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Duluth couple launch peer-to-peer outdoor gear rental business

Ebb and Flow Outdoors serves local renters as well as those as far as California and Arkansas. The more listing participants, the wider the selection.

Couple stands with outdoor recreation equipment.
Matt and Sara Bovee, owners of Ebb and Flow Outdoors, are shown with some of their equipment at Chester Bowl in Duluth on April 13.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

DULUTH — Christopher Paris says he has more than he needs, “probably.”

“Like a lot of Duluthians, I have an abundance of outdoor gear sitting in my house — and my yard and my sheds,” he said.

Christopher Paris.JPG
Christopher Paris.
Contributed / Christopher Paris

Since his introduction to Ebb and Flow Outdoors , a peer-to-peer gear rental business, Paris has listed his canoes, paddles, life jackets, tents and snowshoes. And, backpacking and camping equipment. “I'd rather see that stuff be used, and it doesn't hurt to get a little money for it,” he said.

And for his family’s excursions, Paris has his eye on renting a Kevlar canoe. If he can, he likes to try before he buys.

Folks in the Duluth area can rent a mix of equipment through UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program , Ski Hut , Continental Ski and Bike , Brule River Canoe Rental and Chester Bowl .

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Woman walks across bridge as man carries canoe across it.
Sara Bovee, left, walks along the bridge over Chester Creek as her husband, Matt Bovee, carries one of the canoes they rent April 13.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

But, with its community-supported structure, Ebb and Flow appears to be the first of its kind locally.

Co-founder Matt Bovee saw an opening for unlimited, accessible equipment rental with no location restrictions, and at a lower rate. He and his spouse, co-founder Sarah Bovee, aim to get more people outdoors by removing the need for folks to purchase gear when they can rent first.

Winter and summer, the general public is welcome to reserve outdoor gear, along with UMD students.

For $2 a day, you can get a mosquito net. Check out a hammock for $6 per day, or a Hyperlite tent for $20. There are also hiking packs, kids snowshoes, a bike trailer, a beach cruiser, a standup paddle board and cross-country skis.

Man secures canoe to his vehicle.
Ebb and Flow Outdoors co-owner Matt Bovee secures a canoe to the top of his vehicle April 13.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

So far, Ebb and Flow Outdoors has served renters from Cloquet, the Twin Cities, California and Arkansas. The more listing participants, the wider the selection.

Users list the details and daily rate of their equipment. Renters sign an electronic form and pay a security deposit. (“If you break it, you buy it,” said Matt Bovee.)

A renter and owner take it from there, scheduling the hand-off, where there’s opportunity to give tips or share instructions.

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Ebb and Flow recommends meeting at a neutral site, and the Bovees offer safety protocols online. If a client prefers, they are prepared to complete the exchange, too.

Gear owners are responsible for reviewing equipment before checkout and upon return. Both clients rate equipment and interactions.

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There’s no penalty for not-rented gear that’s listed on Ebb and Flow’s site, and there’s no pressure on the type of equipment, Bovee said, though it should be outdoors-based.

The couple collects a 10% commission on transactions. What they earn by renting their personal gear goes back into the business, said Sarah Bovee. They're in the process of searching for a centralized brick-and-mortar location, which would help for distribution and storage.

While it’s Duluth-based, Ebb and Flow Outdoors lists services in Grand Marais, Ely, Minneapolis and Rochester, but there are currently no items available in those areas.

Woman takes canoe off her vehicle.
Ebb and Flow Outdoors co-owner Sara Bovee helps take down a canoe.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Matt Bovee hopes with more exposure, people across the state will list their equipment, their site has capacity to manage it. It’s more about sharing equipment, he said, it’s about connecting and sharing experience. When people return equipment, they’re all smiles and talkative. “They had this experience and adventure and memories that we hope to facilitate,” he said.

Born in Alaska, Matt Bovee was accustomed to the outdoors. “We would throw a tarp in a car and that was what we had. We’d just explore,” he said.

He later moved, graduated from high school in Babbitt, and earned degrees from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“Matt and I have different ideas of what camping looks like,” said Sarah Bovee. “Packing a tarp and packing a car and going out into the wilderness, it’s not something I’d do now. He still would.”

Couple pull a tent from a back pack.
Ebb and Flow Outdoors co-owners, Sara and Matt Bovee pull a tent from their Duluth Pack.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Since Ebb and Flow’s soft launch in 2019, the Bovees hung their fliers around town and tabled at the Lester River Rendezvous and Festival by the Lake. They also collaborated on an event with Bent Paddle Brewing Co.

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It’s a team effort. She works behind the scenes, setting up the website and payment methodology. He does front-end, customer care and point-of-contact work.

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As for the business name, Matt Bovee said it’s a throwback to fatherly advice he has received about good days and bad days — and, it alludes to people’s hot and cold attachment to their equipment. In fact, his personal gear seems to be fertile soil in the conception of Ebb and Flow Outdoors.

He has four canoes, two paddleboards, a kayak, accessories for them, and a tent and two augers. “I keep getting gear, and we can tell we’re reaching our limit,” he said. “I’d have 18 canoes if my wife would let me.”

Jack Torborg.JPG
Jack Torborg.
Contributed / Jack Torborg

Nashville outdoorsman Jack Torborg has rented through Ebb and Flow for three years. “Hiking and camping are expensive hobbies to do from scratch,” he said, and it takes a while to build your gear. Once you have it, equipment spends 90% of its time hanging in a closet or sitting on a shelf.

He said Matt Bovee really cares about people having a positive experience outside. When Torborg rented his canoe, Bovee tossed in some anchors for free, which turned out to be really useful on Torborg’s trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

And, it’s a game changer to budget for a trip when you’re able to rent gear for a weekend. “It’s like Airbnb, but for stuff,” he said.

MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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