What snowboarding is to skiing, wakeboarding is to waterskiing. And Camas is home to a company that is smack in the middle of this burgeoning sport and industry.
Scott Parnell, manager at Samson Sports LLC, used to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska (think “Deadliest Catch”), but a friend’s request in 1999 changed the course of his career. The friend, a wakeboarder, asked Parnell to help him create a wakeboard tower – a metal structure that enables the tow rope to be attached much higher than a standard waterski rope.
Based in his garage, Parnell built his first wakeboard tower. At the time, he thought “who would put these things on their boat?” However, within three years, Parnell was building wakeboard towers full-time, not just for individual wakeboarders, but also for boat dealers and manufacturers. Although originally some of Samson Sports’ manufacturing was performed in Southern California, now the entire design and manufacturing process is performed at the company’s 12,000-square-foot facility on NW Lake Road.
Local control of quality, said Parnell, is what sets his company’s products apart from the competition.
“Most of the market is universal bolt-together towers from China,” stated Parnell. “We are at the other end of the spectrum and cater to the most expensive boats in the county.”
Samson Sports’ largest customer is Cobalt Boats (five of the top 10 dealers in Boating Industry’s Top 100 Boat Dealers in North America were Cobalt Boats dealers). Parnell said that his employees are committed to never cutting corners, and that all Samson Sports’ products are USA made with USA raw materials.
“We build the coolest things and charge accordingly,” said Parnell.
Wakeboarding is popular in the Pacific Northwest, Parnell said, despite the relatively short season. It’s fun to watch as well as do, he added, and features tricks and spins similar to skateboarding and snowboarding.
Many people don’t stop at just wanting a wakeboard tower to get them “more air.” Parnell said that his company offers six models of wakeboard towers, some of which feature high-power speakers so that the wakeboarder can hear the music when they’re 80 feet behind the boat. Lights are another option.
According to Parnell, his company experienced 30- to 40-percent growth during the first eight years. That has flattened out to about 10 to 15 percent annually, he said, but even during the economic downturn the company was able to keep most everyone employed (thanks, in part, he said, to some competitors going out of business).
Compared to the slow boat sales in 2008, Parnell said sales are climbing. The company will be attending about seven boat shows in the next eight weeks.
“People are upgrading their boats, interest rates are low and fuel prices are dropping,” said Parnell. ”The growth potential is certainly there given the economic indicators and where we’re positioned in the market.”
The company started with two employees – one of which, the shop foreman, is still working for the company. Today, Samson Sports employs between 15 and 20 people, depending on the season, and Parnell hopes to hire three or four more people in the near future.
Confident that his company will continue to grow due to “a great team,” Parnell plans to erect a new 21,500-square-foot building on the firm’s property in July, and will lease out the old building.
“The city of Camas has become such a great partner in allowing us to expand,” said Parnell. “The most refreshing thing we heard during our planning meetings was ‘How do we get to where we both can say yes?’ They realize small business is good for the economy and creates jobs.”