Tom Murphy graduated from Lawrence University in 2003 with a biology degree. After graduation he spent a year and a half overseas, traveling through India, working for an NGO in Nepal, and teaching elementary students science in the outdoor classroom of the Swiss Alps. Tom then began working for Outdoor Odysseys in 2005 and was the lead guide until 2012 when he purchased the business from founder Clark Casebolt. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and love of the area, and of paddling, with novices and seasoned paddlers alike. The San Juan’s now hold a place in his heart and he looks forward to the paddling season year after year. In the winter, when not paddling on the ocean or the river he enjoys hiking for deep turns in Washington’s North Cascades, Utah’s Wasatch, the Tetons and the Chugach. This summer, when he isn’t on the water, look for him having dinner on the beach with friends or riding his road bike.
How do the experiences you offer at Outdoor Odysseys give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
There isn’t anything like a water level view of the San Juan Archipelago. There are stretches of shoreline that have been relatively unchanged since the Lummi were fishing and foraging in the area hundreds of years ago. Your lunch beach could have been their lunch beach and the lack of major landscape transformation on some of the smaller islands has a looming feeling of history. The wildlife is incredible. From the tiniest invertebrates to the show stopping Orca whales there are so many creatures to discover. The birds are phenomenal and capture the interest of die hard birders and casual observers alike.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
In 1987 when we got started, the concept was a multi-sport outdoor adventure company operating throughout the state. As time went on we found our passion, sea kayaking, and decided to focus on only that. The singularity of our focus allows us to provide some of the best kayaking experiences in the San Juan’s. Instead of being a jack of all we are a master of one!
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important? Please explain why.
The fact that our guides are given a large amount of autonomy is what makes the trips wonderful. We strongly believe that happy guides make happy guests. By allowing room for individuality, creativity, and ownership for each guide within their trips makes for a dynamic and fun work environment that ultimately trickles down to great enjoyment by the guests.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Low impact adventures that increase awareness about the outside world.
What sets Outdoor Odesseys apart from other, similar, adventure travel companies?
The San Juan Islands are a phenomenal location, period. Within that pool of outfitters operating in the San Juan’s, I feel that our food is the best in the business. This is due to the aforementioned guide autonomy where they are allowed to creatively express themselves in the kitchen while deftly accommodating the restrictions and preferences of our guests.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Don’t overthink it. Experiential travel is supposed to be an adventure! A little bit of unknown makes things that much more fun!
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow? Please explain how.
Guide autonomy and singularity in focus has made our trips as phenomenal as they are and the reputation from running quality trips is what has contributed the most to our growth. That being said, we are a small business focused on the quality of the experiences we offer not the quantity. We are firmly in the “bigger is not better” camp and though we have experienced growth over the years, it’s by staying small that we deliver trips of this caliber.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
We paddle close to shore and this usually keeps us at least 200 yards away from the orca. On occasion they come in close to shore resulting in a close encounter. There have been more than a few of these encounters that result in the awe and excitement of our guests and guides alike as they witness first hand the powerful presence of these amazing animals.
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