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

Published in People

Christopher Stec hails from south Louisiana and has been working in the paddlesports industry for many years in a variety of jobs.  Prior to becoming the Chief Operating Officer of the American Canoe Association, he worked as an outdoor instructor for the YMCA, a field assistant for Davidson College’s off-campus Biology semester, and a raft guide for the Nantahala Outdoor Center to name a few.

An avid instructor (of course!), he holds ACA instructor certifications in whitewater canoeing, river stand-up paddleboarding and swiftwater rescue. When not on the water teaching or in the office crunching numbers, Christopher sits on several national committees including the National Safe Boating Council, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council

He is also a poetry writer, an Eagle Scout, an Assistant Scoutmaster, fly fisherman and duck hunter. Oh yeah he also has a family with two kids aged five and three.

I recently sat down with Christopher to find out how he is able to keep so many things in the air at once and what keeps him motivated to go paddling with his family weekends after thinking about canoes all week.

1) How did a guy like you land a job at the ACA?

After essentially failing my first canoe instructor certification course back in 1995, I began to volunteer at the regional level for the ACA.  After over a decade of volunteering, and improving my paddling ability, Pam Dillon (Executive Director at the time) actually hired me to work in the ACA’s Safety Education and Instruction Department.  Over time I worked my way to the Chief Operating Officer position and now oversee all of the ACA operations in the U.S. and abroad.

The Stec family out rafting.

 

2) How long have you been working in the outdoor industry and what got you started?

After canoeing with my high school English teacher, Cabel Tutwiler and the E.S.A. Outing Club (Episcopal School of Acadiana) from the drainage canal behind our school through a south Louisiana swamp to the nearest town, I knew that paddlesports, and the beautiful natural world it leads us to, would play a role in my future.  After the last game of my Division I Collegiate basketball career at Davidson College (thank you Coach Bob McKillop for believing in a walk-on) occurred, I was able to devote my concentration to paddlesport. With guidance from notable paddlesport experts Ed Daugherty, Gordon Black, Sam Fowlkes, Bunny Johns, Eli Helbert, Wayne Dickert, Bob Foote and many others, I was fortunate to find both seasonal and then  permanent work in the outdoor industry with a focus on paddlesport.

 

3) What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the daily interaction, either by phone, via email or in-person, with people across the country who share the same passion for the outdoors and the paddle craft that allow them to experience it.

 

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

In the non-profit world, there never seems to be enough time or money to accomplish all the things either your members want you to do or that you need to do in order to continue to move the association forward.  The hardest thing about this position is to manage your time between family, work and personal time. I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old and an extremely understanding wife, but it’s still a challenge to balance the desire to make a positive difference for all the paddlers you’re working for and spend enough quality time with your family.

 

5) What are two tips you can give to somebody who wants to work for the ACA?

Besides being a good person, in order to work for the ACA, an individual needs to be well-rounded and exhibit a history of taking initiative.  The intricacies of the actual job position can be taught, but you need to already have good people skills.  The ability or desire to learn how to paddle is also a plus.  Our office is less than a block from the river and we routinely have our monthly staff meeting on the water.

Christopher Stec giving a presentation on SUP.

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

I think it would be the extreme variation in skill sets that are called upon on a daily basis. This job position has a wide range of responsibilities, from governmental public policy to overseeing the National Paddlesports Instruction Program to being the primary risk manager for a national on-water insurance program for paddling clubs and instructors that spans class V rapids to open ocean U.S. Coast Guard small craft advisory conditions. The most surprising part of my job, at least for me, is although I have a basic working knowledge of four languages (besides English) we have instructors in 22 countries around the world, and I sometimes spend quite a bit of time using Google translate.

 

7) What was the coolest thing you remember finding when you were a kid out exploring?

Thanks to my parents, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the 17th World Scout Jamboree at Mt.Sorak National Park in South Korea in 1991.  On an overnight backpacking trip, our local guide took us into a cave/cavern on the mountainside.  About 50 yards in there was a 10 foot high Buddha shrine covered in gold with prayer offerings from the local village surrounding it. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it was a work of art and a truly unique experience for a teenager.

 

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

Continue to pursue your outdoor oriented career path, but take a few finance and business courses along the way!  Virtually no matter where you end up, it’s bound to help you down the road, I mean river...

 

9) Do you travel for work?

Yes, I sure do.  I usually travel domestically at least once a month, but most months two to four times.  In regards to the ACA’s international presence, over the last few years I’ve been to Austria, Germany, Chile, Canada and China.  In regards to funding this work related travel, as a non-profit, we leverage every member’s dollar to its fullest extent and work hard to acquire funding from other sources such as grants and sponsorships to help with the ACA’s outreach endeavors.

