenities that facilitate running successful programs – launch area; rental craft; plenty of parking; food; refreshments; restrooms and locker facilities, showers; “classroom” space and exposure to 1,000’s to people who come to the river.

    The river still needs a lot of love and the more people who are introduced to it and what it can provide the more people will be inclined to respect it, protect it and to also prepare themselves properly to have fun and be safe.

    What’s the next big thing in the industry? It seems as if every couple of years something new comes along?

    SUP’s are starting to gain a good following but the trends are showing that they will not be able to surpass recreational kayaks due to short learning curve with kayaks.

    The next big thing in WNY will be the dedicated paddlesport campus at Riverbend.

    What is your plan for the off season?

    So much work to do to ensure that Riverbend is ready for the 2020 season.

    What would you like to see happen on the Buffalo Waterfront, that hasn’t occurred yet?

    It is in the works, but the Buffalo Blueway that is being led by the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper will create a lot of the infrastructure necessary to make Buffalo and WNY a highly desirable paddling destination.

    Anything else?

    Hopefully everyone comes to our kick-off event on March 20 at RiverWorks – the 2019 International Paddling Film Festival. This will be a foundational event for creating the new paddling culture that would be so beneficial to Buffalo, the Buffalo River, and their resurgence.

    Our story will be evolving throughout the summer and into next year.

    Get connected: Buffalo Paddleworks



    Written by queenseyes


    Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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