I’ve been teaching kiteboarding for [over] eight years – since 2007.
I was always into extreme sports, I used to snowboard, skateboard, motor cross, and skydive, all of them pretty much, and when I found kiteboarding, I just fell in love with the sport and that kind of triggered me. I was in Toronto, where I’m from, and then when I got into kiteboarding, the year before, I vacationed in Miami and said: “One day I want to live here”. With that, combined with getting into the kiteboarding, I just quit my job, got in my car and pretty much drove to South Beach.
How did you make this transition?
To be a kiteboarding instructor, they have what’s called an IKO course, which stands for International Kiteboarding Organisation, so I got into the kiteboarding and I was at a level where you’re comfortable riding and a level that you need to be at to be able to teach, which is IKO level 3. Essentially you can ride, stay upwind, transition, jump, which didn’t take very long because of my previous board sports experience. Then I moved to Miami and took the course to become an instructor there. As soon as I completed the course, I flew to St Kitts and I started checking the conditions, to make sure it was good for teaching, and safe and started tracking the wind, and the guy I did the course with, he really liked me and he hired me to work for him at Miami Kiteboarding.
Was working in St Kitts always your goal? How did you end up there?
Yes, I chose an island where there wasn’t really any kiteboarding. I heard of St Kitts, it was a really beautiful place, and I kind of came here and fell in love with it. As soon as I got into the kiteboarding, my plan was to eventually learn the business with a couple of different schools, as I did, and get some experience and figure out how it worked. My plan was always to be an entrepreneur, have my own business and work for myself.
After I got into the kiteboarding, I started getting some people that would ask for surfing lessons. I surf myself but I don’t really teach it, that’s one of the only things actually out of all the activities that I don’t teach, but I hire people that teach kiteboarding, so I made an easy transition to hiring someone that also taught surfing and I started a surf school with him…then paddle boarding started getting popular, so I saved some money and bought a couple of paddle boards, and then I got into flyboarding, which I saw online on a YouTube video.
So once I got into that, I really got it first off the production line and basically, that started taking off really well and I opened up another company in St Thomas to start another water sports business. Then I broke my ankle so I ended up selling the business to my business partner and stuck with the St Kitts one and slowly kept adding more things. I took over another guy’s business…and this way I had a full control over all the water sports at the Reggae Beach Bar, which is where we’re located. I bought a sailing boat, kayaks, glass bottom kayaks – I just keep buying any new activity that comes out, and if somebody asks for something that we don’t have, I do some research and then go buy it if I think it’s going to make money and provide people with a better experience.
Do you do guiding along the way, with the kayaks?
People are always asking about the island, questions about differing things. A lot of people are intrigued with my own personal life, I feel the route usually goes that way because they see somebody from a big city like Toronto, that’s 3,000 miles or more away, and they’re really intrigued with my story about how I got my business started. Then we have shipwrecks that we pass by on our jet ski snorkel tours, people are asking stuff about the island. St Kitts is really nice because we have monkeys on the island as well, so we talk about that to people, what kind of monkeys they are, and stuff like that, whatever people ask questions about. Usually, I have the answers, if not I figure it out or Google them for the next people.
How many shipwrecks do you have?
We have one cool one that we do for our jet ski snorkel tour, which is where we take people on jet skis from our bay and we drive to the Caribbean side so they get some jet skiing in, it’s really nice and scenic as well and we pull up right in front of a shipwreck, and then that’s where we explain about that. It was a boat from Montreal, and the people docked up there and the winds kind of shifted direction and pushed them onto shore, and actually, one of the waiters from Reggae Beach, which is where we’re located, happened to see them climbing through the bushes and onto the road, and picked them up. That happened about five years ago.
There’s also a lot of history too, the French and British fought over St Kitts for many years in the 1700s; it was founded by Christopher Columbus originally. Its biggest trade was sugar for the longest time and it kind of just got out of the sugar trade industry and made it more for tourism.
Having fun. It’s really living, at least, my dream, as much as I could imagine it being. So people come and sign up for different tours and different activities, and I come and say “Hi” and introduce myself and we take them out on different activities. I also have people that work for me that take people out for different activities. We just kind of have fun with it, make sure everyone has a really good experience.
Most of the tours start at 10am and we’re usually closing up by 4.30pm or 5pm, it depends on if we have bookings for later things. We also have night kayaking tours that start at 7pm until 9pm and paddle board tours, so sometimes we finish at the beach and head back out for more for the night stuff.
What’s the best part of your job?
