Can we just start off with a bit of background on where you grew up?
I grew up in South Africa, near Cape Town on my parent’s farm. One day when I was about 18, my sister invited me on a boat trip a few hours north from our farm, and it was great. The nature, the lifestyle, being outdoors- that was what I wanted. I was sold. I went back and the next trip I did I was trip leader. I stayed up there because I loved the lifestyle, the kayaking, meeting people, and being outdoors.
After one year and three months I went back to Cape Town, having been persuaded that I’d had enough, and I was going to start an academic course in Conservation. But after only three months I realized that it was complete waste of time and I went straight back to the river.
Do you still have this passion for nature and conservation?
Yeah, for sure. I was always conscious about the environment and I still have that kind of passion for nature, even though I have more passion for working with people than with animals now, but I am always educating people on my trips on how to build eco-friendly fires and how not to destroy beaches etc. I still love wildlife and I am always identifying birds or fish on the river. We were also into bird watching back in the South Africa and were always curious about how the birds live and how they do this and that. Knowing the nature was big part of the job.
Do you feel like you still develop your skills?
I think I am learning new things every day, especially here in Interlaken while canyoning. You can end up in a canyon where a tree or rock has fallen in and you have to do something that you have never done before. You have to think and react to the actual situation. I always say to myself and to others: “every day is a school day”.
In terms of developing actual skills of being a guide, if anything, I still learn new ways of how to deal with people and the social side of this job. The older I get the more mature I get. I understand people better and I have more patience when dealing with difficult people.
How do you cope with fear?
I run! I am a bit more conservative now than I used to be. I don’t like being in scary situations. If I am kayaking on a river which I’ve kayaked a few times before, I still have some fear, but that is a controlled fear. In my mind I know that I can do it so I just have to control my mind and calm down little bit. But if I find myself in a situation where it is actually dangerous and I am not comfortable, than I would rather get out of that situation and back away.
What has been the lowest point in your career? Did you ever want to quit?
I have quit a few times. After my first year guiding I thought I would give it another five, but then it was still so good, so I continued. After ten years I decided that it is definitely time to hang up my paddle. I went back to Cape Town and told everyone in Switzerland that I will never come back. But there was nothing better out there.
I actually think that the lowest point in my guiding career never resulted in me not knowing what I should be doing. About five years ago I had a serious knee injury which stopped me guiding for over a year. I spent a winter here in Switzerland and worked online for a magazine, but it really made me appreciate how lucky I am that I can work outdoors in summer. I love photography, videography, cooking and writing, so I could have started working in any of these fields, but I also love being outdoors and all these other jobs involve working in environments which I don’t enjoy. After taking pictures you have to spend lots of times behind the computer editing. When cooking you spending the whole day in the kitchen. Those small details put me off doing anything like that as a permanent career. I love being outdoors. Even that low point, when I was injured, was a great experience and I made the most of it.
And on the flip side, what’s been the most positive?
It is hard to say. Well, right now the highlight of my life is my son Charles for sure. But in my career, I guess rotating throughout each year between Switzerland, Nepal, Patagonia and South Africa is the highlight – Living the dream.
You travel a lot… How does it go together with your private life?
It is very tricky. It is very hard to have a relationship. If I was in relationship with anyone I would have to give up my lifestyle, unless it is someone exactly the same as me. One of the busiest times of my year is over the Christmas period so I don’t have family Christmas`s anymore. Don’t get me wrong I still go home to South Africa every year and spend at least one month with my family. And I can’t wait till when my son Charles will be a bit older and we will be able to go surfing or rafting together. But yeah, private life and working life it is a tough mix.
Is there a certain kayaker/raft guide on tour today that you see a part of yourself in? Is there a 2012 version of Stan Rickets out there somewhere?
Cuan Coetze. He is the mini me. He has the energy and the drive to travel and see cool places and go hard.
What are your plans for the upcoming winter?
I am working here in Switzerland till the end of September and then I am leading a two-week tour in Zimbabwe in October. Then Charles and Julie will come to Cape Town for holidays with me for a month or so and then I am going back to Patagonia in Chile. I bought two pieces of a land down there and I want to start building a log cabin before the work season kicks off again. Once I start to work down there it is a tough season. I lead ten trips, each trip is eight days long, so we work 80 days in a 90 day period.
Is there still something you want to achieve?
Apart from the rivers that I would still like to kayak (of which there are hundreds), I would like to own my own company one day, but not on a big scale. I would like to run some specialized tours to super nice locations for people who want to catch fish - like white water fishing on rivers where people can’t fish without rafting down. I would take Fisherman there and raft slowly down and catch the fish like that. But at the same time I am a super happy with the companies I work for. I am happy to be employed and that I don’t have to sit around and do all the planning and bookings and marketing. I would rather be guiding than managing.
What motivates you? What keeps you going in your life?
Living the dream. I know it might sound a bit odd, but it is true. Being able to work outdoors in the three top rafting destinations in the world makes me a happy person.