A Conversation with Bubba Sloan, Atlanta's Father of the Outdoors

Bubba Sloan, one of the founders of High Country Outfitters, continues to spend much of his time participating in the sports he promotes.
Bubba Sloan, one of the founders of High Country Outfitters, continues to spend much of his time participating in the sports he promotes.
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If you go on a paddle with Bubba, you’ll probably feel incredibly out of shape. At 64, Bubba glides across the water, his paddle barely audible as he dips it into the water. If you go on a paddle with Bubba, he’ll want to meet at his favorite spot for stand-up paddleboarding: Morgan Falls Overlook Park. You’ll follow him to the overlook, where the man-made dam for the Chattahoochee River severely drops a few hundred feet to the continuation of the river. He’ll beckon you dangerously close to the edge so that you can see the river below. This is Bubba Sloan—living on the edge.

OK, that's a little dramatic. Bubba would never say that. But here, we delve into what Bubba does have to say about his taste for adventure, and his hand in starting High Country Outfitters in Atlanta.

High Country Outfitters was the first outfitter in Atlanta and this year it celebrates 40 years. How did it start?

I was working the usual 9 to 5 job as a premium auditor, but it was so boring. I was getting into kayaking and couldn’t seem to find an exclusive gear shop in town, so I got together with some friends—Gerald Marshall, Denny Mays, and Ned Buxton—and opened the first High Country Outfitters in 1975. We originally had stores in Nashville and Birmingham, but those are sold and now High Country has three stores in Atlanta, including our newest just down the street from Piedmont Park. Gerald remains at our Ocoee Rafting Outpost on the Ocoee River living the mountain life.

What do you think High Country Outfitters has added to the Atlanta outdoor community?

We have deep roots in the community and love our customers. The same people have been shopping with High Country for over 30 years and now their kids come in to get geared up.

How does High Country differ from the other outdoor gear shops in town?

Everyone who works at High Country has a true affinity for the outdoors. When they aren’t working, you’ll run into them on the trails, at the climbing gym, on the water—wherever the outdoors takes them. And High Country has built a family of long-lasting employees over the years. In fact, my son John is now the general manager. Even after growing up in the business, he couldn’t stay away.

You’re 64 and still out paddling and racing in SUP. Were you always this active?

I always found I was good at sports. I was a walk-on for the college track and tennis teams, but I really found my groove in paddling. I started kayaking in 1974, and went through the rounds of different types: whitewater kayaking, canoe and kayak touring, and now I’ve settled into SUP.

Where are your favorite spots to SUP in Atlanta?

I really like Morgan Falls Overlook Park. High Country Outfitters just opened a paddle shack there so I can store my board and be on the water in minutes. The waters are calm because of the dam, but you’re still paddling on the Chattahoochee. I like to paddle to the alcoves and hang out in the shade.

Bubba at the Battle of the Paddle race
Bubba at the Battle of the Paddle race

What’s your most notable SUP win?

I competed in the “Battle of the Paddle” race in California, considered the “Super Bowl of paddling” five times. In 2011, I placed first in the Over 60 Women’s division. I guess people in California don’t understand that Bubba is a man’s name! Ha!

What about your favorite SUP races?

I have to toot High Country’s horn: we have two races: theStand Up for the Hooch at Morgan Falls Overlook Park, and the Toona Challenge at Lake Allatoona.

What is your next adventure?

I’m going to the North Carolina coast to try out kiteboarding. I’ve never done it, but I really enjoy North Carolina’s coast for SUP, so I figure I’ll give it a shot.

Any other daring endeavors?

You know, I don’t really enjoy doing extreme sports. There’s too much risk involved. I have friends who told me I should try longboarding—the skateboard kind—but I know too many people who get hurt doing that. I think I’ll stick to SUP.

Do you plan to retire?

Didn’t I retire at 24 years old? (laughs) High Country has never felt like work to me. I’m doing what I love now: meeting great outdoor-minded people, paddling when I can, and searching for my next adventure.


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