I like that I’m always meeting new people every day, it’s never the same thing, plus you’ll never find people so happy after doing these experiences with us. We get a lot of people from different places that don’t even see the ocean or anything like that and they get onto one of these glass bottom kayaks and see all the fish or onto the jet skis and we take them around the bays and go jet skiing with them, or teach them something like flyboarding. It’s something they’ve never tried and you’re essentially levitating on the water, so these people are just ecstatic to be able to have an experience like this, and to be able to provide these people with this kind of enjoyment is just so rewarding. And then on top of that for them to take extra time to go out and write a review for you on TripAdvisor or something like that, or to see all their pictures. A lot of these people, I become friends with them on Facebook, and I always see shortly after it’s a profile picture of them flyboarding or them on the kayak tour or something, which is an experience they had with me and my company and that’s extremely rewarding and definitely the best part.
Do people need to have done water sports before, or even be able to swim?
Actually not even that, we provide life vests and everything for everybody. We actually just took out a family from India, they were here vacationing and they didn’t know how to swim, and we took them on a jet ski snorkel tour. I was talking to my guide, and said, “It was great for them to be able to have the courage to go out and attempt something like that without even swimming”. They got out of their comfort zone, which is something, again, when you can take somebody out of their normal comfort zone for doing something like that, that’s when you really feel the extreme joy that these people have and are so thankful that you made them feel comfortable enough to do something like that without even knowing how to swim. So again that is really the best joy of it for us when we get to do that kind of stuff with people. But you don’t really need any prerequisites for any of the activities, we teach beginners all the time, it’s mostly beginners, in fact.
I find a lot of times the guys that work out and go to the gym, that are super muscular, they try and learn kiteboarding and they’re usually the hardest people to teach because they don’t listen and they try and use their muscles instead of listening to the instructor, and they get flown up onto the beach sometimes.
I actually had these two kids from Harvard that did a dual lesson, so they were basically sharing a three hour lesson. They didn’t have any other water sports experience or even snowboarding and they came out to try kiteboarding and I swear, these people listened, they never made the same mistake and I’m thinking “No wonder you guys got into Harvard”. I’ve never met two people that listened so well, and literally within the three hour lesson, they were both getting up and riding and staying upwind, which was unbelievable for anyone to do, especially sharing a three hour lesson. They were really smart kids and unbelievable that as soon as I said something, they never made the mistake again of doing it wrong and they progressed super quickly.
Are there any conditions you don’t teach or guide in, and why?
If it’s over 25 knots, we won’t teach kiteboarding and that’s when I’m very excited to go out and go kiteboarding myself. One time, we made it on the Florida news: we went kiteboarding during Hurricane Noel, so it was blowing like 40, 50 knots of wind. A girl that I was talking to actually saw us on the news and she said “Yeah I just saw, they were saying they flew over and they were like ‘Three crazy kiteboarders are out flying in these crazy wind conditions’,” and sure enough, she recognised our kites and knew it was us. I mean, we were jumping about 50, 60 feet in the air, it was unbelievable.
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?
The biggest thing that I don’t like is, because we rely heavily on jet skis for a lot of our tours and adventures, sometimes jet skis break, and you could have about four or six of them working and then you try and start them the next day and three of them aren’t working, so that’s very frustrating. It’s not often, but people have booked some jet ski snorkel tours, some flyboarding which uses the jet ski, and unfortunately the jet ski would go down and these kids were really looking forward to it as the highlight of their vacation, and it’s really sad to have to tell people “I’m sorry, unfortunately, it’s a machine, sometimes they break”.
Most people are usually really understanding about it, I guess just like anything, your car breaks down sometimes, so that’s kind of the worst part that I really don’t like. Obviously, we have a full time mechanic and we maintain them to the best that we can, but sometimes things just break and one of the challenging parts is, when I need something, it’s not like I can just go to a Home Depot, we’ve got to order parts and ship them in so we can have them down for a little bit of time, that’s definitely the worst part of my job…If something like that does happen, we always try and give them complimentary snorkelling or paddle boarding to soften the blow, or even offer to pay for their taxi, things like that.
Can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide, or a water sports teacher, are?
Flyboarding, kiteboarding or even sailing – essentially you really couldn’t go out and learn on your own without killing yourself or really hurting yourself. A lot of the activities we teach are really extreme activities, for you just to buy the equipment and try on your own, it’s extremely dangerous and not only that, it’s going to take you so much longer to progress. I’ve travelled quite a bit myself and worked with kiteboarding instructors all over the world, and a lot of the time, people don’t even know because they’re learning something for the first time, but even I see instructors teaching things wrong which is kind of sad. Again, a lot of these activities are very high risk, you can’t just take a paraglider and jump off a cliff on your own, you definitely need lessons and a guide.
And not only that, the experience that you get, when people talk to me and hear my story, how I ended up on an island from North America, that really makes their experience. I’ve had many many people so inspired about things that I’ve done and in fact, I’ve inspired four or five people to start their own flyboarding business because they’ve come and talked to me and asked me questions and they end up doing it themselves. For somebody to quit their job and try and do a business because they were so inspired when they met me, that’s why it’s great to have a guide. Not that everyone obviously has to start their own water sports company, but the experience that you get from that, how would you get that without a guide?