When it comes to paddling the canoes that founded the nation of Canada, 35-year-old Capilano University alum Dave Wooldridge wrote the book on the subject—or at least the manual.
Known as “Canada’s Lead Big Canoe Instructor Trainer,” Dave wrote the 2010 Paddle Canada manual used to train paddlers and instructors across Canada in the art of manning the “big canoe:” those voyageur and Coast Salish-style canoes—up to 50 feet in length—that were responsible for the exploration and trade that paved the way for Canada as a nation. He also created and coined the term for a special canoe stroke known as the “drop skeg,” now used internationally.
Today, Dave runs a busy canoe touring company, Ridge Wilderness Adventures, which to date has hosted 70,000 people in its big canoe courses. While the journey to success hasn’t always been smooth paddling, Dave credits his time at Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management Program (OREC) for setting him up to succeed.
A passion for paddling
Dave’s passion for paddling started early. At age 11, he was skimming across lakes and rivers at summer camp. He then began racing canoes and kayaks—even competing in the Western Canada Games—after a camp instructor asked him to join the Ridge Canoe Kayak Club race team.
At the age of 20, Dave began Capilano University’s OREC program, hoping to hone his technical skills as well as expand his network. “One thing OREC does better than anything else is their network of people,” Dave says. “Between Greig Gjerdalen, Bruce Wilson and Rick Davies, they probably know everybody [in the outdoor recreation industry].” Dave says Greig also became a mentor, willing to share both wisdom and his experience in raft guiding.
However, Dave’s journey took an unexpected turn during his first semester at Cap when his father suddenly passed away. With the support of his instructors, who he says were “unbelievable” in tailoring courses for him, he was able to stay in the program and successfully complete it.
The incident had a profound effect on his career path, Dave says. His father had been a bush pilot in his early career. When his dad struggled to make ends meet, friends told him he would never make enough money at piloting—he should go work for the city. His father took a job with the city, even though he hated it. Dave believes this was the cause of the heart attack that took his father’s life.
“When he died, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m taking that path,’” he recalls.
Do what you love
This message was reinforced by his then-girlfriend-and-now-wife who encouraged him to follow his passion. So, fresh out of the OREC program, at 23 years of age, Dave started Ridge Guiding and Instruction with a single canoe. When the opportunity appeared to buy 16 voyageur canoes, he jumped at the chance. Two years later, he formally incorporated Ridge Wilderness Adventures.
It’s no surprise, then, that Dave’s advice to students wondering about their own career path is “Figure out what you love.”
“If you didn’t have to get paid, what would you do in your spare time? Find a job that puts you there,” he says. “And, if and only if you also love the idea of creating a business, then start your own business,” Dave laughs, noting that starting a business requires a totally different skill set. “You can’t learn entrepreneurship in a classroom.”
Dave is the board chair for Paddle Canada’s Canoe Program Development Committee. He also advises the Wilderness First Aid program of the Canadian Red Cross. Later this year, he hopes to go to China to teach canoeing.
“I love making sure that other people can love getting out in canoes,” Dave says, emphasizing that his goal is to make the art of paddling a canoe—and the first aid skills that go with it—an enjoyable experience.
“We excel because we make both those things really fun.”
Submitted by Marketing & Communications