 

10) Any last thoughts?

The ACA is a unique organization as it encompasses all aspects of paddlesports. Everyday I look forward to the opportunity to serve paddlers and ACA members across the country as we continue our mission to improve paddlesport Education, Stewardship, Competition and Recreation for everyone.

More information: American Canoe Association

Published in People

Steve Weileman out playing in the surf.

For many people working in the outdoor industry you need to be able to do many different things to either make ends meet or avoid job burn-out. One of these multi-talented people is Steve Weileman from Washington State. When not sitting in front a computer as a web-developer/database administrator for a small outdoor retail business he is off instructing or taking clients out on trips as a sea kayak guide.

Along with a passion for paddling, Steve is an amateur historian and film maker researching many of the small abandoned communities along the Washington coastline.

Over the next couple of months Steve is going to be putting his talents to good use as he was recently Steve was asked to join The Ikkatsu Project (which we highlighted here) to help document the Japanese tsunami debris which is starting to wash up on the Washington coast. Look for reports to be posted on the project website when the project starts in June.

I recently sat down with Steve to find out what his job is like and what makes it the greatest way to making a living ever.

1) How long have you been working in the outdoor industry and what got you started?
I’ve been in the industry for 12 years and ironically what got me started was a mishap while kayaking onVancouver Island, which I wrote about in Sea Kayaker Magazine. That misadventure led me to start looking for advance training which in turn led to the BCU, which in turn led to my first job offer as a guide.

 

2) What’s the best part of your job?
There are many aspects of guiding that are rewarding but for me the most rewarding is when you see the excitement in someone who is experiencing the outdoors for the first time in unique perspective you get from doing so in a kayak and the relationships that develop as a result. I receive regular emails with either questions or trip reports from clients who I introduced to the kayaking from years back.

Steve Weileman cooking up a storm.

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
The long hours. Yes, you get to go to some cool places but you’re up well before the first client getting coffee and breakfast ready, and usually you’ll be the last to hit the sack. It can be a bit of an endurance game.

 

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody who wants to get into the world of guiding?
One, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. It has to be a labour of love; I don’t know a single wealthy guide!

Two, take the time to get a system down. When I first started I was putting in 18-20 hour days. Now, using a program to plan my meals, doing as much pre-trip prepping of food, gear, and such I’ve whittled that down to about 12 hours. Over a long multi-day trip that can make a huge difference in your energy level which in turn ultimately makes the trip more enjoyable for you as well.

 

5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
I think people have a misconception that guiding is all about going to exotic places and for sure guiding has gotten me to places like Alaska and Newfoundland but that’s only part of the equation. By far this is a service industry which involves taking care of and providing for clients; cooking, cleaning, carrying, towing, setting up tents, packing, etc. You need to have your eyes wide open if you really want to do this.

Steve Weileman

6) What was the coolest thing you remember finding when you were a kid out exploring?
In middle school I went to visit a friend on his family’s farm. We went exploring well beyond his fields into an area he’d never been before. We came upon an abandoned farm where I found a trunk up in the rafters. Inside were dozens of letters. Turns out they where letters written by a soldier to his wife while serving overseas in WWII. I spent most of that afternoon living vicariously through his letters. I really think that was the spark that ignited by love of history and explorations.

 

7) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
It would be simple. Don’t buy into someone else definition of success. Determine what your definition is, then make it happen.

Published in People

Dave and Amy Freeman helped start The Wilderness Classroom ten years ago with the simple idea to improve students' core academic skills and appreciation for the environment by introducing elementary and middle school students to the wonders of exploration and wilderness travel.

Since then they have been traveling around the world bringing the wilderness into the classroom setting. Back in 2010 they embarked on their largest expedition yet, a three-year journey, 11,700 mile journey acrossNorth Americaby kayak, canoe and dogsled. This May, they will start the last segment of their adventure where they will sea kayak from Grand Portage, Minnesota and arrive in Key West, Florida at the end of March next year.

Before they loaded up their boats and pushed off from the shore, I met up with Dave and Amy to find out how they got into the outdoor industry and what keeps them going, and going, and going...

 

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

The Wilderness Classroom actually just celebrated its 10th birthday. Although the organization got its official nonprofit status 10 years ago, Dave has been in the outdoor business much longer. His very first trip of this nature (traveling under his own power and updating a website for students out in the field) was 12 years ago. He skied theBorder Route with a sled dog named Tundra. Next came paddling theMississippi and then founding the Wilderness Classroom with good friend and educator, Eric Frost.

