“Human Powered Watercrafts.” That’s the slogan of 5-year-old boat sales and rental company Fuzzy Guppies. The Waterloo-based business on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal prides itself in its products – they offer more than 15 lines of canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and paddle boats.
“We specialize in recreational, fishing and touring boats,” says cofounder Justin Hausner. They are one of the few boat companies in the Northeast to carry specialized watercraft from Malibu Kayaks and NuCanoe. “People call us from all over New England, asking if we have these boats. We’re also one of the main dealers in New York for high-quality Hurricane Kayaks and Jackson Kayaks, the latter being our largest line.”
Boating is not just a summer pastime at Fuzzy Guppies. Justin and his father/business partner Norbert Hausner have a deep and passionate love affair with the Finger Lakes Region. Native to Rochester, the two have been visiting the Finger Lakes since Justin was a kid. “We have always loved the beauty and natural resources of the area,” he tells me. Their goal is to help others develop the same appreciation. It’s about spreading the happiness.
Serious paddlers, serious businessmen
Justin and Norbert take what they do seriously. “A lot of people see the name Fuzzy Guppies and think we are a kiddie company. In a lot of ways we are – we have fun and are kid-friendly and family oriented. But don’t let our name or our youth fool you. We are serious paddlers,” stresses Justin. “We know our stuff and truly love kayak paddling.”
The father-and-son team pays close attention to boating trends, and there are two currently showing slow but steady growth in the Finger Lakes Region – kayak fishing and whitewater kayaking.
There are many benefits of fishing from a kayak; the two biggest being stealth and size. Since there’s no motor, it’s a lot easier to sneak up on the fish. The small size of the kayak offers fishermen the opportunity to fish in places that are out of reach for larger watercraft. The sport is also environmentally friendly, provides a good workout and is peaceful. “The true beauty of kayak fishing is that everyone can do it,” says Justin. “The boats made for kayak fishing are wide and very stable. Currently, we are working on partnering with the Western New York Kayak Fishing Association to bring a few tournaments to the area this summer, as well as educational seminars and rigging demos.”
For the 2014 season, Justin hopes to collaborate with the Genesee Waterways Center, which hosts kayak runs at the Lock 32 Whitewater Kayaking Park near Rochester. The park was formed in the late ‘90s, when several local kayaking enthusiasts transformed the bed of the Erie Canal spillway at Lock 32 into a whitewater playground. “Fuzzy Guppies is working hard to develop a relationship with Genesee Waterways Center to raise awareness in the Finger Lakes for whitewater kayaking,” adds Justin.
Justin is a certified instructor for the American Canoe Association, meaning he can provide introductory and advanced lessons for canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Lessons are offered all summer long on Saturday mornings or by appointment for groups. Once paddlers have become comfortable in the water, they can join the Finger Lakes Paddling Club. Founded by Fuzzy Guppies, the free club organizes paddles throughout the summer so both beginner and advanced paddlers can “meet like-minded individuals in the Finger Lakes community.”
For people who aren’t ready to get serious about paddling, there’s always the human hamster ball. “It’s an acrylic beach ball 7 feet in diameter that zips open,” explains Justin. “People get inside, and we fill it with fresh oxygen, which lasts for about 90 minutes. People can run, jump and roll on the water. We tie it off so they can’t go too far. It’s pretty popular for birthday parties.”
Justin and Norbert also own and operate Waterloo Harbor Campground, which shares property with Fuzzy Guppies. The site accommodates an array of campers – from basic tents to RVs that require water, electric and sewer hookups. Nearby are playground facilities and easy access to the canal for swimming. “We also offer campground activities,” says Justin. “We organize a chili cook-off each September, and host potluck dinners and fishing derbies throughout the summer. Every month we do a moonlight paddle during the full moon.”
On course with the community
For the first time last spring, Justin and a team of volunteers cleaned up garbage that was floating in and along the edge of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. “We started at the mouth of the river, and cleaned all the way up to our property. We had to make four trips in and out of the canal because we kept filling our pontoon boat with bags of trash.” He plans to do the same this spring.
Fuzzy Guppies also donates 15 to 20 boats each year to the Musselman Triathlon, held in Geneva, and the company makes an effort to collaborate with local schools. “Two years ago, we started a program called Paddle for Pages,” says Justin. “We are still molding and critiquing it, but the concept is that for every 100 page a child reads of a teacher-approved book, they get an hour free of kayaking with us.”
Fuzzy Guppies’ overall goal is simple: to introduce people to the art of paddling. “A lot of people have fears about kayaking or being in the water that, with the proper guidance from an instructor, is easily overcome. It’s so beautiful on the water. I just want more people to get out here and see it for themselves.”
To learn more about Fuzzy Guppies or Waterloo Harbor Campground, visit fuzzyguppies.com, call 315-539-8848 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The season starts May 1 and runs through November 1, but the office is open year-round by appointment.
by Alyssa LaFaro