Paddleboard business has brought an infusion of youth and new customers to long-established boatyard

Paddleboard business has brought an infusion of youth and new customers to long-established boatyard

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WESTERLY — What began as an idea inside the Heart of Avondale has become a business inside the houseboat of Avondale.

The houseboat, a thriving waterfront business, is filled with heart, history … and plenty of paddleboards.

For the last several years, Paddle Surf RI owners Lisa and Brian Kodzis have been operating a branch of their watersport business at the Frank Hall Boatyard in Avondale.

Earlier this summer, they began conducting business inside the boxy, gray and white houseboat that’s been in the Hall family for three generations.

The married couple — who have three daughters, 6-year-old Adi, 4-year-old Gema, and Mayla, who just turned 1, and a staff of five — have brought a new liveliness and lots of people to the boatyard. Although they’ve been in business for close to a decade, their houseboat headquarters is new.

“It’s part of my family,” said boatyard and houseboat owner John Hall Jr., whose father, Frank Hall, opened the India Point Road business shortly after World War II.  “It’s served several purposes and has been just about everywhere in the boatyard.”

The houseboat sits on long railroad timbers in a corner of the boatyard, sandwiched between the Pawcatuck River and the quaint yellow 1749 home occupied by Hall and his wife, Brigid Rooney Hall.

Hall, who joined the Navy in 1959 and served on the USS Bluegill, comes from a long line of seafarers. He is the great-great-great-grandson of Capt. John Pendelton Hall, captain of the whaleship Caldonia.

His great-great-grandfather, Capt. John F. Hall, was captain of the first tugboat on the Pawcatuck River. The steamship Florence was an ice-breaker that towed barges and helped with commercial traffic on the river, Hall said. His grandfather, Robert P. Hall, was a commercial fisherman whose boat, Corinne, is still used in the boatyard. 

For a time, the houseboat served as a workshop for his father, who did scrimshaw carvings, Hall said. “He was quite the artist.”

“He worked at Cottell’s, accross the river,” said Hall, pointing in the direction of the Cottrell Company, which manufactured printing presses in Pawcatuck. “It was during the war and people asked if he had space to store their boats.”

The houseboat has also beeen a storage space for all things boat-related, a catchall, and an office for his mother, Julie. “My mother had a desk right on the other side,” said Hall, who speaks with the gentle Yankee drawl of an old-fashioned New Englander.

During many a holiday season, the houseboat served as the boatyard’s Christmas display.

“We had a big wreath on it and a family of seals,” said Hall with a chuckle, “ … all wearing red scaves.”

Since the beginning of the summer, the houseboat has been surrounded, not by such decorative seals, but by a variety of colorful surf and paddle boards. 

On a warm, sunny afternoon last week, Kodzis and Hall stood next to the houseboat in the boatyard where they both spend their days. A wrought iron café set was arranged nearby, along with a white umbrella, and a sign shaped like the top of a surfboard, announcing the news of the day.

“We’re pleased as heck that they’re here,” said Hall, “It’s back to the way Avondale used to be.”

“This is what my life used to be like,” said Hall, a natural storyteller who can seamlessly switch from singing a Tom Lehrer ditty to spinning a yarn about his father to recalling his great aunt Virginia, a teacher who was known as “The Duchess of Noank.”

“Now it’s come full circle and it makes me feel happy,” he said.

Once upon a time, said Hall, who can trace his Avondale roots back to the 1700s, the village was bustling with activity. There were three working farms, barnyards full of noisy farm animals, and an abundance of water-related activity.

Having the young couple conducting their business — paddleboard lessons, rentals, activities and adventures; think sunset paddle cruises, paddleboard yoga classes and stand-up paddleboarding demonstrations — has made a world of difference for visitors to the boatyard. 

“They’ve introduced me to hundreds of people,” Hall said. “We used to haul and house maybe 40 to 50 boats, now we do 240.”

It was Hall’s wife, Brigid, who served as matchmaker for the marriage between the houseboat and the paddlboard business, shortly after she met Lisa at a yoga class.

“I met Brigid at yoga and she got me connected with John,” said Lisa, a certified yoga instructor who has been teaching yoga classes at Anita Bussey’s Watch Hill Road-based center for well-being called Heart of Avondale for the last 10 years.

“And when they first came to me, I said ‘This is brilliant,’” said Hall, who has two children, Josh and Sarah, and three grandchildren, Logan, Courtney and Lindsay.

In addition to the rental business, the Kodzises, who spend a few months each year on the island of Oahu, also offer surf lessons at area beaches. They just finished their “Surf Chick” series for girls, and are now planning events, many boatyard-based, for the fall. One of the more popular programs, Lisa said, in addition to the sunset paddle, has been a family-centered paddleboard evening that includes a pizza party, followed by a one-hour paddle, and a marshmallow roasting by the water.

“We also have hot showers,” she said with a smile. “And, we’re open to the public.”


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