What got Dave started? Well, he fell in love with wild places early in life. His first canoe trip to the BWCAW inspired him to return to northernMinnesotafrequently. As a high-schooler, he was employed by Sawbill Canoe outfitters. It wasn't long until Dave began guiding canoe trips. After college, he was looking for a way to share his experiences with students. In order to reach as many kids as possible, he chose to share the adventures online, allowing students all over the world to share the experience as virtual explorers.

I came on board in 2006. My first Wilderness Classroom project was circumnavigatingLake Superiorby sea kayak in the fall. This circumnavigation was something I had wanted to do ever since I first dipped my paddle blade in the big lake. When I met Dave in 2005, I immediately began picking his brain about extended wilderness travel. This conversation evolved into the two of us planning the trip. After this experience, I was hooked. Next came the Trans-Amazon Expedition and then the North American Odyssey.

My early exposure to the outdoors was similar to Dave. I made countless trips to the northshoreofLake Superiorand the BWCAW with my parents. During college, I sought out a summer job in Grand Marais – guiding kayak trips onLake Superior. As an aspiring artist, I would draw inspiration from this Boreal landscape. During college and then grad school, this attraction to the northern wilds increased. After paddling aroundLake Superiorwith Dave, I knew that I had found my calling.

Dave and Amy Freeman Dog Sledding

2) What’s the best part of your job?

There are actually two best parts of this job for me. The first is when we find out that we are actually having an impact on students. This may be apparent at a school presentation – seeing their enthusiasm about a particular animal or wild place – or it may come in the form of a letter (usually illustrated with crayon or marker) or an email sent by a student who has been inspired by what we are doing.

The second best part of the job is all the time we get to spend doing what we love outside. Where else can you find a job that involves being physically active, in nature? While there are some trade-offs, I'd much rather have a job like this than be stuck behind a desk, saving vacation time and money to do a scaled back version of what we are doing now.

 

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

The office work is the most difficult/painstaking aspect of our job. Dave spends hours in front of a computer screen fine-tuning the website and planning our routes. His biggest challenge has to do with developing the educational content for the website. He constantly strives to make the website as user friendly for students and teachers, developing new curriculum and lesson plans.

I spend an equally tedious amount of time writing grant proposals and working to cultivate new sponsors. We would both rather spend all our time out on the water if we could, but this stuff pays the bills. I always breathe a sigh of relief once we shove off from shore at the start of a project, because it marks the transition from all that painstaking preparation time to actually doing what we love.

Dave and Amy Freeman in a school classroom

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

Know that even if you pursue your passion, you will find yourself working – hard. While some days may involve paddling on glassy calm water in theNorthwest Territorieswith a moose wading in the shallows near by, we did a heck of a lot of prep work to get there.

The second tip is actually one that we share with students. If you have a big goal, the way to achieve it is to break it down into smaller goals. We would get overwhelmed if we spent every day of the North American Odyssey thinking about how we have 11,700 miles to go. Instead, we focus on the task at hand. . . “our goal for the day is to paddle 20 miles”, “this rapid is half a mile long”, “I will work on two grant applications during our down time”. . . Achieving these small goals adds up and soon you'll see yourself progressing towards your loftier goal.

 

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

Most people don't have a sense of how much time and effort we spend planning and preparing for our educational expeditions. Whenever we are not on trail, we are at our computers answering emails, scheduling school presentations, writing grant proposals, looking for new sponsors, developing curriculum. . . you get the idea.

 

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

I would say, don't feel obligated to fulfill another person's concept of success. When I was 18, I never would have guessed that this is what I would be doing. I was following a much more traditional path... college... with plans for grad school... then launch a career. Dave and I may have deviated from the norm, but we're doing well and are darn happy to be where we are today.

More info: The Wilderness Classroom

Top Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

Published in People

Justine Curgenven is best known as the creator of the award winning and highly influential kayak film series, This is the Sea. Since she released her first paddling film around 10 years ago she has released several other films including, This is the Sea II, III and IV, This is Canoeing and brand new to the market, This is the Roll.

When not watching paddlers through the lense of a video camera, Justine is off travelling throughout the world on major kayaking expeditions. Sea Kayaking has taken Justine to remote places such as Kamchatka, Tasmania, New Zealand, Sardinia and most recently Tierra del Fuego.

 

1) How long have you been working in the outdoor industry and what got you started?
After studying geology at university, I had 2 'proper jobs' in the TV industry - a news reporter and then a multi-skilled programme maker taking me up to age 23. I was getting more and more interested in the outdoors for my own pleasure and decided I wanted to try to make a living from filming adventures. I quit my job and spent several years writing to TV companies with ideas, filming pilots at my own expense, picking up a few small bits of work but generally losing money and sometimes losing heart. I guess you could say I was working in the outdoor industry since then, although not very successfully to start with! Eventually I got fed up spending all my time trying to convince TV Stations that I could do a good job and I just went out and made This is the Sea DVD.

