“If you put a barrier in front of me, I will find a way to get around it,” says Olie Rivera, owner of Koloa Zipline and Kauai ATV. Those words seem to drive every step of his career path. The 64-year-old Colombia native has only been employed for six months of his entire life. “I worked at a print shop when I was a student at Cypress College, in California. Other than that job, I’ve always worked for myself.”
It’s that drive that led to him to start Kauai ATV 20 years ago, this month. “When I owned a landscaping business, I used to go fishing every Friday at Alexander Reservoir, above Kalāheo. One day the ground was way too wet so on a whim, I said to my friends, ‘Let’s buy an ATV.’” When he got home, his irate wife told him, “No more toys!” He somehow had to tell her that he was, in fact, buying 10 ATVs to start a business. “We started with the 10,” he goes on to explain, “but we immediately needed more.”
That sudden growth spurt was indicative of what was yet to come. Rivera’s company is one of Kaua‘i’s largest employers, with up to 100 employees. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. Kaua‘i is a fairly transient market, and the cost of living makes it difficult for people to stay here, and finding and retaining good talent is an ongoing challenge.
That’s not to imply that his successes haven’t come without bumps. “The hardest part is getting the permits,” says Rivera, “but we’ve had our share of other challenges. 9/11 happened when we were still a very young business. Then our office burned to the ground. But we’ve never shut down—not even for a day!”
That’s in no small part because Rivera is a relentless entrepreneur. Back in 2012, he started looking at adding ziplines to his business, but he wanted to do it differently. So he created a new way to zip—head first! “And we have a new innovation coming next year,” he teases.
Three years ago he added Aloha Kauai Tours to the mix. “I was looking to buy their vans and ended up buying the whole business.” Rivera also runs Koloa Bass Fishing, just the tip of a diverse range of brands and activities he oversees. His newest venture is a reforestation project consisting of only native plants at Grove Farm, the site of the ATV and ziplining tours. “Our pitch to potential supporters is ‘own your own coconut tree in Kaua‘i!’”
If that’s not enough, Rivera is putting the finishing touches on a historic movie tour addition to his portfolio. He’s waiting on one more permit. “They just finished shooting a movie on our property that came out in August starring The Rock,” he adds. “There are a ton of movies that have been shot on the Farm that we’re going to chronicle for our guests.”
So what activities does Rivera personally recommend? “Ziplining if it’s sunny; ATVs if it’s raining,” he says. “And we’re the only zipline company that has sunset tours.”
As if all that wasn’t enough to do, in his spare time, Rivera plays club soccer for a 60+ member team, that’s going on to represent the United States in Phuket, Thailand in October.
Pretty impressive stuff for a guy who’s hardly ever had a real job.
[This article appears in print in the September-December 2019 issues of This Week Kauai]
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