I Want Your Outdoor Job: René Seindal, Owner of Venice Kayak

Friday, 06 July 2012
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It’s been a couple of months since our last instalment of “I Want Your Outdoor Job”. This time we catch up with René Seindal is a Danish paddler who lives in Venice, Italy where he has run Venice Kayak since 2008.

Like many others René got trained to work in the IT field and spent most of his time inside with very little physical activity.

Of course that lifestyle leads to some problems later in life.

“When I was forty”, René said, “I started kayaking following a problem with my back. I was told to lose weight and strengthen my back muscles, without stressing my spine, and the choices I was given were swimming, going to the gym or rowing. I went swimming but found it boring, and the gym was even worse, but practically all the rowing clubs around Copenhagen only take in children, and their focus is almost exclusively competitive, which I abhor.”

“I found sea kayaking by chance, signed up for beginner’s course in 2006 at a newly opened kayak shop on Copenhagen beach, and was immediately hooked.”

“At about the same time my marriage was going badly, and as a consequence I got a fairly severe depression. My reaction was as it often is for men when life hurts: I ran away, or rather, I kayaked away.”

 

1) How long have you been in business and what got you started?

I started Venice Kayak in 2008, so this is my fifth season kayaking in Venice.

As part of my coping (or not coping) with my illness in 2006/7, I wanted to go kayaking in Italy, and I was searching for interesting places to go. I looked at a map, followed the coastline with a finger, and took notes about possible destinations. At the very end my finger ended on Venice, which I had only visited on two very short visits years before. The idea of paddling in Venice immediately attracted my attention.

I spent a long time searching for outfitters, clubs, rental places, kayaking schools or just somebody with some gear, but there was nobody. In the end I found one contact, my now business partner Marco, who kindly lent a couple of kayaks to me and a friend, and we paddled around Venice and the lagoon here for a week in the summer of 2007.

Our trip got a good deal of interest when we returned to Copenhagen, so we organised a small group for later in 2007, and then started planning more tours for 2008. A few notices on a bulletin board had two weeks sold out in no time, which gave me a challenge. As the only one of us who spoke Italian, I had promised to organise all the logistics in Italy but my search for some local provider of equipment wasn't any more successful than before.

I was astonished that it was so easy selling two weeks kayaking in Venice to paddlers in Copenhagen. It made me think that there should be a market for kayaking tours in Venice, so I started spending a lot of time with spreadsheets with budgets, investments, expenses, prices and such, and it seemed to be doable. It would only give a very meagre income, and maybe only for a part of the year, but it should be possible to make at least some money.

I had lived through some of the darkest and most unhappy times of my life then, but I was slowly recovering. Still, my private life was in shatters and my work situation miserable.

The brightest moments in my life was when I was out kayaking, and the financial investment needed to start offering kayaking tours in Venice were modest. What was there to lose?

 

2) What’s the best part of your job?

Kayaking. Paddling makes me happy. Period. Even if I'm a bit down or tired, once I've pushed away from the beach and start paddling, everything lights up around me. Kayaking is the ultimate therapy for me.

I meet a lot of people from all over the world, that is very stimulating too, and I've learned to be far less introvert than I was when I was younger.

Being outside a lot, under an open sky.

Also, it is not bad being your own boss.

Rene Seindal

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?

The bureaucracy. The Italians invented bureaucracy in the early Middle Ages, and they've spent most of the intervening time perfecting it into an art form. They are very good.

I used to find working with computers fun and challenging, but now its mostly just dull, stuff I have to do so I can go kayaking and pay my rent.

 

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own paddling school?

Venice Kayak does kayaking excursions for tourists, so we do sight seeing tours for people who like to be physically active and not just be transported passively around in a refurbished fishing boat with some guide on a loudspeaker in four languages simultaneously.

So it’s a paddling business, not a paddling school.

Firstly, pick the right place for your activity. You want a place with a distinct and recognisable identity, a place that is somehow different from the other places people can go; and you want a place people can actually get to, for example with an international airport not too distant. The easier people can get to your business, the more energy they will have to enjoy and participate in the paddling activities.

Second, focus exclusively on your clients experience. Do what they want to do, not what you think they should want to do. Success in the long run depends on your clients returning home happy, with a special experience and unique memories which they will then share with friends and colleagues, post on Facebook and review on TripAdvisor.

Kayaking in Venice.

5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?

That it pays my bills, or alternatively, that it only just pays my bills.

In a close second position that at least half the time is spent doing other things than kayaking, like answering emails, making invoices, bookkeeping, updating calendars, posting on web sites, organising photos, and spending quality time with our accountant.

 

6) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?

To get out and spend more time with others doing something active.

More info: venicekayak.com

Photo credits: venicekayak.com

Additional Info

  • Article Description:

    I Want Your Outdoor Job finds people working in the outdoor industry making a living doing exactly what they love to do and asks them how they did it.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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