 

2) What’s the best part of your job?
Working for myself and being in being able to make my own decisions. I have the freedom to be able to travel to some amazing places, have wonderful adventures and meet interesting people. Or I can have a lie-in if I'm tired!

Justine Curgenven 

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
It's hard to switch off from work-mode. I sell DVDs internationally so there is always a customer awake at a computer wanting an answer to a question. I could get a work email at any time and I like to deal with any issues ASAP so I tend to always be checking my emails in the evenings and at weekends - which isn’t the most sociable behaviour. To help with the workload, I employ people to mail out orders and other people do jobs like designing DVD covers, making any big changes to my website, and subtitling and authoring my DVDs. Other than that but I pretty much do everything else by myself.

Sometimes I'd love to have someone else to bounce ideas off, or to handle some of the more technological issues such as creating digital downloads which work with all the various gadgets that people have these days. It's also getting harder to make a living from video production. Sales of any one DVD are down slightly as people watch outdoor videos in different ways and as competition has increased. I'm trying to make cackletv.com a place that people come to when they want to buy a DVD for themselves or for a friend. While sales of any individual DVD are down a bit, I sold more overall DVDs in my webstore this year than last year. To stay competitive, keep adapting to the market and customer needs. I actually quite enjoy the challenge & the variety but sometime I feel like I'm spending a lot of time inside trying to keep abreast of technological developments, which isn't my forte.

 

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own video production company?
There is so much more to a video production company than actually making the film. Make sure you are prepared to spend a lot of time editing, cover designing, marketing, selling and chasing up invoices. You might have a great product but if no-one knows about it or is prepared to risk £20 or $30 on it then you'll have a stack of fantastic DVDs in a cupboard gathering dust.

If you believe in what you are doing and have a lot of drive then I would suggest going for it. Decent cameras and editing software are very affordable these days and you can teach yourself how to do it. Look at Bryan Smith who made Pacific Horizons & Eastern Horizons DVDs (available from the Cackle TV webstore --- see what I did there!?). I'm pretty sure Bryan is totally self-taught but has captured some amazing shots with slow motion cameras and he is now directing adventure films for National Geographic. Anything is possible - but it usually takes a lot of dedication and time to get there.

 

5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
A lot of people seem to think I am always travelling to nice places and kayaking! I do get to do a fair bit of that but I spend between 4 and 10 months every year sat in front of a computer, not only editing but also doing admin, processing DVD orders, marketing, updating my website and problem solving. I'd like to get that closer to 6 months in the next few years!

Justine's invitation to meet the Queen.

6) You met the Queen once. Tell me about it.
I was thrilled and flattered to be invited to meet the Queen alongside about 300 "people involved in adventure and exploration" last year. She held a reception at Buckingham Palace to commemorate 100 years since Scott reached the South Pole. It was a great opportunity to meet other adventurous people and catch up with a few friends. I wish it could have gone on longer as I'd like to have chatted to more people. We all lined up and shook hands with the Queen and her husband, while an official read out our name and what we did from a card we handed him. He didn't pronounce "Curgenven" right but I wasn't going to correct him in front of the Queen! The Queen didn't ask me anything about being an “expedition sea kayaker and filmmaker” and I think she was probably wondering what on earth that meant. I've never seen such big bottles of champagne and the quails eggs canapés were particularly delicious.

 

7) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
I would tell myself three things:

  • Don't worry about being penniless and jobless for several years - it really will work out OK if you keep working at it & believing!
  • No one on their deathbed ever says, "I wish I'd worked more".
  • Don't forget to enjoy your life and don't believe people who say, “you can't do that”.

Photo Credits: Justine Curgenven
More info: cackletv.com

Published in People

There are not too many people I know who are in love with canoeing as much as Darren Bush. I don’t know this for a fact, but the word on the street is that when he talks in his sleep it’s naming off canoe parts. One look at his boat rack confirms the obvious.

The Canoe Garage...

To feed this passion for canoes (and kayaks) he runs the outdoor retail shop Rutabaga located in Madison, Wisconsin.

If you haven’t heard of Rutabaga before, that’s ok though it’s quite likely you have heard of the other tiny event that his business runs every March called Canoecopia. It’s a paddling trade show that attracts roughly 22,000 people over one weekend.

When not working in the shop or out on canoe trips, Darren spends time hammering steel into useful items in his own blacksmith shop as well as writing for his very interesting blog, canoelover.com.

I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Darren to learn more about what makes working in the outdoor industry so wicked awesome.

1) How long have you been working in the outdoor industry and what got you started?

