"the Bare foot Tree hugger"
Ray has been kayaking since 1991, it was his response to Jody's question "I know that look, what are you dreaming about now?", that gave birth to Kayak Amelia. What started as a way to get more 'aquatic' by spending more time in and on the water, has evolved into a way of life. A 'tree hugger' since the term became popular, Ray has always been involved in environmental (especially coastal) issues. Whether commenting on the Barrier Island Bill in the early 70's or various initiatives by the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras, N.C. or as a member of the Littoral Society in NJ, he's always felt an affinity for the ocean and things aquatic. "In this age of the burgeoning Eco-Tourism boom in Florida it is vitally important that we protect the natural communities we choose to showcase."
To make that commitment real, he's served on the Visit Florida NE Region Eco/Heritage Tourism: Education, Ethics and Protection Committee, the PR committee of the Georgia Nature Based Tourism Assoc, The Ribault Clubhouse Preservation Task Force and works closely with the management of the Timucuan Preserve and the Talbot Islands State Parks to help with their efforts to provide safe, educational, environmentally sensitive access to these beautiful treasures. Ray is a certified Interpretive Guide from Nat'l Assoc of Interpretation and a Coastal & Uplands Florida Master Naturalist.
Check out the video of the Timucuan Explorers. This was a program run by Timucuan Preserve for inner city kids to learn about kayaking and the environment.
"When I'm talking to customers, I think about that 'special vacation', the one that we saved for and planned and dreamed about for years, and then remember that each guest has done the same with their vacation. I try to treat each one of them like this is their special vacation."
A former Registered Nurse, she shares Ray's love of the outdoors and is enthusiastic about giving visitors a deeper appreciation of the critters that inhabit the marsh. She is on the board of Wild Amelia and past president of the Friends of Talbot Islands State Parks. In her free time she loves working out at Dance Trance Amelia Island.
CJ Hetchka got his first kayak for his 8th birthday and has worked at KA since he was 16. Now at 30 he's Operations Manager and lead guide. He graduated from the University of West Florida-Pensacola with a degree in Environmental Science and loves sharing his love of the salt marsh ecosystem. He recently passed his ACA Level II Kayak Instructor certification and Stand Up Paddleboard Instructor.
A High School essay he wrote explains best how he enjoys his job.
"You spot a cloud of mist spirt out from a silver head off your bow and watch the crimson sun set in the west shedding the illuminative light on the surrounding fluffy clouds. Observing a soaring osprey dive down to catch a fish, you think that you will never forget this moment. This is what I feel when I'm out on the water."
*Anyone over 50 can appreciate the value of having someone nearby who can remember things. When Jody asks 'Can you remind me to pick up more paper?' or 'What did I walk in this room to do?' CJ always remembers!
"Customer Service Guru"
ACA SUP L1, FL Coastal Master Naturalist
Jules has worked in the customer service industry for over 10 years and loves sharing information with anyone! As well as her job here, you can find Jules at Joe's 2nd Street Bistro in downtown Fernandina. She has a true passion for our company and our family. She may not have all the answers but can find someone who does. When she first came to visit Amelia Island 8 years ago, she rented a kayak and swore she'd never do it again! But with a little coaxing from CJ, Jules was up on a paddle board in no time and hasn't been the same since. She is a nature enthusiast who loves camping and her mutt.
" I can't believe that I get to call this work."
Our staff comedian and Mr. Fix It.
ACA Kayak tour leader, FLCoastal Master Naturalist, Wilderness 1st Aidand RedNeck Engineer? ;)
Cris is a true Floridian but spent some time in California before returning to his old stomping grounds here on Amelia Island. He always comes with a smile and a laugh, but he can fix or build just about anything. When he's not on the water, you can find him in his driveway working on his old VWs. Cris feels so grateful to share his passion for paddling with our guests and loves to meet new people. In fact, he's been known to talk to anyone and everyone.
"The best part is watching the 1st timers transform and fall in love with paddling! That's what makes my job here awesome!"
Donna Runyeon s a former teacher who enjoys sharing our area's history and ecoloy with guests on Segway, kayak and SUP trips. Her family has been in North Florida from St Augustine to Amelia Island for 7 generations.
" I am so excited to be a part of the KA family - it truely is a family. We live in such a beautiful place and I love getting to share it with guests from all over the world!"
Free Spirited Nature Lover
ACA Kayak tour leader, FLCoastal Master Naturalist, Wilderness 1st Aid
Born in Massachusetts, Mike has been living here on Amelia Island since he was 8 years old. He feels like kayaking has truly been life changing for him and believes everyone can benefit from a day full of fresh air. Mike is an avid nature enthusiast and also loves camping, fishing, anything water related and any other spontaneous adventures!
