A history of Odyssea Watersports, over two decades in the making
Odyssea Watersports, 1997.
Odyssea Watersports owner and operator Ron Croker had next to no experience in the watersports industry when Odyssea first opened back in 1997. He’d been working as a systems maintenance engineer for PBS in Washington, D.C. His wife, Sheila, was an endoscopy technician. They’d both been in their respective fields for over 20 years, but the days were long, and in the wintertime, it was always dark out by the time they’d leave work; some days, they’d be lucky to even catch a glimpse of the sun. After two decades, they knew it was finally time for a change. They sat their kids Melissa and Tim down at the kitchen table one evening and said, “If you could do anything, what would you want to do?” They brainstormed what business they could start together as a family. Before they jumped the gun on anything, they had to see what kinds of places were currently for sale. Ron and Sheila spent weeks going through the Baltimore Sun, perusing the classifieds, even considering buying a bagel shop at one point. Then they came across an ad for a jet ski rental business in Ocean City, Maryland. They’d ridden on jet skis before. They knew that watersports were fun. What could be a better family business than a beachside, summertime watersports rental? The family of four packed their bags and headed down to Ocean City, and Melissa christened the new business — which was new to the family, though not actually new to Ocean City — “Odyssea Watersports.” You could say that the rest is history, but there were certainly a few roadblocks in Odyssea’s early years that the family navigated in stride. In fact, no one in town thought the business would last: Before the Crokers bought it, the small jet ski rental had been a second location for a marina in town, and business there had been stagnant. “I heard rumors that a lot of people thought Odyssea wasn’t going to make it, that it wasn’t a good location,” said Justin Clemens, who joined the Odyssea team 13 years ago. “The funny thing about that is now, there’s other owners that say we have the best location.” At the beginning, there was only one building at the location, and no fence separating the street from the sand, so someone could drive their car straight into the water if they wanted to. Ron still remembers driving up to their little plot of beach and thinking, What have we gotten ourselves into? But the Crokers kept their sights set on their ultimate vision for Odyssea, where every member of the family would have a job and where they’d all work together in harmony to make the business flourish. Every night that first summer, they’d come home to their Ocean City rental house and have a family meeting, drinking coffee and discussing what worked well that day and what didn’t. “There was a pride we took in the place,” Ron said. “We wanted to make it something really special.” In addition to the family business aspect of their vision, the Crokers were just as determined to build strong relationships with their customers. The motto, created by Sheila, was simple: “At Odyssea, we want to treat all our visitors as we would want to be treated on vacation.” Prioritizing teamwork and following their golden rule mission statement ended up being Odyssea’s secret to success. Now, 22 years later, kids who rode an Odyssea jet ski back in the ‘90s come back as adults to jet ski with their own kids. All the equipment has been updated since 1997, of course – in fact, the jet skis are brand new every year – but the family business is the same as it ever was, and Ron, Justin, Melissa, and the rest of the team continue to prioritize the customers and treat them how they’d want to be treated on vacation. They’ve added new activities, experimented with all kinds of watersports, and even added a snowball stand in 2019, but Odyssea’s mission has always remained the same. Every visitor is treated like a member of the family.