I grew up in the desert in California, pretty close to the beaches but still...there were two seasons, green (two months) and brown (the rest of the year). I took my first Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Trip as an advisor to my church's young men's group.   The BWCA was like a different world for me, and it was all downhill from there.  I was smitten. I felt totally at home in a canoe from the first stroke.

2) What’s the best part of your job?

You mean best parts, right?  So many things...I love providing jobs for really good and loyal staff.  We have very little turnover in the permanent full-time staff so they've become a pretty tightly-knit team.  I love seeing people go from beginner to participant and from participant to enthusiast.  That's our work: to move people along the continuum.

I love working with really good people. After twenty plus years I have some wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime, too many to count.  When I call a vendor, they don't ask for my account number, they ask about my family by name. When I was injured in an accident, Wenonah sent me a paddle with the signatures of all the staff. Those are the kind of people we work with.

A few years ago I taught a private lesson to a woman who wanted to get out on her own.  Her spouse wasn't interested in paddling, so she took matters into her own hands and bought a solo canoe.  After a few hours she had the basics down and was ready to get out on her own on some local streams and ponds.  We loaded her canoe on her truck, and after she strapped it down, she turned and embraced me.  She said "Thank you, you just changed my life."  Well, it doesn't get any better than that.

Darren and his son Ian out paddling.

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

A lot of folks say to me "Man, your job is so cool..."  They're right, but what they don't realize is that half of what I do has almost nothing to do with paddling.  Basic business practices are what they are.  Working with banks, making sure our accounting is dialed (we have the best accountant in the universe), managing cash flow, dealing with inevitable personnel conflicts, working with advertising and PR people, IT headaches, etc. It's just basic stuff that has to be done.  As great as the vendors are, there is still a lot of communication that has to go on and it takes time; time I'm not on the sales floor working with customers.

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start and outdoor shop?

Go into it with both eyes open.  The idea of an outdoor shop is sometimes better than the actual one.  It's not a dream job; it's a lot like work. You better have a business plan that takes into account the stuff that can hit the fan. If you want to do a one-person shop, be prepared to live there.  If you want to hire employees, you're still going to be living there.  Your shop is represented by your worst person on their worst day.  Hire slowly, fire quickly. Hire nice people and teach them what you want them to know, rather than hiring knowledgeable people and trying to teach them to be nice.

For every dollar that comes in the front door, most of it goes out the back door.  Get a great accountant.  Only work with local banks.  They care about your business. If you want to work with a big bank, be prepared for dealing with three tiers of suits and reams of paperwork.  Local is the way to go.

As far as competition goes, be friendly with them if they're honorable people.  Most of them are.  If they're not, stay out of their way, they'll self-destruct on their own and you don't want to be around when the bomb goes off.  And while they're imploding, they send you a lot of upset customers into your open arms.

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

How much non-paddling stuff there is to do.  How much planning goes into running a successful business.  It may look free and easy, but rest assured it's not.  They might be surprised at number of entrepreneurial businesses and the number of companies still run by their founders. There's a lot of private equity in this industry which makes a difference in how decisions are made.  I have no shareholders but me, so if I want to make a long-term decision that may not pay off this year, I can do it and my shareholders won't squawk about their ROI this quarter.

6) What was the coolest thing you remember finding when you were a kid out exploring?

It's funny you should ask that question...I was always interested in the little things in nature.  I'd be on a backpacking trip in the Sierras and while a lot of folks were taking in the view (spectacular), I was often snooping around little streams and bogs and outcroppings. They'd see a mountain, but I'd find a salamander or wildflower or edible wild plant. I remember one trip where people were sick of mac and cheese with spam cubes.  I had wild onion soup with mountain sorel.  I loved Euell Gibbons.

To this day, while the birders look up at the trees, I'm turning over logs and finding the little beautiful things.  I like birds and such, but I'd rather watch a dragonfly emerge than watch any bird do anything.

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

Normal isn't. Paint your own picture and live in it.  Being smart doesn't mean you're wise. Being kind is more important than anything else.  If someone makes fun of you for doing something, there's a 100% chance they're jealous of you and don't have the courage to do it.  Don't go to graduate school.  Become an EMT instead, it will help more people.

Photo Credits: Darren Bush

Published in People

Michael Pardy has been active in the paddling industry for the past 24 years. Based our of Victoria, BC he is a sea kayak instructor, guide, author as well as co-owner of SKILS, a guiding and paddling skills development school that operates across Canada. Michael is also very active in the politics of paddling serving on the Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Program Development Committee as well as the past-president of the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC.

