Remember the old days, when an employee loyalty plan sounded something like “Go clean out those coolers and y’all can eat whatever’s in them.”

We’ve come a long way since then. Or have we?

Covid and a squeaky-tight job market have flipped the balance of power in hiring, with retail and light manufacturing wages in North America increasing about 10 percent since 2020. Many outdoor guides could get a big bump this season if a federal court backs a Biden executive order setting the minimum wage for concessionaires on U.S. federal lands at $15, plus overtime.

Companies throughout the paddlesports industry are offering more benefits, perks and flexibility—in addition to more money and some intangible smoke.

Older photo of a rafting guide paddling a raft with a whitewater rafting group
“Can’t wait to get back to the bus and crush that can of chili.” | Feature photo: Rob Faubert

“Know and support their goals, enable them as best you can, treat them as people and peers,” advised industry veteran Roger Poor.

Reece Fabbro Jr., owner of The Backpackers Shop in Sheffield, Ohio, checked in with a dose of reality. Retail margins aren’t high enough to pay floor help $20 or $25 an hour, and they can’t live on less. Ouch.

Maybe that’s why paddlesports job postings now sound a lot like they did in the old days, just with better leftovers in the cooler.

Take this nugget from a kayak tour operator seeking guides: “As soon as you and your group are safely on the beach, you dig into the coolers and produce a spread fit for a king; three types of locally cured meats, multiple kinds of cheese, smoked salmon, house pickled green beans, fresh strawberries, macadamia nuts, sliced baguettes and crackers spill over the edges of the walnut slab.”

No word on who is going to pickle those green beans (you are), but guiding on Yellowstone Lake never sounded better. “You slip into the calm cold water as the cry from a loon sends shivers up your spine… you settle into your boat and shake your head in wonder, thinking to yourself, ‘I am getting paid right now!’”

But wait, there’s more! Here for your enjoyment are our top five paddlesports recruiting lines, the 2022 edition.

Best Paddlesport Industry Recruiting Lines

  1. “All recreational toys like mountain bikes, kayaks, SUPs and even horseback riding are available for free when not in use by our guests.”
  2. “The dates of employment run 5/10 to 9/15 and busy, full-season guides can gross $8k–$10k+ across the course of the season—that’s before taxes and after tips!”
  3. “Employee must be available to work all 18–20 nights of each schedule. Then you’ll have 10 to 12 days off—like having your weekends put together!”
  4. “Free glampsite housing provided!”
  5. “Better than working for your Uncle Dale driving nails back in Ohio.”

Paddling Business cover mockupThis article was first published in the 2023 issue of Paddling Business. Inside you’ll find the year’s hottest gear for canoeing, kayaking, whitewater and paddleboarding. Plus: Industry leaders on the post-pandemic landscape, 50 years of paddlesports, the rise and fall of ACK and more. READ IT NOW »

“Can’t wait to get back to the bus and crush that can of chili.” | Feature photo: Rob Faubert



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