Bobby Bower, a West Virginia native, has spent decades in the whitewater rafting industry.
For the last six years, he’s been a part of Rocky Mountain Rafts, a company that makes rafts and sells them all around the world. The Rocky Mountains Rafts operation was recently relocated to Fayetteville, and with it a new world of opportunity. That opportunity is to offer affordable raft options for commercial use and rescue use.
“We’re building some great rafts at affordable prices,” Bower said. “I was looking at rescue boats after all of the natural disasters — the floods and earthquakes and hurricanes. I started doing some research on inflatable rescue boats and found that there was no real high-quality boats at a reasonable price. What it seems like is that companies will write ‘rescue’ on the side and double the price.”
For Bower, the price hike for rescue boats struck a nerve. It’s why he has set out to make rafts more affordable, especially in the case of smaller rescue operation organizations that can’t afford the higher price tags on necessary equipment, while incorporating new designs that can prove to be as durable, if not better.
“I’m trying to produce these boats and rafts to sell them at a price that small volunteer rescue groups can afford,” Bower said. “We’re trying to build a really good boat for half the price of the one the next guy is selling. It’s a new design that nobody has done before. We’re taking the knowledge we’ve accumulated from the whitewater rafting industry. We can build a really good boat that can last for years.
“The last 30 years I’ve worked with a lot of swift water rescue clinics and destruction to design a boat that can be practical for applications nationwide. From ice rescuing to broken dams, flood events we have a boat that’s well designed, compact and stable. We want to put this at a price point where the smallest, most underfunded volunteer fire department can afford it and it will last them for years.”
Bower’s goal to help underfunded and budget-strapped rescue entities extends beyond building an affordable boat option. Bower is taking steps to link the instructors and trainers of swift water techniques with volunteer departments to help make sure they’re up to date and trained on the latest techniques to help save lives in the necessary scenarios.
Despite his tenure in the whitewater rafting industry, Bower isn’t afraid to reach out for help with his product to ensure he’s building everything the right way.
“Mike Sharp from Rapid Rescue has helped me design the boat,” Bower said. “Sharp has been an integral part of helping me. He’s been fighting fires and rescuing people and teaching rescue for years.”
Rafting on rivers has always been a big part of Bower’s life. He was a raft guide throughout college before working his way up to river manager and making several stops in government and public relations that have brought him here, back to Fayetteville where he wants to raise his family. Having been around the country, he has interacted with people from all walks of life and has witnessed several different natural disasters. His experience is what has created a soft spot for those who help people, and why he wants to contribute to that trend.
“Just looking at the prices of what was being sold to rescue organizations, it was crazy,” Bower said. “My model is to build high quality that is affordable. Some of these groups are on shoestring budgets. I’m able to help them get out on the water, get the training necessary to help these people out in crisis situations.”
What Bower is attempting to do by designing and building a new boat and marketing it for a below market price is a change of pace for the industry, but not overwhelming. Years of experience in selling, working and manufacturing have seasoned Bower to the point he’s fully confident that what he is doing will work.
“I’ve been around this industry for a long time,” Bower said. “I’ve been around people that have helped me, and I’ve tested my product. I’ve consulted with safety experts and those that are involved in rescue situations. We’ve tried our product out in the most rigorous conditions, so I feel confident that what we’re doing and building will succeed, especially in a community like Fayetteville.”