1) How long have you been in business and what got you started?
I started at camp when I was 12 years old.  At the time, I was living outside Canada with my family.  My parents recognized that I had very little contact with Canadian culture and they agreed that my transition back to Canada would be aided by some quality time at a children’s camp in Ontario.  That was over 30 years ago.  Since then I have transitioned from camping to canoeing, through white water paddling and out to the west coast where I took up sea kayaking.  Along the way I have worked as a junior leader, guide, sales associate, instructor and many other roles to keep at least one foot in the paddling industry. Currently, I run SKILS, a paddling and leadership training business based on Vancouver Island.

My passion for paddling grew through my years at camp.  The summer I was 14 our counsellor took us on an extended canoe trip that included some white water on the Madawaska River.  This is my earliest memory of a deep passion for paddling.  The trip had its challenges; we ripped the nose off one boat and I had to be evacuated for a deep cut to my forearm.  Still, I was hooked.  I moved back to Canada when I was 15 and started at Rideau High School in Ottawa.  Rideau had an Outing Club and they offered regular white water canoe trips.  Those teachers were enthusiastic, patient, and dedicated.  They kept my passion for paddling alive through my teens and into my early adulthood.

Michael Pardy avoiding rocks.

2) What’s the best part of your job?
The people.  I love the variety and quality of people I come across in this work.  With very few exceptions, I find paddlers warm, caring, and engaging.  Paddlers come in all shapes and sizes, male and female, young and older, and from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  There aren’t many jobs that allow you to meet this many people.  Their diversity of experience, knowledge, and opinion helps keep my mind fresh and open.  It took me a while to realise the importance of other people in my passion.  I love paddling, but importantly, I love paddling with people.  I have done some solo trips over the years, but I now know this is not enough.  I work with my friends and form strong relationships with students.  I get to travel, have adventures, and learn.  All because of the people in and around the paddling community.

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
The hustle.  There is no “profession” of paddling.  In order to stay in the industry and on the water, I have to look for new and novel ways to apply my skills.  Over the years, I have worn many hats in aid of my passion. I’ve worked retail, packed trips, fixed boats, answered phones, worked for others and myself.  This meant seasonal work, frequent travel, and interrupted relationships.  Because I didn’t know where the next pay cheque was coming from, I said yes to almost everything.  This was fun, especially when I was young but it’s hard on the people around you.  I have an amazing and patient wife and son who tolerated some of my long absences from home.  I guess the benefit is that when I am home, I am really present.  Using the excuse of outdoor adventure, we’re able to travel to some exciting places.

Michael Pardy walking along the beach. Photo credit: Bryan Debou

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

  • Start small, work hard, and do every job.
  • Figure out why your company and trips are different then promote that difference like crazy.
 
5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
How much work it actually is!  Folks are always telling me how great it must be to paddle regularly and isn’t it nice to spend so much time outside.  All that is true and I do recognize that my work life has many rewards besides.  But all that comes at a cost.  I have always worked long hours.  It’s a small business after all and all the small business stuff needs to get done.  Insurance, legal, advertising and marketing, financials, staff management etc, they all need to be dialled to pull this off successfully. Once the main paddling season hits, there is very little time to develop sophisticated solutions and systems.  All that work must be done in advance.  I promote fun; I don’t want the serious, business side to leak over and contaminate the fun we have on the water.  This means being very organized and ahead of the game, something I find very hard to maintain through the season.
 

6) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
Think outside the box.  At 18, I described my professional self as a guide and paddler.  This was true, but not very original.  I was (and continue to be) an educator, facilitator, leader, problem solver, entrepreneur, program developer, logistics manager and many descriptors besides.  With hindsight I realize paddling is an amazing training ground for many skills.  These skills are in demand in many fields.  Look for the crossovers to related fields.  It’s on the edges of the sport that many interesting and unique opportunities reside.

Top and bottom photo credits: Bryan Debou

Published in People

Simon Willis is the producer of the multi award winning Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown coaching films and the man behind SeaKayakPodcasts.com.  After years as a BBC reporter on TV and radio Simon started his business, Sunart Media. It produces videos for a variety of business clients and broadcast productions.

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

I worked for the BBC in News and Current Affairs for twenty-five years before I started Sunart Media in 2009.  Previously in TV, most people specialized in one particular role, whereas I tackled a range of jobs; presenting live TV and radio shows, reporting, producing other reporters and directing documentaries. Journalism was always the common theme.  I even had a parallel career travel writing and taking photos for specialist magazines and The Sunday Times.    

Nowadays it’s essential to be multi-skilled.  When TV cameras and computer-based editing became simple, I loved the freedom to plan, shoot and edit my own work.  The BBC was happy too, and for a year I had an open brief to bring stories to the screen.  The logical step was to take voluntary redundancy and use the skills to produce content for my own business.

Simon Willis with Gordon Brown

2) What’s the best part of your job?

