For John McCart and Trey Kerby, founders of standup paddleboard company Ozark River Walkers (ORW), inspiration struck under the stars.

In April 2019, the two friends were on a paddleboarding trip on the Jack Forks River in Southeast Missouri when they first discussed starting their own paddleboarding company. The idea came as they relaxed by a fire under a full moon with a view of Chalk Bluff, discussing how everyone should have the kind of day they’d just enjoyed on the water.

It didn’t take long for something to spring out of that fireside conversation. “Three days later, Trey showed up to my place of employment with an LLC,” McCart said. “He put it on my desk and said, ‘We’re doing this.’”

By June of that year, the pair started getting sample orders and testing them on local rivers. The timing was fortuitous. Ozark River Walkers really took off in 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, when seemingly the whole world decided to go all in on outdoor recreation.

“We thought it would be fun, get more people involved, and fuel our hobbies financially,” McCart said. “In 2020, we hit it just right and were busy from the start.”

The business venture was a natural fit for McCart and Kerby, self-proclaimed lovers of the outdoors. Both grew up canoeing, McCart in the Missouri Ozarks and Kerby in the Arkansas Ozarks. Additionally, Kerby learned to love surfing during his time stationed in North Carolina with the Marine Corps. Paddleboarding came later, after the pair formed a friendship when Kerby returned to the Ozarks once his time serving was up.

“We first heard of river SUP in 2017. It was an emerging sport out west,” said Kerby. “We got a couple of inflatable SUPs and took them down our Finley River in Ozark, Missouri. We both fell in love with taking the boards down rapids and surfing small standing waves.”

Ozark River Walkers has leaned into the river SUP market. (Courtesy Ozark River Walkers)

What Makes ORW Boards Different

When Kerby and McCart started paddleboarding the rivers, it was immediately obvious that the standard boards available online (usually for around $200 to $300) weren’t cut out to withstand the significant wear and tear that happens on the river. Ozark River Walkers saw a need in the market for a more durable, high-quality SUP that was still lightweight and accessible enough for people to easily throw in their cars and go.

ORW’s inflatable boards use multi-layer fusion technology, which means each board has two core layers that are machine laminated, resulting in a board that ORW says is 25 percent lighter and 20 to 30 percent stiffer than more conventional double-layer boards, which are bonded with glue.

“The boards you get off Amazon are typically single-layer paddleboards. There’s no structural integrity to help the inflatable keep its shape, which allows it to shift and warp,” McCart said. “By using a double layer, our boards are more durable and resistant to puncture. Our boards also have fibers connecting the top, sides and bottom. When the board’s fully inflated, the fibers stretch all the way out, which prevents warping.”

Ozark River Walkers currently offers seven SUP models, ranging in price from $899 to $1,349. These include SUPs for general river paddling as well as those specifically designed for whitewater riverways, river surfing, and overnight adventures. Each SUP comes with a backpack for storage, plus a carbon-fiber paddle, a dual-chamber pump, and a removable center fin.

Ozark River Walkers also offers custom foam and fiberglass SUPs, which they create in their shop in Oldfield, Missouri.

Paddling With a Purpose

An essential part of ORW’s mission is conservation. “It’s always been our philosophy that without good water quality and clean riverways, there’d be no ORW,” McCart said. “It we lose that natural resource, then we’ve failed ourselves and Mother Nature. Making paddleboards is the first thing, but the backend is protecting the environment.”

To that end, Ozark River Walkers donates a portion of sales to local conservation organizations, such as the James River Basin Partnership, that work to help preserve and protect the region’s waterways. The company also hosts river cleanups.

In 2022, Ozark River Walkers began creating paddleboards made from native Missouri wood, an initiative called Farm to Water. “We take fallen or dead trees from our 40-acre farm, mill them down, and create wooden paddleboards that are truly a work of art,” McCart said.

The SUPs of Ozark River Walkers are built Missouri tough. (Courtesy Ozark River Walkers)

An important piece of ORW’s conservation work is its efforts to spread love for water recreation to the younger generation. “When we sat under Chalk Bluff first talking about all this, we talked about how hard it is to get kids involved in the outdoors,” said McCart. “We thought kids might be drawn to paddleboarding. Now, when we do demos, we’re really excited when kids take an interest.”

Both young and old alike have been drawn to ORW’s videos on YouTube and TikTok, showing the boards in action on the rivers. “People will come up to us wearing our hats and asking if I’m the guy in the videos,” McCart said. “Kids are sometimes excited to meet us. That’s the coolest thing to me.

“When we started ORW, my son was 9 and I was having a hard time getting him into the outdoors,” McCart continued. “Now, my daughter is 9 and they’re both into it.”

Connect With ORW

Ozark River Walkers (ORW) founders John McCart and Trey Kerby are glad to answer questions and talk through the SUP models on offer.

“If you’re local to the Ozark area, we’re also happy to meet you and take you free of charge out on the water to try one of our boards,” McCart said.

You can contact ORW — and watch videos, read blogs, and more — via its website at

Author: Stephanie Zeilenga is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.

Top image: Ozark River Walkers co-founder John McCart sampling one of his SUPs. (Courtesy Ozark River Walkers)