"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 a program run by Timucuan Preserve for inner city kids to learn about kayaking and the environment. Ray helps out during the summer.
"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 past president and presently a board member of the Friends of Talbot Islands State Parks.
In her free time she runs the karate program at the YMCA. A fourth degree Black Belt in Shaolin Kempo karate, she has been studying karate and TaiChi for 18 years. As an instructor Jody finds that both she and her students are learning a lot more than punches and kicks. "You learn a lot about 'self' - self control, self defense and self confidence. All skills VITAL for life."
CJ Hetchka got his first kayak for his 8th birthday, now at 28 he's part of the KA staff. 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!
Jules Ruppel is a friend of CJ's who got hooked on an SUP tour and never left. She now is an ACA certified Stand Up Paddleboard Instructor and also helps out at our new store - Y.B. Green's General Store.
"I started out as a customer at Kayak Amelia four years ago when I moved to this beautiful island. I never dreamed I would call this a job. I have the privilege of working with my friends, talking to strangers and rubbing Dillon's belly! (If you can call that work) I have been hooked on SUP since the day we unwrapped the boards and feel blessed to share it with our guests!"
"Summer Camp Queen"
Dawn Baker has been our Summer EcoCamp coordinator for the past two 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.
Caitie Hetchka’s first kayaking experience was riding in the back hatch of her Mom’s kayak when she was 5 years old. Swimming, surfing or kayaking, fun for her has always revolved around the beach. She was a lifeguard and swim instructor for 8 summers during high school and college and taught in Jax elementary schools after college. This is her second year as a camp councilor.
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!
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.