Staff Spotlight: Simon Sexton

Simon Sexton

The Value of Summer Camps

Many paddlers find their way to working in the outdoor industry in an organic manner. Rarely is it simply responding to a job post. Frequently, it’s either a mentor or an adventure trip that points them towards outdoor work.

For Simon Sexton, that inspiration came in the form of a summer camp.

One of our own summer camps, in fact.

Camps work best when they inspire confidence, and Simon is a wonderful example of this phenomenon. As a younger teen, he was afraid of the water, but after he attended our summer camp, he fell in love with kayaking.

Unfortunately, camp can’t last forever—don’t we wish it did?—but Simon continued kayaking on his own around Saxapahaw.

When he turned 16, he was able to drive, and this newfound freedom pointed him back towards the river. Now that he could get to the river on his own, it was time to work there.

Hard Work on the Haw River

Simon considers himself a jack-of-all trades at The Haw River Canoe and Kayak Co. On any busy weekend, you’re apt to find him moving boats, checking in and outfitting guests, or being stationed at Saxapahaw Lake for our popular self-guided trips.

Though a capable paddler, Simon is still too young to guide—our guides must be at least 21—and jokingly calls the age restriction a “terrible rule in [his] opinion.” Luckily, restrictions cannot tamp down his enthusiasm, as he still happily assists with guided trips and provides ancillary support.

One of his favorite jobs is to be stationed at Saxapahaw Lake to greet and orient our guests before they put on the water. Lake duty allows him to stay outside rather than stuck in the outpost building; he can hang out by the water and chat with guests and other private boaters, who will sometimes offer him a chance to try out a new boat or paddle.

Being staff at an outfitter helped him to “realize that going outside didn’t have to be something that [he] couldn’t get anything out of. . .it’s not just for fun.” Working with our guests helped him see the value in outdoor recreation jobs, and that it could be a “fundamental part of [his] life.”

A Life on the Water

Simon has lived in central North Carolina for about 13 years, and he paddles the local rivers and lakes whenever he can. He has also traveled to other Southeastern hotspots, including the Whitewater Center in Charlotte and the Nantahala River, which he considers his favorite run in western North Carolina. He calls the Ocoee River “above [his] paygrade,” but we fully expect to see him braving Grumpy’s sometime in the future.

For those interested in learning to paddle, Simon suggests buying a used boat and not worrying “too much about your gear.” Perhaps because he once feared the water, Simon likes to reassure hesitant paddlers that the “worst case scenario is you flip over, the water’s cold, but you get back to shore.” He has found that the people who “are the most nervous always have the greatest time,” and encourages anyone who is considering the sport to get out there and try it.

An Open Future

Simon is currently a senior at the Carolina Friends School. He will be working part-time for us this summer, but come fall, he’ll be attending Middlebury College in Vermont. Though he has interests in biology and philosophy, he wants to explore his options before picking a major.

As a self-professed “loud guy,” Simon will likely surprise Middlebury students with his fondness for the woods and his willingness to be quiet, sit alone, and meditate. Right now, he’s just happy about “being in the mountains in Vermont” and hopes to do a lot of paddling.

We’d expect nothing less.