Jeff Atkins, co-founder of Wave Paddler, is a leading world-class sea-kayaking Instructor, with several certifications from the American Canoe Association. However, his certifications, and the prestigious Excellence in Instruction Award that he has won, are not enough to paint the whole picture regarding his personality, his skills, and his unique way of making you fall in love with sea kayaking. You must experience a course, or an organized tour with him to realize how important it is to have a person like Jeff by your side as you explore the magical world of sea-kayaking.
SEGT: Jeff, how and when did you start kayaking and what prompted you to take up the sport professionally?
Jeff Atkins: I started sea kayaking in the late 2000’s. I had previously been a focused-on kayak fishing. Over time, I determined that I enjoyed the paddle to the destination more than the actual fishing. Once I decided to get a kayak that was focused on the journey, I never looked back. I wanted to improve my skills, so I decided to take lessons. I personally learn the skills better when I have to teach it to others, so I became an instructor. My professional background as a park ranger made this a natural transition, so I loved it and decided to make it a career.
SEGT: Do you think that the activity of sea-kayaking can significantly change a person’s life for the better, and in what way?
Jeff Atkins: I believe that sea-kayaking improves the quality of life of a person on many ways. First, you are outside and breathing fresh air. Proper physical exercise is good for all of us. We become connected with nature, so we learn from it and we appreciate it more. I feel it makes us more resilient because we don’t always have perfect trips and have to adapt to the situation and overcome obstacles. We get to see beautiful places that many other people cannot access, because we have a vessel to take us there that other vessels cannot. Finally, I feel that it bonds us with others when we are on the water. While on an adventure into the wilderness, we quickly learn that Nature does not discriminate. It treats everyone the same. We are rewarded and punished equally for our decisions we make. Therefore, we function best as a community.
“Usually, once I can get someone on an expedition and they can see a sunrise or sunset in a remote place they could only get to by kayak, then they are addicted!”
SEGT: Can you describe in a few words what the American Canoe Association stands for, and what its certified instructors have to offer to people interested in sea kayaking?
Jeff Atkins: The ACA is a community of paddlers that is invested in the paddling community and the environment. We share our experiences with each other to make better paddlers and a better planet to paddle in. We are constantly evolving because we learn from each other. We set our educational curriculum based on an agreed upon industry standard to help others enjoy the sport and stay safe while doing it. We also, want people to enjoy it. If they do not enjoy it, then they will stop paddling and it will become irrelevant.
SEGT: What are the biggest challenges an instructor may face during a course or an organized tour?
Jeff Atkins: Often participants show up with a variety of skills, so we have to create a program that suites all parties, while keeping it interesting for the participants, everyone wants to be challenged and have fun.
SEGT: What are, in your opinion, the 3 most important personality traits or skills that a sea-kayaking instructor should have?
Jeff Atkins: 1. Adaptability – being able to create a variety of experiences for everyone on the course. Also, working with the venue provided to you, because the conditions and weather may create a challenge to your original plan. 2. Integrity – You should really want to help people enjoy paddling, not just have this big title as “Instructor/Coach” This means you work with individuals to help them be the best paddlers they can be, while enjoying the sport. 3. Inspirational – This sport is recreation above all. Some have aspirations to be racers, but mostly, people want to do this for self-fulfillment. We don’t want to make people miserable by telling them they are continuously doing something wrong. We want to offer suggestions on how to possibly be better, if they want to hear it.
SEGT: How is sea-kayaking in USA perceived by the people?
Jeff Atkins: It is very region specific. In the Southeast, it is predominantly touring in nature, with adventure being based around surfing and rough water play. In the areas where there are rocky coastlines, people love Rock Gardening. Overall, we travel and explore different regions.
SEGT: Which tours are more preferred by your customers, daily or multi-day tours?
Jeff Atkins: Typically, we offer weekend courses, where customers travel to a destination, rent a house together to split costs, and take day trips to destinations, and/or perform training exercises along the way. There is a small group that prefer overnight trips while camping. (Those are my favorite). Usually, once I can get someone on an expedition and they can see a sunrise or sunset in a remote place they could only get to by kayak, then they are addicted!
SEGT: Jeff, thank you. We look forward to seeing you again soon in Greece and Cyprus for some time in the water! One final question: what has been your most beautiful or memorable kayaking experience to date?
Jeff Atkins: Wow, that is a tough question! I am fortunate to have had so many for so many different reasons, but here is one.
I was co-leading an expedition for the Outward Bound School along the Outerbanks of North Carolina. The participants were all students ages 16-18. The trip was 2 weeks. During this time, the students bonded and grew to love the sport after never having kayaked or camped before. The students lived in various parts of the USA, but had attended this course as leadership development opportunity. Several years later, I received an email from members of the group who had reunited at a location. They sent me a picture of them all together and said how much they had enjoyed the expedition and how it changed their lives. That was an amazing trip!