Retailer Spotlight: Rutabaga Paddlesports, Wisconsin

Rutabaga staff
The Rutabaga team

About Rutabaga

Rutabaga Paddlesports, in Madison, Wisconsin, is owned and run by paddling folks who love to share their expertise and passion. They go above-and-beyond at Rutabaga, encouraging their customers to get out on the water right behind their store to test out the boats and paddles before they make their purchase.”

But selling gear is only part of what the staff at Rutabaga does. They’re also immersed in major events and educational programs.

One of these events is Canoecopia…


Canoecopia is held each year at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center. 250 exhibitors display their products and offer event discounts. 180+ seminars and clinics on topics ranging from paddling technique to destinations to angling to wilderness first aid are available.

Three days of all-things-paddling attracts vendors and participants from all over North America, and even the world. It’s the place to be in early March!

Rutabaga Outdoor Programs

Rutabaga’s other annual event is the Door County Sea Kayak Symposium, held on the shores of Lake Michigan. This 3-day event includes workshops and seminars for paddlers grade 3 through adult.

The staff at Rutabaga also educates paddlers of all ages through their Outdoor Programs in Madison. They hold kids summer camps, adaptive paddling clinics, guided paddling outings…there’s something for everyone here.

Rutabaga and Bending Branches
A group of college students ready to canoe with the Rutabaga team

They also offer ACA (American Canoe Association) and BCU (British Canoe Union) certification courses, as well as paddling master classes by instructors from all over the US and Canada.

Youth Outreach Programs

Darren Bush is the owner of Rutabaga. He shares with us:

“Youth outreach is imperative for us. More and more kids are more interested in screens than experiences. I think once we get the kids outside, we can win the battle for their hearts and minds.

“I'm not naive—there is a place for Mario Kart! But a kid needs to breathe outside to be a fully-developed human being.

“We work with community centers and have a scholarship fund to subsidize even the most disadvantaged kids so they can have the same experiences more affluent kids have. All kids deserve outside time.”

Rutabaga’s Many Awards

Rutabaga’s numerous industry awards including:

  • Paddlesports Retailer of the Year, Canoe and Kayak Magazine (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011—the award is now retired)
  • One of Top 50 Places to Work in the Outdoor Industry, Outside Magazine (one of just 3 retailers)
  • Reader’s Choice Award for Outfitters, Canoe and Kayak Magazine (2010)
  • Best Sea Kayak Shop in the Midwest, Sea Kayaker Magazine (3 years straight)
  • Retailer of the Year for Youth Participation, Backpacker Magazine (2010)
Rutabaga kids with bending branches
Some of Rutabaga's young paddlers

Why Rutabaga’s Customers—and Employees—Love Them

Darren continues:

“There are countless ways and places to procure things, whether online or in a brick and mortar store. What many retailers rely on is the ability to give the customer a lower price for an item. This leads to a race to the bottom, where the next store says "Oh yeah? I can sell it for $2.99 instead of $3.00."

“In that case, the transaction is just that: a transaction. ‘I give you stuff, you give me stuff.’ There's no love or sentiment, it's just business.

“Ultimately, that's not satisfying for me. I really want my customers to have the best gear so they can have the best experience. Because they know us and trust us, they’re willing to pay a fair price for what they know will provide them a good experience.

Canoeing with Bending Branches
The Rutabaga team takes off for a staff river trip outing

“When a customer leaves our shop, I want them to be happy, knowing they got the best gear for their needs. I don't want them to be happy because they got the best deal, because that happiness is fleeting and dissipates quickly.”

Be sure to stop in and see them the next time you’re in Madison!

You can connect with Rutabaga Paddlesports on their website, Instagram or Facebook.

(All photos courtesy of Rutabaga Paddlesports)

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