Backstory: Couple uses home to launch canoes, kayaks and company

lfinaldi@newsobserver.comJune 24, 2013 

Thomas Dabbs, 19, an employee at Jordan Lake Water Sports in Pittsboro, unloads canoes rented by a customer from a truck.


  • Advice from Ben Davis

    • Show appreciation toward employees

    • Don’t get frustrated by low profit at first

    • Be in a business you love

— At the top of a hill at the end of a long, rocky driveway less than a mile from Jordan Lake, there’s a modest house that’s so welcoming that visitors might think they’re at the home of a relative.

At that house, visitors are greeted by members of the Jordan Lake Water Sports staff, who show them around and fit them for life jackets.

That family-style mentality is what it’s all about at the small water equipment rental business that couple co-owners Ben Davis and Jennifer Willingham operate out of their Pittsboro home. As lifelong fans of water sports and the outdoors, they started their business, called Jordan Lake Water Sports, to allow others to take advantage of their proximity to the lake.

“(Jordan Lake is) a really pristine public place to come out and explore,” Davis said. “It’s advantageous to us to have people come to this area … for us to be able to utilize it, it’s great for the public to get to utilize it as well.”

When Davis and Willingham moved to the house, they had a few canoes and kayaks and a jet ski. It wasn’t long before friends started coming over to use their equipment and hang out at the lake.

“Our friends all wanted to come and use our equipment, and then of course (Ben) is the business mind – ‘How can we make money off of this?’ ” Willingham said.

Davis, who also owns a carpet cleaning and power washing business, started a website for water sports rentals.

He did that on a Wednesday. By Friday, they had customers.

Since its 2009 launch, Jordan Lake Water Sports has expanded its offerings from kayaks and canoes to daylong pontoon boat rentals complete with a 20 to 30 minute training course for new captains. They provide training on all equipment. Due to safety hazards, however, the jet ski is no longer available.

“We offer the boats for people, and let them have their own experiences,” Davis said.

Customers can make reservations for equipment and pay in advance online, or they can just show up.

The staff transports equipment to and from the Vista Point area launch site – about a mile away from the home office. Customers can also take their rentals to a location of their choice as long as they’re returned by the end of the day.

The facility can service 75 to 100 people at a time, and is usually at full capacity on holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“You don’t have to be in a hurry to be done,” Davis said. “They can paddle until they’re exhausted.”

During weekly captain’s tours led by Davis, it’s common for customers to catch sight of some of Jordan Lake’s variety of wildlife.

“I can almost guarantee on a two-hour tour, you’ll see one or two of the bald eagles,” he said.

The business becomes a nearly full-time operation for Willingham, a teacher, during the summer months.

Davis juggles his lake responsibilities with his carpet cleaning and power washing business, as well as another job in financial planning. Eventually, he hopes to shut down his other business and focus on financial planning and Jordan Lake Water Sports.

“This is something I can do when I’m 50 or 60 years old,” Davis said. “With carpet cleaning and power washing, I get to see three or four people a day. Here, I get to see 20, 30, 40 people a day.”

As a father of 2-year-old twin girls, Davis hopes his business gives families a way to make memories with one another.

“I’m able to meet a lot of families I can potentially help and really offer them a service,” he said.

Finaldi: 919-829-4582 or

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service