Michael Gowen’s family roots are about as deep as one can get in Coastal Georgia. Born in Augusta while his dad was in medical school, Gowen has called Coastal Georgia home for the majority of his life, as his ancestors did before him. This year, the granddaddy of all the outdoor adventure companies in the Golden Isles, Southeast Adventure Outfitters, turns 25. Gowen founded the business with a partner in 1994, and he and his current partner, Cindy Dennard, who Gowen refers to as the “brains behind the operation,” have been in charge for several years.
“It’s been gratifying to see the sport grow,” Gowen said. Kayaking is not the only water-related sport that’s gaining in popularity, however. Paddle boarding continues to be popular, and kayak fishing attracts new converts on a daily basis.
“Kayak fishing is a very rapidly growing part of the kayak industry,” Gowen said.
Cruising the creeks, rivers and oceans of the Golden Isles by kayak has been one adventure after another, Gowen said.
The variety of wildlife – from small mammals to amphibians and different species or birds, means the visual buffet is endless.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “You could go out every day and see something new; I’m always looking forward to what I’ll see next.”
Tourists, he said, are always surprised at how much variety the local environment contains.
“The expanse of untrammeled wilderness in Coastal Georgia is amazing,” Gowen said, adding that people often ask him where everyone else is because of the uncrowded nature of Golden Isles’ waterways. Many areas along the East Coast experience crowded rivers and streams, and kayaking is not as peaceful an experience in other locales as it is in area waters. “We’re lucky to have ended up in Coastal Georgia; it’s the luck of the draw.”
Southeast Adventure Outfitters also cemented its presence at Village Creek Landing, an event venue adjacent to a county dock, at the end of South Harrington Road. However, Gowen and his crew aren’t strangers to the spot.
“Southeast Adventure Outfitters leased Village Creek Landing for 10 years, prior to our family coming together to buy it,” he said. “In June 2018, we purchased it from the Berolzheimer family.”
Kayaks and boat tours aren’t the only things happening at Village Creek Landing these days. Once again, it’s become a popular spot for weddings and other special occasions, just like it was in the days when Norma and the late Charlie Yawn managed the spot. Unlike other event venues, guests aren’t required to choose from a list of approved caterers.
“They’re welcome to use anyone they like, as long as they (the caterer) has the proper licensing,” Gowen said.
About once a month, Village Creek Landing holds what Gowen calls an “in-house event,” open to the public for an admission price, which varies. These events generally feature a band, beverages and a food truck from a local vendor.
Southeast Adventure Outfitters’ store on Mallery Street is considered company’s flagship, but the Glynn Avenue location, in Brunswick, next to Marshside Grill, has been in operation for 24 years. It’s also the spot of the popular “demo day,” held each spring to get people acquainted with the sport of kayaking. That event has been on hold since the dock was damaged during a hurricane nearly three years ago.
“The dock is being repaired as we speak,” said Gowen. “It’s been out of commission since (Hurricane) Irma.”
Gowen is excited about the dock rehabilitation because, he said, it will allow the company to continue its activities for local school groups and nonprofit organizations.
“It’s always been a passion of ours to share the beauty of the Golden Isles with people might not normally have the opportunity,” he said. “We take out about 100 school kids a year.”
Some of these children, he said, have never been on the water, or to the beach, although they live within minutes of the Atlantic Ocean. Southeast Adventure Outfitter will be teaming up once again with the Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Georgia, and other organizations, to ensure more young people are exposed to the outdoors.
These days, Gowen spends less time on a kayak and more time on a boat taking people on guided nature tours through his beloved creeks and rivers of Glynn County. His camera accompanies him wherever he goes.
“That’s what I enjoy doing,” he said. “Sharing nature from the vantage point of a boat, and taking pictures and sharing them.”