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.
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.
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.
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