American oceanographer Sylvia Earle once succinctly stated, “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Local entrepreneur Michael Murphy might agree. Mike is the namesake behind Murph’s Surf, Cherokee County’s premier provider of memories made on the water. From humble beginnings—renting a single kayak out of a two-car garage—to opening multiple locations across the north metro area, Mike Murphy is turning blue into green.

Allison Gerdes describes her longtime boyfriend as a “beach baby,” but Mike’s route to Cherokee County waters was arid at times. After spending fifteen years as a firefighter and serving time in Afghanistan, he set up shop in that two-car garage. Once business picked up, Mike hit the streets to get people on the water.

Murph's Surf | Michael Murphy, Allison Gerdes | Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

Mike Murphy and Allison Gerdes (Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio)

“Kind of like you’d order a pizza, you’d order a kayak from us,” Mike explains. “Then we’d go deliver it and go pick it up.” That ingenuity caught the attention of a marina at Lake Allatoona, where Mike was then invited to set up a tent by the lake. Popularity and demand led to more inventory, which led to Murph’s Surf’s first lakeside location on Bells Ferry Road in Woodstock.

In 2023 Murph’s Surf set up shop at The Mill on Etowah in Canton, combining rentals with an inviting retail space. With coveted outdoor lifestyle brands such as Olukai, lululemon, and Kavu offered at the store, shoppers don’t have to get their feet wet to support Murph’s.

Its newest location, Murph’s Surf Paddle Shack – Morgan Falls Park in Sandy Springs, is a return to Murph’s Surf’s waterfront-rental roots. All Murph’s Surf locations offer premium kayaks and paddleboards with rentals starting at $25 an hour. The Mill location on the Etowah River has tube rentals for $25 as well, including a bus ride to the access point. Mike refers to Murph’s Surf’s other services as “park and paddle,” with direct access to the water.

Murph's Surf | Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

Welcome to Murph’s Surf (Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio)

Murph’s Surf even helps romantics pop the question. Following a client’s successful proposal on a picturesque sandbar in 2023, Mike says: “You buy the ring; we’ll help you with the kayaks.”

Mike’s kindness isn’t exclusive to paying customers. His philosophy of local economic impact is turning our waterways into green for fellow entrepreneurs at The Mill and around Cherokee County. Tubers and kayakers who head north of Atlanta to do business at Murph’s Surf add to the county tax base, as Mayor Bill Grant explains it: “We want people to come and spend their money with our local businesses.” He mentions tourism efforts such as ExploreCantonGA.com, an initiative Mike partners with.

“We sent a proposal to [ExploreCantonGA.com], and then we’ve come up with custom tubes that have our logo and Explore Canton GA and a QR code on the tube that will go to their website,” Mike notes, adding that a quick link to Canton’s tourism website will directly benefit other local businesses.

But what about the blue and green Sylvia Earle was referring to—in Cherokee County’s case, a stretch of the Etowah River and its ecosystem? Murph’s Surf is concerned as much with the community’s waterways as it is with our local economy. Mike predicts the Etowah River will one day give the Chattahoochee a run for its money where tubing is concerned, so keeping it safe and clean is in the best interest of his business as well as that of our county. Mike and Allison work closely with the Upper Etowah River Alliance to keep Canton green so residents and visitors can continue to enjoy the water.

Murph’s Surf’s annual donations and philanthropy go toward the alliance mission, “to protect, conserve, enhance, and sustain the natural beauty, environmental and economic resources, and recreational opportunities of the Upper Etowah Watershed for present and future generations.” From river cleanups to workshops and canoe trips, the Upper Etowah River Alliance seeks community engagement to perpetuate its vision.

Murph's Surf | Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

The Upper Etowah River Alliance aims to “protect, conserve, enhance, and sustain the natural beauty, environmental and economic resources, and recreational opportunities of the Upper Etowah Watershed for present and future generations.” (Photo Credit: Naomi Hopkins/The Sonder Studio)

Just around the bend, The Mill on Etowah is partnering with Murph’s Surf and Reformation Brewery to launch the Float on the Fourth event on July 4. Amy Taylor, marketing manager for The Mill, hopes the celebration will become an annual tradition for Canton. “We are encouraging people all around Cherokee County to come float the river with us, making a patriotic parade down the Etowah.” Drink tickets and Americana swag bags are included in the ticket price. Following the event, attendees will have drink tickets “to enjoy a cold drink from Reformation on its patio or to take out onto the green at The Mill,” Amy shares.

Further upstream, exciting things await Murph’s Surf as well as Cherokee County. Mayor Grant confirms that the city received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for “a new pedestrian bridge across the Etowah that will connect our trail extension to The Mill on Etowah.” Murph’s Surf is also working toward offering bike rentals next year for customers who prefer solid ground over winding rivers, or a little bit of both.

All Murph’s Surf locations offer rentals to get locals and tourists alike on the water and making memories this summer. Murph’s Surf is as much a passion project as it is a business; Mike wants to share the love and respect he has for the water with as many people as possible. After all, “No water, no life.”

 

 

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