"It's all about the view!"
History Buff and Segway Extraordinaire
Fl Coastal Master Naturalist
Originally from Connecticut, Nick moved here in 2007 and quickly became adjusted to the sunshine state and it's ecology. He has been working and studying the Fort George area for years and has LOTS to share. His ever growing knowledge of the plants and wildlife in our area is truly impressive and never fails to "wow" our guests. Nick is also an avid fisherman and when he's not doing tours you can find him on his boat with a fishing pole in his hand.
"I really love to call this my office!"
"Summer Camp Queen"
Dawn Baker has been our Summer EcoCamp coordinator for the past three years. She's combined her experience as a second grade teacher with her love of nature and the outdoors to create an awesome summer camp curriculum. She spent her previous summers in the National Park Service's Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program. Thru hands-on activities, workbooks and crafts the campers learn about the salt marsh, Timucua and early settlers. This is blended with paddling skils (kayaks and SUP boards).
One of their projects was called 'Iron Camper'. Based on the Iron Chef Competition, each child was given 1 pine cone, 2 leaves, 4 pine needles, a shell, 2 sticks and a whole lot of glue. The decriptions of what they made were priceless.
Dawn Williams, owner and operator of Fizikly Fit Boutique Training, has a Bachelor of Science in Biology, with additional studies in anatomy, kinesiology, and exercise science. She is a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer and Crossfit Kids certified. In addition, Coach Dawn holds a Level 2 Senior Coach certification through USA Weightlifting, the governing body of the US Olympic Weightlifting Team, and is recognized by the Florida Weightlifting Federation as a referee.
Deb Cunningham, her 3 children and her husband moved to Amelia Island from Chicago in July of 2011. She discovered yoga in 1999 with 1 yr old twins at home and another on the way. She was instantly hooked. As a dancer for 20 years, Deb found the asanas in yoga moved her like nothing had since dancing. And as her family can attest, yoga was instrumental in bringing both strength and grounding in the most challenging of times. She finally realized her dream last summer by having the time to begin her 200 hour RYT teacher training at Yoga Den in Jacksonville. She brings a playful, creative spirit to her vinyasa style practice and is blessed to be able to share her passion as a teacher. Deb also is the first to bring SUP Yoga here to Amelia Island and encourages all to come play on the floating mat!
"Bronx Beach Bum"
Buddy used to take the subways to hang out at the ocean ( Rockaway Beach) and developed his strong love for the coast. He is a former high school Physical Education teacher and track coach who still loves to share his experiences.
Buddy began paddling over 20 years ago while living on the North Carolina coast and has been passionate about kayaking since he first sat on his "sit on top". Since then he has paddled up and down the East Coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico. His specialty is ultra kayak marathon racing and completed the Colorado River 100 mile race in Texas,and has other races planned. He loves to share his passion for kayaking and the coast with the guests of Kayak Amelia. When he tells his wife Denise "Good-bye I'm off to work , she usually replies "Don't tell me you're going to work-You enjoy it too much".
Our youngest and furriest employee, Dillon is our mascot, greeter and canine food disposal unit. A Bernese Mountain Dog (think Swiss Alps) he occupies a special place in our hearts and the hearts of our guests. He never gets tired of hearing "Oh, he's so pretty/big/handsome!" and loves the attention. When not helping with our guests, he loves to play with his favorite toy (palm fronds) and will practically do summersaults in pursuit of his prize. Make sure to say Hi! when you come to visit.
To say the KA crew is eclectic is an understatement. We have always been able to find (actually they usually find us) the hardest working, most fun to be with, staff around. We are very picky about our crew. Our ultimate goal is to make sure our guests have a comfortable and safe trip. Besides kayaking skills, we look for guides who not just lead the group but anticipate their needs with a constant eye out for possible problems.
Jody & Ray Hetchka are founders and 'proud parents' of Kayak Amelia.
After moving to Amelia Island in 1996 to escape the cold of New Hampshire, we quickly realized this area was perfect for kayaking. Amelia Island is surrounded by state and national parks. These protected, 'wild' lands are perfect for wildlife viewing and just getting away from it all. We also realized that these fragile environments need to be protected from human encroachment. The best way to accomplish this is to get folks to spend time in the enviroment and learn the stories of the critters that live there. "What you see with your eyes, you will treasure with your heart".
We were involved with the development of the first EcoHeritage Tourism Provider Certification Course created in 1998.
We also help coordinate the Wild Amelia Nature Festival held in May. Started in 2007, the festival's mission is to help local residents and visitors gain a deeper appreciation of the bioregion through lectures, hands-on activities and ecotours.