The trajectory of a life can pivot on the most unlikely of invitations.
To give a college roommate a lift home from the east to the west coast of the USA, after which I moved there. To drive a friend down that west coast to the world’s second longest peninsula and tag along on some kayak trips. It was a journey that became a migratory habit, from the top of the continental US through California, into Mexico and down the vibrant strip of desert called Baja California to a new National Marine Park in the Gulf of California. From that journey, kayaking became a career.
In 1998, the year I first paddled in Baja, it was the Wild West of tourism, as self-sufficient and raw and opportunistic as the West of gunslingers and gold diggers. You negotiated for camping beaches with other guides in the grocery store before your trip or raced to beat them once on the islands. Once out there, there was no contact with the outside world, no forecasts, no rescue service, no communicating changes of plan with your pickup. Outfitting companies were many and, with few exceptions, foreign-owned and seasonal. They came down with their kayaks, gear, and guides, and left with the proceeds. They did not hire local guides in part because there were essentially no Mexican kayak guides to hire.
Organization and regulation spread slowly but eventually prompted the importation and registration of kayaks, reservation of beaches, and hiring of Mexican guides. Opportunity knocked again. The company I was working for asked me to train a batch of fishermen’s teenage sons to kayak in order to hire them as guides and comply with the new laws. They spoke no English but knew the local waters. My Spanish and my coaching skills were 2 knives that sharpened each other, coaching with few words and developing a Spanish vocabulary around paddlesports.
Another invitation to adventure came through students in my summer courses asking to be taken on Baja expeditions, and not in tandems with the no-experience-necessary company I worked for. I labored a few years to develop an adventurous sub-brand for that company which in the end decided it wasn’t interested, so after 10 years as a Baja guide, including 5 as a trainer of Baja guides, I set out on my own and established Sea Kayak Baja Mexico. That was 2007, and 15 more years have somehow slipped by since then.
I am proud to say that Sea Kayak Baja Mexico now owns over 50 imported and registered sea kayaks, and even prouder to say that we are the company we are because of 8 Mexican guides who’ve been with us for many years and helped shape who we are. Several more are in training. We also have a robust base staff of 9 skilled Mexican employees with full time, year-round pay and benefits, something unheard of two decades ago in Baja kayaking.
The crowning jewel of Sea Kayak Baja Mexico’s success is the Loreto Paddle Club (Club de Canotaje de Loreto “Nómadas”). In a rural culture where paddlesports was not a thing, we’ve built a community around it, with the vision of making paddling on the sea accessible to all who are interested, and connecting people with the natural environment, hoping to inspire a love and care for wild places and creatures. A quiet environmental revolution, one paddler at a time. One person could never achieve this alone. My focus has shifted from training guides for a job, to training paddling professionals, enthusiasts, and club leaders as coaches, and mentoring their development. Some of them will be the future trainers of Mexican guides.
Meanwhile they are giving back to the community through free club programs while developing themselves. To support them and my own development as their mentor, I have been inviting British coaches (Steve MacDonald, Dave Brown, JP Eatock), to deliver coaching courses over the past several years. In 2022, Jen Kleck from San Diego, John Carmody from Maine, Victor Leon from Ensenada Mexico, and I collaborated on the first annual Baja Guides Fest in the amazing Pacific coast rock-hopping venue where Victor and Jen regularly work, inviting Baja guides for a week of camaraderie and professional development, including Core Coach Training (in a protected bay). These courses and events have provided me with opportunity for development as well.
I will continue collaborating with British and other foreign coaches because of the significant benefit to the local community they offer (including assessment). but thanks to Paddles Up Training granting me Coach Tutor credentials, following my development process, I am now able to deliver recognized courses at a pace and schedule, in a language, and at a price, that meets the needs of the learners I’m working with. This is exactly in keeping with BCAB’s philosophy of coaching, as well as my own values.
For example, in summer 2022 I ran a 6-week leadership course in sheltered water for club enthusiasts and our newer guides. Each week we met for an evening classroom session and had one 3-hour session on the water. Throughout the week, they were to work in pairs with one guide and one club enthusiast leading two short outings for beginning club members each week. At the next evening meeting, we reviewed their outings with the lenses of the last week’s focus and presented the next. So long as they offered the club outings, there was no charge for the course. Many of the outings had a nature component to them, due to the interests of the leaders in development, some of whom worked in the national marine park (Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto). Most of the class participants continue to lead club outings, as volunteers since the club remains free. One paddler at a time, we continue the quiet environmental revolution.
After completing the course, participants could invite me to observe them leading a day’s trip and receive a formal assessment of their skills. (I have been delivering and assessing leadership for over a decade now).
I plan to run a Core and Sheltered Water Coach course this summer in the same format, though waiting on official assessment for the next foreign coach event.
Through this 25-year journey, I have learned that paddlesports can be an inspiring tool for cultural change, personal growth, social justice, environmental awareness and community building.
In the same spirit that we train paddlers for independence, I have been cultivating the company itself and its club. My end game is to turn over Sea Kayak Baja Mexico over to Mexican ownership, directed by its coaches, guides, employees and faithful volunteers, as the premier sea kayak training center in Mexico, possibly in Latin America. Aim high! Eventually I’ll paddle off into the sunset and write some books, but not before using the position I am blessed to have in the community to help get some Baja coastline set aside as a natural reserve and for public access to the sea in perpetuity.
Find out more about become a Coach Tutor…
As a Coach Award Tutor or Assessor, you will be supporting candidates through their Coach Award Training and/or Assessment. There are a range of discipline roles avaliable, full details can be found here. Applications usually open in April each year.