When George Craig first sought some assistance with a repair to her jet ski several years ago, she probably had no idea that she was setting the stage for a future career endeavor.
After getting the repair assistance she needed from Chad Hudgins, the owner of TCH Watersports, Craig maintained a friendship with him for years after. Now, Craig and Hudgins are colleagues, launching H2O Adventures Marine Rentals next door to TCH Watersports on Pea Ridge Road near Eatonton.
Originally a knick-knack store that sat along Highway 441 near Eatonton, the building that now houses H2O Adventures Marine Rentals was moved to its Pea Ridge Raod location years ago. Over the last couple of decades, the building has served as a restaurant under various names and ownerships. Craig befriended the most recent restaurant owners, and when they told her they were planning to close their business, Craig reached out to an old friend for a new opportunity.
“I knew over the years that Chad [Hudgins] had always wanted to expand right here,” said Craig. “I picked up the phone and I called Chad, and I said, ‘Here’s your opportunity.’”
Hudgins purchased the building and began renovations to turn it into a retail marine sports sales and rental establishment to complement his existing business next door. He eventually brought Craig on board to serve as the project manager for H2O Adventures. Craig’s prior experience around the construction industry allowed her to wade through the red tape needed to make extensive renovations to the building.
Craig said the response from the neighboring community has been very positive and that many are surprised by how much she and Hudgins have managed to breathe new life into the historic structure.
“We’ve had so many people come here that just want to see what we’ve done with it,” said Craig.
While TCH Watersports centers its business on the sale and repair of watercrafts, H2O Adventures focuses on rentals and retail merchandising. Those coming into the store can find a selection of hats, T-shirts and sunglasses, as well as boating parts and accessories such as life jackets, oil, towables and more. The goal, according to Craig, is to offer local water enthusiasts a place to get what they need without having to drive a long way or resort to the selection available in big box stores.
“Absolutely anything you need for your vessel, we try to have it here,” said Craig.
H2O Adventures offers rentals on jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards, pontoon boats and deck boats. Standard rental rates are for a full, eight-hour day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be found at the store’s website. That being said, Craig stresses that she and her staff work closely with customers who call the store to meet their specific rental needs, whether that be half-day rentals, multi-day rentals or even hourly rentals. Craig said that for people still experimenting with which watercraft suits them, short, hourly rentals can be an ideal way to test out things like kayaks and paddleboards before investing in a purchase.
“We highly recommend doing this before someone goes out and buys something, and then they don’t like it,” said Craig.
One extremely important aspect of H2O Adventures’ business philosophy involves educating their customers about water safety. All renters are required to watch a mandatory safety video by the Department of Natural Resources before renting the equipment. Posters throughout the retail store teach customers about safety tips for a wide range of topics including proper fit for life jackets and how to identify different buoys and what they mean while out on the water.
H2O Adventures’ staff members will deliver rentals to customers at various boat ramps on Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee. At each delivery, the staff takes time to teach the customer everything they need to know to enjoy their time on the lake safely.
“When our staff takes them out to the water, they also educate them there. They get a little training session on how to operate the jet ski, where everything is located, you know, what to do in different circumstances,” said Craig. “We make sure that they feel okay before we let them go off on their own.”
Those wishing to rent equipment from H2O Adventures are encouraged to call the store to discuss any specific needs they have and to enquire about any specials that might be available. Military, police officers and first responders receive an automatic ten percent discount on all rentals.
For Craig, who is a retired teacher, working in the store has given her another opportunity to educate others. She is also very proud of the work she and Hudgins put into resurrecting a historic building and turning it into a modern store that residents can take pride in.
“Everybody’s been in shock walking in,” said Craig. “It’s a tremendous facelift to this community.”
H2O Adventures Marine Rentals is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.