Staff Spotlight: Jerry Yang

You might think of Jerry Yang as our resident vagabond. Happily living full-time out of his SUV, Jerry has arranged his life to be able to paddle, travel, and work various jobs in the outdoor industry.

His story is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau’s advice: “As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.”

It’s a tale familiar to many who get addicted to kayaking and outdoor adventure.

Living simply allows Jerry to focus on what outdoor industry jobs promise: connecting people to nature.

Drifting into Our Eddy

Serendipity counts for so much in the outdoor industry. For Jerry, it was a chance encounter with others paddling whitewater. He’d been training for the South Orange Rescue Squad when he noticed people kayaking the Green River near Asheville. It looked like fun, and he couldn’t quit thinking about it.

Though he’d “existed in limbo” at the time Covid hit, Jerry was hungry to learn to kayak and ended up moving to Saxapahaw in 2020. His interest led him to our Operations Manager, Jake Matheny, who taught Jerry the basics of whitewater paddling and coaxed him into working for us.

Jerry quickly became a jack-of-all-trades at The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. He guides a variety of trips, runs instruction clinics, and has helped us transition into our online reservation system.

Helping Others Overcome Fear

Jerry says he “never was a really outdoorsy person growing up,” but it wasn’t difficult for him to get into outdoor sports. Once he started working at HRCK in 2020, he met many people who’d never “done anything outdoors” but wanted to broaden a life that Covid restrictions had narrowed.

Interestingly, it was the pandemic that allowed Jerry to find his talent for helping others discover nature. When he noticed that newer guests were unprepared for outdoor adventure, he realized that it can be “very intimidating for [inexperienced people] to get into the outdoors.” This realization led to his focusing on helping people face their fears and get acclimated to nature experience.

Helping others has also shaped his view of the outdoor world, as Jerry admits he “could see the healing and the peacefulness and the adventure” that outdoor recreation brings to people. These activities are a wonderful way to deal with stress and to navigate the uncertainty of pandemic living…or just living.

As many staff will tell you, connecting people to nature can affect the staff member as much as the guest. Jerry admits that, before working in the field, he saw outdoor recreation as “just another hobby,” but now he sees it as a way for “someone to grow and expand their horizons.”

The Magic of Play

While Jerry leads many of our guided trips, he really enjoys our field trips for kids. Jerry likes to watch kids get over their fears, but he also says that kids maintain a “sort of playfulness that many adults no longer have.” This playfulness is what allows them to overcome their fears.

Even if kids start out frightened of the water, they soon get into playing, switching canoes, playing canoe/kayak polo. That’s when the magic happens. Splashing around in a canoe stills the fear and becomes a memory, a point of connection that younger people can look back upon.

It’s this spirit of play and losing yourself in the experience that Jerry Yang inspires and likes to be inspired by.

Reciprocity, it seems, is an intangible benefit of the job.