DownUnder Paddles Away

Downunder — the cool kayak and paddleboard rental shop that was one of the first businesses to bring new life to revitalized Saugatuck Center, 8 years ago — is closing soon. An email sent yesterday to customers from owner Kim Hawkins said:

After 15 successful years in the paddlesport industry, Downunder will close its doors following Labor Day weekend.

It’s been a long, satisfying and joyful run, and I am heartbroken it’s coming to an end.

Downunder is located in the building on the left.

Downunder has touched so many lives. We’ve made the water accessible to people of all ages and demographics, empowered, energized and provided exciting experiences to all. My personal favorite has been the underserved and at-risk in our community, the disabled, homeless, those with substance abuse issues. Time and again clients have said to me, “Downunder saved my life.” That’s the power of water, and being treated like family.

Many of you have known me and this business since it started in 2005, formerly known as Below Deck, an adorable cabana-like business that Barbara Conroy inspired, located under the Rowayton Market.

Sam Gault of Hamilton Development (and Gault Energy) allowed me the opportunity to open a second location on the Saugatuck River in 2011. And then the town of Darien invited me to operate a satellite operation at Weed Beach from 2017.

Downunder had a great location, on the Saugatuck River.

The last few years have been a struggle, with the economic climate, tidal restrictions, and most recently, pollution on the Saugatuck River. So I have decided: it’s time.

I want to thank you all – my whanau (family), for your support and encouragement over the years. A business such as this is only as good as it’s people, so my thanks too, to everyone that has worked for me. As a former employee, Danny Giannatasio, said, “Downunder is the first job I’ve had, where I’ve actually wanted to get up and go to work,” and so it was.

There will be a storewide sale of course — “everything must go,” as they say. I hope you will stop by and bid farewell to this iconic institution.

Ngā mihi nui me te aroha nui, ka kite anō — lots of thanks, lots of love, see you again.

A serene Downunder scene.

(Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

10 responses to “DownUnder Paddles Away

  1. Adam Vengrow

    Of all the shops and restaurants and bars that have closed over the years in westport this is the worst of situations. Kim and down under are just plain awesome. They are charitable for kids and veterans and less fortunate. They are always giving to anyone. They are always happy. When you get off the train or come into westport, down under is one of the first things you see. It brings peace, tranquility, exercise, relaxation, and a sense of vacation every day to westport. Whoever is responsible for that sewage pipe leak, that just sucks, because this ruined our water and activity area for down under. I wish there was some way to prevent them closing. We need a surf shop and a happy great place like down under. Kim please dont go!!!

  2. Fond memories of Downunder: Ten years ago wife Nancy (former surfer and windsurfer) and I (desk jockey) took our first paddleboard lesson there. About a year later, at age 60, she was racing and beating 23-year-old women. I never got on a board again.

    We once did a terrific sunset trip together on the river — with me in a kayak from Downunder — and the birds were astounding!

    Nancy started an instruction business — not just rentals — at The Norwalk Boat Club off Wall Street — that never quite took off. Unlike tennis, you don’t need a paddleboard lesson every week. One is enough. She gave that up for photography.

    Happily, the Longshore Sailing School will continue to rent both water vehicles, including paddleboards until September 29th.

  3. Richard Fogel

    nice people. Sorry to see them leave. I wonder if the Trump economy is booming? The best ever? Strongest ever?

    • Democrat controlled town in a Democrat controlled State….yet, a business closing in wealthy Westport is Trump’s fault.
      I’m sure the mass exodus out of Connecticut is also his fault.
      Makes sense, in a TDS sort of way…

    • David J Loffredo

      Clean up your sh!tty river and stop trying to pin that on Trump.

  4. Matthew Mandell

    This is a great loss to Westport and to Saugatuck. Kim and Karen will be missed. Wonderful people, wonderful shop.

    I look forward to see what will replace it, in that great location on the water.

  5. David Stalling

    Downunder was a great, friendly business. I enjoyed renting kayaks from them and taking my son out to Cockenoe and other islands — being able to show him the places that meant so much to me growing up, and where my father’s ashes were spread.

    I hope someone else will take it over or start a similar business.

    Not mentioned here, but mentioned on the Downunder website: Kim, the owner, wrote that one of the factors in deciding to close her business is that she now lives on the West Coast.

  6. Adam Vengrow

    You sick people turning this article into a republican vs democrat battle have all lost your minds