Heading to work every morning isn’t particularly difficult when your office is a river, and your desk is a paddleboard.
That’s the situation Meghan Roberts ’08 finds herself in after launching her own business, Mountain Surf Paddle Sports, in Fayetteville, West Virginia, last year. She teaches stand-up paddleboarding from Memorial Day through mid-October.
“It’s a small business,” she says. “I’m the only employee.”
Starting small came as a result of thinking big.
“I didn’t want to put myself in debt opening it,” says the native of Alden, Erie County. “By doing it myself, and running the whole thing, I opened with no business loans.”
‘Super happy’ with Keuka College
The business is a perfect fit for Meghan, an outdoors enthusiast practically since she was old enough to go outside by herself. Even her decision to attend Keuka College can be boiled down to two words: “The lake.”
“It was between Buffalo State and Keuka College,” she recalls. “I visited (the College). It was in the middle of nowhere, really pretty, and I liked the lake. I’m super happy with the choice.”
Meghan took full advantage of the College’s experiential learning opportunities, to the point where she was named Experiential Learner of the Year for her Field Period® work in an Idaho state park.
“I think the Field Periods were awesome,” she says. “They really helped prepare me.”
But it was working at the College’s Challenge Course that got her thinking that time outdoors could be not just an avocation, but a vocation.
“TeamWorks! was a big influence,” she says of the interactive team-building exercises hosted on the Challenge Course in the woods above the campus. “In general, I like the idea of working in the outdoors. But the Challenge Course made me realize you can get paid to do things outdoors.”
And you can do those things very far away, as Meghan proved when she landed her first job post-graduation: Running corporate outdoor teambuilding programs in Hong Kong.
“It happened pretty last minute,” she admits. “But I had my communications degree and I had done work in experiential learning, so that gave me the tools to apply. Two weeks after graduation, I was in Hong Kong.”
It was her first trip outside the country: “I had to rush a passport,” she recalls.
Varied resume, dog-eared passport
While corporate teambuilding takes place outdoors, Meghan says its challenges and rewards would sound familiar in any boardroom.
— The biggest challenge: “Trying to get the buy-in from clients. If there’re not feeling it or if they’re not into it, it can go pretty wrong. … That’s where my communications degree comes in – knowing your audience, and knowing how to talk to them. My communications degree helped with that a lot.”
— The biggest reward: “When you’ve finished the program and the client’s happy, and the goals and objectives have been clearly met. Then it was successful.”
Her brief career path since has been a veritable global trek: Two years in Hong Kong, guiding young backpackers in New Zealand, outdoors gigs at ski resorts in Colorado, a year-long return to Hong Kong, and her current winter job: Teaching stand-up paddleboarding from an expedition ship in the Antarctic.
The latter job came about through a combination of international networking — “The more you travel the more people you meet,” she explains — and Meghan’s characteristic openness to new opportunities.
“A lot of people are hesitant but any job that’s come my way, I pretty much just went for it,” she says. “You’re not going to get any jobs you don’t apply for.”
Those 2-1/2- to 3-1/2-month winter stints require departing from Argentina, then working from sun-up to going-on-midnight on open waters.
“It’s a pretty full-on job,” Meghan admits, “but it’s a lot of fun.”
Antarctica is so special, she says, that “the moment you get there and see the icebergs, glaciers, and mountains, the torment of rough seas and weather is forgotten, and you are overwhelmed with the beauty. The long and rough journey, in a way, makes Antarctica even that much more special — like a right of passage.”
Down to business
But now that Memorial Day has come and gone, Meghan is back along the banks of West Virginia’s waterways, teaching the – she says – simple-to-learn art of paddleboarding.
“On flat water in the right conditions it’s pretty easy,” Meghan says. “Anybody can do it.”
And she credits her College experience with putting her into the unique position of outdoors businesswoman.
“All the College work helped me be a lot more organized,” she says. “Making a portfolio, and my business writing courses — that all helped with starting the business. … And in terms of (paddleboarding) instruction and everything, having the public speaking background also helped a lot.”
All of which has led Meghan to an achievement that many working adults strive for but few seem to realize: A healthy work-life balance.
“I’m pretty settled here in West Virginia,” she says. “I’m getting married, we have a house. There’s an endless amount of fun things to do here. I can work eight months out of the year and surf, paddleboard, and mountain bike as much as I want.
“I’m not getting rich in my business and maybe it won’t ever happen. But I’m making all I need to make, and I’m having a great time.”