Taming the river of life

A science teacher is redefining water sports in Qatar with an eye toward furthering the country’s Tourism Sector Strategy.

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Entalek

Company name: Entalek

Type: Kayaking tour

Owner: Steve Rhodes

Website: http://www.entalek.org/

Steve Rhodes was a science teacher for fourteen years, spending a great deal of his time in the classroom, but his love for the outdoors in general, and flowing water in particular, led him to become a full-time kayaking instructor. He now enjoys his passion full time, running his own coaching and guiding business.

How did you come up with the idea of providing guided sea kayaking tours?

I first came to Qatar in 2006 to work for the Qatar Foundation as a science teacher. And yet, although I essentially earned my living sitting behind a desk, my hobby had always been kayaking. I was never happier than when setting out on my latest paddling adventure, and I had spent many hours kayaking on the streams, rivers and even oceans of my native country, the United States.  Given my love of the sport, when I travelled to Qatar one of the possessions I could not bear to leave behind was my beloved kayak, so I shipped it over in the container with my other worldly goods.

I resumed my hobby in my new home in a more relaxed fashion, mostly kayaking in stretches of water near the Corniche. Finally, I came up with the courage to convert my pastime into a full-time career as a professional kayaking coach, though it took me a few years trying to figure out how to convert that passion into a business through which I could earn a living.

So what is the major difference between kayaking in the USA and Qatar?

The United States is, quite literally, a massive country, so there are many more diverse environments for kayaking. The sheer differentials in American geography – the huge rivers and vast oceans to name but two – means that kayaking has more specific challenges to be faced.

One of those is the size of the waves – some kayaking spots are very challenging due to large and powerful waves, whose ferocity can be a different force to be reckoned with as compared to those in Qatar. Kayaking spots in the latter mostly exist in mangroves, and are relatively quiet. Kayaking in Qatar is not the same, but is just as challenging in its own distinct way, and is just as interesting.

How long have you been involved with delivering coaching? Which tourist spots do you visit for kayaking?

We officially started in February 2011.

Actually, we visit six of the eight primary ‘tourism avenues’ identified by the NTSS (National Tourism Sector Strategy) for 2030. The avenues targeted by us are nature, culture, sports, sun and beach, health and wellness, and education. We mainly visit Al Thakhira, as this spot is especially beautiful, and provides an excellent venue for learning our sport and developing the relevant experience and skills.

What time of year do you offer tours?

Well, our tours are usually closed during the summer season due to the exceptional heat, but last year we decided to offer tours throughout the year. To solve problems of heat exposure in summer, we begin kayaking in the late afternoon, when the sun is setting. And during the winter we tour at all times throughout the day. In any event, and in any season, if the weather is too hot we don’t undertake trips in the morning – we stick to afternoon and night trips.

What challenges are associated with sea tours in Qatar?

Though we do have some challenging tours, I would say that, compared to other countries, this is one of the safest places for kayaking.

A comprehensive understanding of both the wind and tides is a vital part of our training. Of course, when the wind is especially strong, we don’t undertake trips, as we are very safety conscious and would never put our clients at any kind of risk. Our business is family orientated, and we pride ourselves on the fact that a child as young as three can undertake our tour without stress, and in safety.

What is the perfect time to kayak in the sea?

Actually, during the night is the best, as the water becomes perfectly flat. Sometimes, we have moonlight kayaking at the mangroves, and at the beach, which is an awesome experience for our visitors.  To add to the ambience, we often embark at sunset – a gorgeous sight when we set out, and then, when we return, we can enjoy the true beauty of the moonlight. Paddling smooth still waters, listening to the crickets chirp among the mangroves, and seeing the moonlight sparkle on the water is so relaxing.

What measures do you take to avoid any unexpected occurrences?

Firstly, before the tour begins, we familiarize our customers with both the craft and the equipment, so that they are completely at ease. During the tour, I always stay in the front, and another guide is always present at the back. In case the group is big (say, over 25 people) an additional guide will stay in the middle. We also make sure that people are wearing suitable and proper clothing.

What are your rates?

Our rates are QR 200 for adults, QR 100 for children under 12 years old, and QR 50 for children under 6.

Do you have much competition from other kayaking centres in Qatar?

We are the first and only registered kayaking and adventure company in the country, licensed by the Qatar Tourism Authority. Right now, I do not any competition.

How do you advertise?

We utilize a wide variety of marketing tools to attract customers. We offer discounts through Qgrabs, we use Facebook extensively, and all other popular social media platforms. We distribute free brochures, and leaflets to different schools and offices.

What are the requirements demanded by the government for this kind of business?

The main requirement is to acquire permission from the tourism authority and be granted a tourism license. We also have to be connected to the coast guard and other relevant safety agencies.

What levels of fitness are required for sea kayaking?

To be honest, kayaking is very easy. People with average weight and fitness are able to kayak without difficulty.

Who are your main customers? How many customers do you have?

Our customers are from all backgrounds, countries and nationalities, more specifically, America, the UK, Australia, Qatar, and India. Since we founded the business in 2011, we have served over 4000 satisfied customers. Our main trade is achieved at the weekend, with a current average of 30 customers over that period, but we also receive customers during the working week.

What challenges/difficulties did you face setting the business up?

I would say that getting a sponsor was one of the more difficult steps. What is more, in truth, I am not a businessman, so learning different aspects of business and marketing has been a challenge. Also, one of the most important aspects in this kind of business is recruiting the right people.

Do you have plans to offer any different tours or courses? What do you hope to achieve in the future?

Yes, we have plans to introduce mountain biking, which will basically consist of up ride biking. We have also designed a field studies programme with regards to environmental systems for schools.

Our programmes are designed to allow the school curriculum to come to life, by incorporating ‘hands on’ experiences via fieldwork, so that students can apply their learning in the classroom to real situations in the outdoors, and vice versa. Data gathered during those studies can be accumulated and shared to help students in the classroom, and on the outside too.

We hope to bridge the gap between the indoor world experienced by most people, and the natural world. We passionately believe that increased exposure to activities in the natural world can increase levels of fitness, overall health, and most importantly, happiness.  We also aim to connect various disparate organisations currently providing environmentally friendly activities in Qatar.

Finally, we aim to further Qatar’s tourism revenue by tailoring our services to fit in with the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) 2030. Our ultimate goal is to foster confidence, have fun, and provide skills that can be utilized not only in the field of recreation, but that are constantly valuable in the tide of life!

Any advice for those who want to get into this field?

It is extremely challenging work, so you need to be motivated and have a real and enduring passion for the activities. And you need an endless appetite for paddling!

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