The best part is that wonderful, special moment when I know what’s going into my camera is absolutely stunning.  As a reporter I’ve had it during interviews, when the guest drops their guard and answers from the heart.  Most recently, it happened during filming for Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown Volume 2 when Gordon started the swim-ashore sequence.  I simply couldn’t wait to play it back and check that I captured it all.

Running that feeling a close second are those times when I’m in Scotland’s mountains, shooting for The Adventure Show on BBC-2.  I’ll look around the peaks and think, “This is where I work... what a lucky bloke I am!”  I was a mountaineer and cyclist long before I was a climber, and once even considered a career as a guide.  All these years later to find myself earning part of my living in the great outdoors is fantastic.

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

Making money!  If Gordon Brown and I charged ourselves our normal hourly rate for filming I’m fairly sure our films would make a loss.  They are a great ‘shop-window’ for his kayak coaching business Skyak Adventures and Sunart Media but they make a lot of demands on our families, especially Gordon’s wife Morag who is heavily involved in the filming.  The real reason we all do them is for the love of this sport.

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own video production company?

Be born to rich parents.  I’m only half joking, as for the first few years you’ll probably work virtually for free.  I was always told, “Knock on lots of doors and when one opens, jam your foot in it”.  Get a camera and use it a lot to work out what you’re doing right and wrong.  Find people whose work you like and try anything (almost!) to hang out with them in a professional capacity.  They won’t pay you but they’ll love giving you advice.  And all the time, the culture of the crazy media industry will start to seep into you.  Looking forward it looks like a maze, but looking back you can always see a path.

Simon Willis filming in a double kayak.

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

How little most people in broadcast TV now earn.  Big stars command big bucks, but a recent survey by an industry magazine found the average annual pay for an experienced TV director in the UK is £36,693 (about $58k).  That’s a less in actual terms (not just real terms) than twenty years ago.

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

Don’t get married.  Twice.  Wait until you meet a woman called Liz while climbing in Alaska... Oh sorry, you mean for work?  Well, at eighteen I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do but was having such a good time, I didn’t really care and probably wouldn’t listen to a balding fifty year old.  By then I’d adopted a philosophy I’ve clung to throughout life, although perhaps that sounds pompous, when really it’s a simple approach: before making a big decision, get all the facts, take time, walk up to the edge of the decision-cliff and pause; then when you step off you will have made the decision that’s right at that time.  You can never, ever have regrets because you know you made the right choice.  Oh, but it doesn’t work with weddings...

Published in People

Bryan Hansel is a busy guy working in the outdoor industry. He is a professional photographer and kayak guide living in the small, quirky tourist town of Grand Marais, Minnesota which is on the northshore of Lake Superior. He tells the world about his adventures by writing for several outdoor magazines and through his blog, paddlinglight.com.

After guiding for several years, this year he decided to start North Shore Expeditions which offers both day tours and multi-day kayak trips on Lake Superior.

1) How long have you been in business and what got you started?
I've been working as a pro photog for about eight years now. I learned photography in high school in the late 80s and decided that it would be worthwhile to turn a hobby into a job when I moved to Grand Marais.

North Shore Expeditions is a new company that grows out of the private guiding and instruction that I do. I decided that I wanted a fleet of kayaks to get more people on the water, so I turned it into its own company. I've been guiding and instructing kayaking since 2006. Back then I was looking for a fun summer job to get out and meet a bunch of people. I loved it so much that I decided that I wanted to make it a career choice.

Basically, I live in a typical, small, tourist town with limited opportunities for meaningful employment and most of the available jobs have low wages. In order to make anything close to what I made in the corporate sporting goods world, I have to piece together income by wearing a bunch of different hats. Plus I moved here, so I could do what I love doing.

2) What’s the best part of your job?
I love teaching photography workshops and kayaking, and introducing people to the outdoors. Seeing a smile on someone's face after they realize that they just made a great photo or after they learn their first rescue makes it all worth it. I remember one student who struggled with a self rescue. She almost gave up, but with a little gentle encouragement, she pulled through, got the rescue and when we got onshore gave me a big hug and told me how happy and strong she felt that she could do the rescue. I still get warm and fuzzy inside when I think about it.

Plus, I get to be in the outdoors, doing what I'm passionate about. It's "living the dream."

Night Photography. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

3) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
People think that being a photographer or a guide is a glamorous job, but when you're running a small business all the business stuff consumes more time that the photography or guiding. I personally spend more time on marketing than anything else. I wouldn't call it difficult, but it's definitely work.

