By: Daniel P. Meuninck (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From Florida to Alaska: Training to be a Sea Kayak Guide
I was used to living around mountains. Splash Mountain is my personal favorite. Big Thunder Mountain is considered a classic. And of course, Space Mountain is most people’s favorite to summit. I even went on an expedition up Everest a number of times. No big deal. But to say the landscape of my former residence of Orlando, Florida is vastly different from the views over Resurrection Bay would be more than an understatement. I mean shoot, the largest “hill” on a recent marathon I ran was the exit ramp at Disney World. Compare that marathon to the 5k race up Mount Marathon in Seward and I’m not sure which would be the bigger challenge.
From Florida to Alaska
But here I am. From Florida to Alaska for a summer adventure as a sea kayak guide at Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking. I like challenges and enjoy challenging myself and this job definitely provides both. Many of my friends said they were envious of me for getting paid to have a vacation. And while yes, I love what I am doing, this is definitely not a vacation. Not to say it isn’t fun, but to say wilderness guides are just on a pleasure cruise does a disservice to everything they do, train for, and provide for the guests they interact with on a daily basis. Personally, I came in with some training. All guides at Sunny Cove need to have their Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. While the remoteness of our trips is a huge draw for people, it also means you are far from help if something goes amiss and the WFR is a prerequisite for any aspiring guides. As an alum of the National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Alaska Outdoor Educator course, I also knew what to expect in regards to the climate of the temperate rain forest that surrounds, but that doesn’t necessarily make the cold rainy days any easier.
So what does it take to be a sea kayak guide?
A passion for the outdoors? Absolutely! But so much more. Guides are interpreters of everything a guest sees along their journey. One may paddle near shore and see a simple rock sticking out of the water. But I see the effect of tectonic plates smashing together forming a drowning mountain being sunk in a bay carved out by massive glaciers that have retreated over time and that’s just the cliff notes version of the story. A guide is trained to invite their guests into that story. Guides are educators; and not just of simple paddling technique, but of local history, geology, and ecosystems. Sure, a large part of training is to make sure guests are safe on the water which includes reading weather patterns and tides and teaching the essentials of paddling a kayak, but the real meat of training a sea kayak guide is helping that guide become an expert story teller on the water. It can be easy to take people from point A to point B, but where is the joy in that when there are a million stories all around just waiting to be told to compliment the journey.
Mental fortitude is also a must! As great as this job can be, there are days where the rain doesn’t end and the warm weather seems as far away as the Florida sunshine. But throughout my training, I have learned to navigate these challenges. A three day kayak camping expedition led our training crew to witness a number of bald eagles, sea otters, harbor seals, and Stellar sea lions culminating with a pod of orcas and a breaching humpback whale. Those days definitely make it easier to deal with the elements. And while the formal part of training may have concluded, my learning continues as a sea kayak guide never truly leaves training. There is always something new to learn. For me that could include bomb proofing my roll or delving into the history of the native culture. Either way, I am excited to start telling my story and the story of all that surrounds me in this beautiful place called Alaska.