Neil McAra, owner if Kayaking Greece, was born in a small town just north of Birmingham shortly before the 1970’s. Neil grew up listening to some of the best music ever written, you can still see signs of his musical tastes in his fashion sense! Neil’s first proper job was with the British Fire Service, joining in the late 80’s, he worked there for 18 years. He left the fire service to move to Greece and set up his kayak center, it took a while to get things organised but now his center on Skopelos is attracting both novice and experienced kayakers from all over the world who want to paddle in the warm clear waters of the Aegean sea!
Before moving to Greece Neil’s sporting passions were cycling and generally being outdoors. A good amateur cyclist Neil became the British Fire Services road race champion in 2000, and also rode some of the biggest amateur cycle races in England, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Holland including the British Elite Men’s National road race championships. McAra has also done a bit of a sailing in his time, both dinghy racing and cruising yachts, he holds the Royal Yachting Association’s Yachtmaster award. These days most of his time is spent messing about on the water in kayaks, but whenever he gets chance you’ll see him huffing and puffing on his bike! Neil is now working towards becoming a UKCC (United Kingdom Certificate in Coaching) level 3 coach which focuses on long term athlete development. His passion is coaching at all levels and enjoys the rewards of watching people develop, becoming more confident and skillful.
Neil currently holds the following British Canoe Union (BCU) awards: BCU 5 star sea kayak leader, BCU UKCC Level 2 coach, Moderate water endorsement, Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning provider, 4 star sea kayak leader provider and assessor, 3 star sea kayak and sit on top provider and assessor, 1 & 2 star assessor, and Paddlepower assessor (courses aimed at under 16’s).
How do the experiences you offer at Kayaking Greece give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
We organize a wide variety of trips that cover all the best parts of the coastline around Skopelos and our longer trips for more experienced paddlers venture into Europe’s largest marine conservation area. Within this area we have one of the largest populations of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, it is estimated that only 600 of this critically endangered animal left on the planet!
Our base is in the traditional hillside village of Glossa, this village does not have all the trappings of modern tourism, here you will still see mules used to transport goods and people around the winding cobbled streets, spectacular views over the Aegean sea with some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
We have added more variety into our day trips, our collection of kayaks and equipment has grown so that we now have something suitable for everyone regardless of experience. We have also developed our coaching courses now offering some of the best coaching available for all levels from beginners to advanced, we also develop long term plans for people wanting to achieve their goals.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Attention to detail for individuals, regardless of people’s ability, our guides are all trained to observe everyone on the water and to help them out to ensure they all have a great time. This level of individual observation and coaching is not easy to do and to get the balance of information delivery correct for each person, but when it is done well, it makes a big difference to the experience each person takes away with them.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
It’s going to be a great day, the things we see can not be explained, you simply have to be there! And there is also the chance of spotting one of the rarest mammals on the planet!
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
I love exploring without leaving a trace that you were there, and also to cause zero damage and have no impact on wildlife. Any travel trend that offers that is what I find exciting.
What sets Kayaking Greece apart from other, similar, organizations?
We work very hard to offer the complete package, from excellent guide who are not just knowledgeable about the area they operate in but have the personal skills to ensure our clients are well looked after, and of course many people mention our home cooked lunches prepared freshly every morning and are designed to cater for any dietary requirements.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Good communication with your guiding company to ensure they can offer what your looking for. Check online reviews, these will give you a feel for other peoples experiences.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Openness and honesty. We only offer what we can provide. It’s a simple strategy but sadly one that many businesses put behind making money.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
We have worked hard and are continuing to do so by gaining qualifications, this helps us to meet and share ideas with other professionals which ultimately means we can continue to provide better services to our clients.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
When we spot a monk seal it is always a special and emotional moment, but from a personal point of view I love to see people exceed their expectations. We deal with a variety of people with various disabilities and there is nothing more rewarding for me than when I see their face, or the faces of their loved ones light up with joy.