Riverwalk Watersports Brings High Adventure to Downtown Wilmington
Visiting or living in the Wilmington area has meant a choice: spending the day doing watersports at one of several beautiful beaches or going downtown to experience the bustling riverfront district. But, a fairly new business called Riverwalk Watersports now offers locals and tourists the best of both worlds, providing jet ski and pontoon boat rentals in the Cape Fear River.
“We wanted to bring something downtown that’s never been there before,” says Chris Livingston, co-owner of Riverwalk Watersports. “Never had Wilmington had any sports company on the river,” he says.
Video provided courtesy of Riverwalk Watersports
Livingston grew up on the water in central Panama, where he cultivated a passion for surfing and fishing. “The water is where I find my serenity,” he tells North Brunswick Magazine.
Livingston says his business partner, Jeff Skinner, hails from Ohio and has always loved hunting, fishing, and being on the water.
Livingston, who also owns VIP Limo of Wilmington, says that he always wanted to start a jet ski rental company. In May of 2017, he connected with Skinner (who also works full-time traveling to nuclear plants across the country) and together they made that aspiration a reality.
“We wanted people to be able to see Wilmington from a different view,” says Livingston. “To cruise around and go up the river north towards Castle Hayne to see the wildlife – ospreys and eagles – or up the Cape Fear River toward Fayetteville to see the ghost ships and railroad bridges, or south to see the bridge and the cranes and ports with huge tankers loading and offloading – there’s lots of good fishing that way, and past that are the islands where you can pull up and stay for the day with great scenery and paths; it’s a lot of fun.”
His and Skinner’s rental business quickly took off and soon expanded to include pontoon boats, provided in partnership with Lexington Marine Group. At Riverwalk Watersports, people can choose to take the watercrafts out by themselves or opt for a guided tour. Either way, the staff members take time and care to thoroughly prepare each customer for the adventure.
“Riverwalk Watersports is the place to go if you want to have a great time and feel safe on the river!” reads one of the company’s many – enthusiastically positive – Google reviews. “The staff was extremely knowledgeable and spent the time to explain the ins and outs of safety before we went on our way.”
The business’ six jet skis and two pontoon boats are docked at the Port City Marina at 10 Harnett Street. They are available to rent Monday through Sunday from 10 am to 6:00 pm, though Livingston says those times are flexible.
The jet skis can seat up to three people and the pontoon boats between 8 and 10. Life vests for all ages and sizes are provided for passengers. Jet skis can be rented for increments of half an hour, an hour, or two hours, while pontoon boats are loaned for one to three hours, a half-day, or a full day, with a full tank of gas included in the cost for both vehicles.
The Cape Fear River provides the largest riding area for jet skis in Wilmington, shares the Riverwalk staff on their website. “It’s a natural playground for jet ski use without the busy boat traffic and hazards of the Intracoastal Waterway.”
Their pet-friendly, kid-friendly, and handicap-accessible 20-foot pontoon boats are each equipped with a Bimini top, ice cooler, and sound system. Customers can fish off the boat, and food and beverages (adult or otherwise) can be brought onboard.
The rentals are popular among families, groups of friends, and corporate groups who gather for a lively jaunt across the river or a striking sunset cruise.
Livingston and his team, which includes his daughter, Devyn, enjoy helping people make memories out on the water. He shares that a highlight of their first year in business was providing a boat ride to a family with two teenage girls who have Multiple Sclerosis and are wheelchair bound.
“It was just amazing to see them having fun,” says Livingston.
For both locals and tourists, and beginner and seasoned boaters alike, the Riverwalk ride awes people with its unique and exciting views of Wilmington.
“You could go downtown in Wilmington 100 times and never see it the way you will on one of these trips,” says Livingston.
“It’s a really cool ride,” adds Xavier Curl, Marketing and Content Manager for the company. “You get to see the ports and tugboats, and all the big blue rigs.”
Customers get to experience downtown Wilmington from a brand new perspective, viewing the riverwalk, courthouse, hotels, and riverfront restaurants from a different angle as they pass by buoys, crab traps, tour boats, water taxis, and landmarks, like ‘The Battleship.’
At high tide, people on the boat sit at the same level as the people outside on the boardwalk. Passengers can even pull into the Hotel Ballast or The George, dock the boat and enjoy lunch before setting back out on the water.
Cruising toward the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, passengers see “the jungle of downtown” slowly disappear as the world of shipping and trade that Wilmington’s known for comes into view.
Massive container ships and cargo vessels look almost too epic to be real against the backdrop of a bright blue sky and the hum of the boat’s engine. It isn’t hard to imagine why this area became the set of the Iron Man 3 movie, filmed in 2012.
For people who would rather explore than relax, the friendly and accommodating Riverwalk Watersports crew can transport them to one of the manmade islands within the Cape Fear River, like Keg Island and Sharks Tooth Island, where people can spend hours combing the sand for treasure.
What a real ride looks like:
From now until the end of the season, the company is offering a special discount on weekday jet ski rentals. Normally $89 for an hour-long rental, people can now take one out for a spin for $75 Monday through Thursday.
“We’re about having a good time on the water,” reads one of their recent Facebook posts. “Peaceful, adventurous, and of course SUPER FUN!”