In 1987 Jo, Stan and their firefighting buddy Jim Ciardelli incorporated Idaho River Sports. They began by running the business out of Jo's garage in Boise's North End neighborhood. Jo and Stan pretty quickly moved the shop to historic Hyde Park and were a mainstay of business in Hyde Park for over 20 years before purchasing the then Pleasanton Ave. location. Now the aptly named Whitewater Park Boulevard.
Even before Idaho River Sports was founded thirty-five years ago in Boise's North End, Jo and Stan were avid outdoors enthusiasts.
Jo and her family began camping, rock hunting and rafting when she was young. From the Rio Grande to the Grand Canyon, she learned to paddle with the best of them and became a licensed Payette River guide in 1980 with a handful of intrepid young women. Jo worked for legendary Idaho river guide, mountaineer and outfitter Joe Leonard. Jo's experience in outdoor retail began with Greenwood's Ski Haus and continue with The Bootworks in Old Boise. Ken Horowitz was the proprietor and a kayak dealer. One of the seeds for starting Idaho River Sports was planted when Ken decided to get out of the paddling business.
Stan grew up in the outdoors (he's named after Stanley after all) and he was a world class moguls skier. He sails, is an accomplished amateur golfer and is an avid hunter among other pursuits. He was a wildlands fire fighter and had a ski tuning business for income over the winter months named The Skier's Edge.
Jo and Stan are featured in a book of essays published by Boise State University entitled "River by Design" about the history of the Boise River. "The story begins with a group of kayakers—Jo Cassin, Stan Kolby, and Paul Collins—who managed to convince a city government to build a whitewater park in the urban Boise River."
All three continue to be involved in the progression and rehabilitation of our beautiful urban river. Here is a link to the book online.
Even before they opened their new business they supported many outdoor organizations and have continued to support them to this day. They were part of the Boise City, Ada County and citizen effort called Boise River Vision 2000 in the late 80's and early 90's.
Jo continued her interest in river improvement and waterways management into the new century and they both saw the potential of the site where the shop is now located. Their work on the Boise Whitewater Park project through the 'Friends of the Park' group the three founded along with Clay Carley, collaboration with the Simplot family on Esther Simplot Park and other activities have helped reshape West Boise.
From the early days of the business, Idaho River Sports helped start events that promoted whitewater kayaking, rafting and canoeing. They started the Idaho Canoe Club, which has expanded to include SUP and kayak over the years. The group has become self-sustaining and remains loose knit with a handful of annual traditions like Saint Paddler's Day, the Mother's Day float on the Middle Fork of the Payette and Hull-o-Ween on Quinn's Pond.
Along the way they have been influenced by legends of paddlesports and business. They are eternally grateful to the support they have received from associates, vendor partners, family and friends. Here are just a few of the notable mentors they've had over the years.
It isn't a stretch to say NRS founder Bill Parks had a profound influence on how Jo and Stan do business. Bill founded Northwest River Supply aka NRS in 1972 shortly before moving to take a teaching position in Moscow, Idaho at the University of Idaho.
A "catalog business", NRS grew with the changes in paddling and when IRS opened its doors in 1987, NRS products were among the lines they carried. Bill provided Jo and Stan with business guidance wrapped in lessons from paddling.
"Rapid" Rob Lesser
Best known for his many first descents here in Idaho like the North Fork of the Payette, and of the big water wilderness rivers of Alaska and Canada, "Rapid" Rob Lesser evolved with whitewater kayaking from the early fiberglass designs to the plastic, roto molded kayaks of today, using them to run rivers great and small, far and near.
Jo and Stan got to know Rob first by reputation and then as a representative for a couple of the lines of kayaks Ken carried at The Bootworks. He was the first professional kayak rep in the paddlesports industry, what we call a "pro" today. At one point Rob had the entire western United States and Canada as his sales territory. Idaho River Sports still carries Perception Kayaks, a line he represented for 16 years.
As Doug Ammons wrote about Rob in 2005,. he is considered “the godfather of modern freestyle competition,” helping start two of the first whitewater rodeos as a gathering grounds for kayakers, and then systematically supporting the rodeo scene through its infancy and adolescence during the 80s and 90s.
Not only was Rob instrumental in developing many of the earliest whitewater rodeos, in 1979 he started the Idaho Whitewater Association (IWA) to represent paddlers in the fight to protect Idaho rivers from dam developers, most notably the North Fork of the Payette. He continues to advocate for conservation and was inducted into the Whitewater Hall of Fame in 2005.
Idaho River Sports was eager to help Rob promote the sport they all loved, and continue their support of events like the North Fork Championship which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2022. Rob is truly and inspiration to all of us in the whitewater world we love.
We wouldn't be where we are today without good people who have a passion for paddling and our great Idaho outdoors. Everyone from our mentors to our team have been a constant measure of how well we are doing as a business. They have always let us know they are guided by their own passion for the outdoors and paddling, surfing, fishing, swimming and fun.
Idaho River Sports has won many honors. In 2012 Glide SUP named Idaho River Sports their first ever dealer of the year. They were named the first ever Idaho River United business of the year in 2018.
"We can attribute our success to Idahoans’ love of the outdoors and Idaho’s vast wilderness that has endured unchanged for thousands of years." — Jo Cassin
Jo, Stan and their great staff are committed to helping people of all walks of life have the best possible on-water experiences available anywhere. Idaho River Sports was the first full-time paddling shop in Boise and have continued to grow as water sports have evolved. With their move from Hyde Park to the present location on Whitewater Park Boulevard, inside Boise's new and expanding urban paddling complex, IRS is even more committed to creating new opportunities for great on-water experiences for the community.
"We love what we do"