The North Bend Eagle


 

Rive Live Airboat Tours
Matt Shaw, far right, pilots a tour along the Platte River. His new business,
River Life Airboat Tours begain buisness early this summer.

Shaw sharing the river life

by Nathan Arneal
Published 8/21/13

Matt Shaw has spent much of his adult life on the Platter River, starting in 1985 when he bought his first airboat a couple years out of high school.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Shaw said. “I’ve probably had 10 or 12 boats.”

Shaw has also shown quite the entrepreneurial spirit­—he and his wife Pam own three businesses in Morse Bluff and North Bend.

When he came across an online ad selling a tour airboat in August 2012, Shaw saw a chance to combine his knack for business with his passion for the river.

After the ad caught his eye, his first thought was, “Man, you’d have to be married to it to make it work.”

His second thought: “I wouldn’t mind being married to an airboat.”

So he made the call, only to find out the touring airboat in the ad had just been sold. That turned out to be only a minor setback in Shaw’s plans.

He did some research and by November he was ready to order his own touring airboat, a 20-foot, all-aluminum, super-charged boat that could host 12 passengers plus a driver.

On April 1 of this year, he sold one of his three businesses, Matt’s Body Shop, to long-time employee Ray Wesch. Two weeks later he picked up his brand new tour airboat. Now, there was only one thing standing in the way of Shaw launching River Life Airboat Tours:

The weather.

Shaw began to have flashbacks to a few years earlier when he invested in a couple of snow plows... right before it stopped snowing for the year.

“Now I bought a tour boat to start a tour business and we get snow the first of May,” Shaw said with a laugh. “I was kind of second guessing my decision making.”

Finally, the weather cooperated and the bookings started pouring in.

A typical tour lasts about an hour and covers 25 to 30 miles up and down the Platte River. Sometimes groups stop for a picnic on a sandbar. The tours cost $40 an hour for adults and $20 an hour for kids.

For Shaw, it’s been a thrill to share the river he loves with a whole new audience. He estimates that 90 percent of his patrons have never been on the river before.

“They have no idea how beautiful it is and how much there is to see out there,” Shaw said. “The only part of the river they ever see is when they cross a bridge.”

Some customers start the trip with a fear of the water and insist on wearing a life jacket while expecting to get bounced around­– even though the deepest water in the Platte is often just knee-deep.

“When we stop for the first time, every single one of them has taken the life jacket off,” he said. “They say, ‘I thought it was going to be a rough ride, but it so smooth and peaceful. The water is like glass.’ The wind doesn’t affect the water like it does on a lake.”

Wildlife is a highlight of the tours, with bald eagles frequently spotted along the route.

Visitors have literally come from coast to coast to take a River Life tour. A foursome from Georgia in their 70’s recently took the ride. They heard about Shaw’s business by chance while eating in Fremont.

“Two weeks earlier they were jumping out of an airplane,” Shaw said. “They were marking things off their bucket list.”

Currently, Shaw says he is entertaining two or three groups a weekend and one or two during the week. Many of his tours, he said, call him with just a couple hours notice.

“It’s everything I want it to be right now,” Shaw said. “I’m hoping next year it’s going to get bigger and better with this building.”

Shaw has built an 16-by-36-foot building on his river property one mile west of Morse Bluff. Of that space, 16 feet is enclosed with electricity and plumbing with the rest under a patio roof. Shaw hopes to rent it out to groups that want to combine a party, meeting or reunion with their airboat tour.

So far, Shaw’s latest venture has been a success.

“I thoroughly enjoy it,” he said. “You take people out there and they’re taking pictures of every bird they see. They just love it. They’re ecstatic. It’s neat to see people that happy.”

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