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own guiding/photography company?
Think twice about it. If you're turning a hobby into a business, you may find that you ruin your hobby. For example, I love to write as a hobby and I went to college to learn how to write at one of the best writing schools in the U.S., and even though I freelance to various magazines the entire process of submitting drags me down and subtracts from my enjoyment, so I usually channel that creative energy into my blogs where it's more enjoyable for me. I wouldn't want to make all my income from writing because it'd wear me out quickly. It's better for me as a hobby. I have friends that have tried to make it as photographers and guides and many of them burn out after a year. It's more work than you think, and you need to approach it with a business sense instead of as a hobby.

The other tip is to build a strong business background either through classes or experience before jumping in. You need to know how to build a business plan, act on the plan to achieve goals and revise it when it's not working. If you're going to be successful, you can't just wing it and hope things turn out. That can work, but you usually end up wasting a bunch of money and time in the process.

Kayaks and Tent. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

5) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
The cost of gear and the training you have to get. To calculate the cost to take one fine art landscape shot, I have to add up the cost of all my gear to make it: a $3000 camera, $2000 lens, memory cards, batteries, hard drives, computer system, computer programs, classes I've taken, etc.

After adding up everything, the print that I sell for $50, cost me $10,000 to make. For guiding, I have spent over $1,500 to get and update my Wilderness First Responder cert and ACA kayaking certs.

6) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
I was 18 in 1989, so I'd tell myself, "Don't wear a white tux and pink cummerbund to your senior prom and cut the mullet!"

Photo Credits: bryanhansel.com

Published in People

I Want Your Outdoor Job is a new series I have started that finds people in the outdoor industry who are making a living doing exactly what they love to do, and asks them how they did it.

First out of the gate are friends of the site, Fiona Westner-Ramsay and Mike Ramsay, owners of Badger Paddles based out of Huntsville, Ontario.

When not working on their canoe paddles, Fiona and Mike are the primary caregivers for their autistic son, Makobe and actively work on autism awareness in Ontario.

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

Fiona: Mike and I met over 10 years ago while working at the Toronto Sportsman Show in the Swift Canoe booth. Mike was working for Swift and I was the guest paddle painting artist. We married a few years later. We always had a dream to work in the outdoor industry and own our own business. With my father (a.k.a. Poppa Badger) being a wood worker and finisher as well as inherited owner of the family business, Badger & Son (he was the grandson), we naturally spent time around his shop learning the ropes, working with wood, mostly fine furniture. My parents were avid canoeists, as are Mike and I, and it was just a natural progression for us to take our passion for working with wood and mix it with our passion for paddling. When my dad retired and shut down his business, everything just fell into place and we decided to carry on the Badger family name for a 4th generation. Sharing a shop with a friend in the beginning and only working on weekends, we started Badger® Paddles in Spring 2009 and have never looked back since.

Mike: We have been in business about 3 years now. It was just always something I wanted to do. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I still wanted to do it. We are at it full time now and I couldn't be happier.

Fiona Westner-Ramsay of Badger Paddles.

2) What’s the best part of your job?

Fiona: One of the best parts of my job is when you put a coat of finish on a paddle and with each coat; you see the depth and the beauty of the wood truly come to life. It's almost mesmerizing at times especially when you work on a birdseye, quilted, curly or burled wood and the grain looks 3-dimensional. You can get visually lost in it.

I also really like the conversations with the customers and people we interact with in the industry, on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. It's so much fun!

Mike: Test paddling! Being able to make things with my hands that people will actually use and enjoy and is made from local natural resources is fantastic. It’s also a great excuse to fill the shop with tools.

Mike Ramsay of Badger Paddles.

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

Fiona: We don't really ever get away from our work because we mostly work from home - even when we go paddling we have Badger with us now!

Mike: One of the most difficult aspects is the production planning. Having everything timed right from the kiln to the expected shipping date.

4) What are two tips you can give to somebody looking to start their own paddle making company?

Mike: I would have to say that if you are trying to start any company, make sure you have a business plan but talk to other paddle makers first. They are a great group of people and are always happy to talk trade with a passionate wood worker and fellow paddler. Also, keep your fingers out of the saw.

Fiona: I like what Mike said. Definitely contact other paddle makers and make a connection. We count a number of paddle makers as friends. You also have to decide if you are going to do it all by hand or use machines. And make paddles for friends and family and get their feed back before you go out there with your product. When we walked into one store when we first started - the guy took one look at our paddles and let out a big sigh of relief. He then told us that they get people in trying to sell paddles all the time and when they show up with their goods - they are wonky and not consistent enough to sell in a store.

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

Mike:  I think people would be amazed at how many steps there are in the process and the number of times that a piece of wood is handled before it's a finished paddle, ready for dipping in the water for the first time.

Fiona: I think people would be surprised at how difficult it can be sometimes, when you get a really nicely grained paddle that is light in weight, to hand it over to someone else and not ever get to use it yourself!

Photo Credits: Badger Paddles

Published in Industry Stuff

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