Lessons From Our CEO, Rad Dad Extraordinaire
To celebrate Father’s Day, we sat down with Outdoor Prolink’s CEO & Founder, Gareth Richards, to chat about his start in the outdoor industry, his passion for the outdoors, and what it’s been like being a dad through it all.
How Gareth Got into the Outdoors
Gareth is positive, upbeat, and unapologetically in love with the outdoors. Growing up in Wales, he played rugby and was intrigued by the outdoors, but his family activities weren’t really focused in that area. One day a woman from a neighboring farm invited him to go whitewater kayaking and his life was forever changed. He was amazed at this exhilarating experience on the river. A flip was switched in Gareth and from that point on, he was hooked on the outdoors.
He went on to get his undergraduate degree in environmental studies, with a minor in outdoor pursuits. During this time, Gareth filled up his world with rock climbing, mountaineering, kayaking, caving, and any outdoor activity he could get his hands on. After graduating, he came to the United States on a Rotary International graduate scholarship to attend the University of Colorado, Boulder.
He then worked as an instructor for NOLS and taught outdoor education courses at Cornell University and Prescott College. While he was at Cornell, he guided a sea kayak trip in Baja California and really hit it off with the local guide, Mary, who accompanied the trip. Four years later, Gareth and Mary were married, bonding over their mutual love for the outdoors.
Moving out of the education field, Gareth then worked at PlanetOutdoors.com, Lowe Alpine, and Mountainsmith. It was the full combination of experiences that led him to ideate and build Outdoor Prolink, an e-commerce platform that connects qualified outdoor industry professionals with discounts on high quality outdoor gear.
Having Children Will Change Your Life, Adventurer or Not
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Gareth, there is an extremely high chance that you’ll hear about one of his epic mountaineering or kayaking adventures. He is a big storyteller, but more than that, he has been through so many grand experiences — they are such a huge part of his life. These types of adventures have been risky and Gareth has been in sticky situations where his life has been on the line. He describes his risk tolerance as “healthy,” meaning that he has an understanding and respect for risk. He’s never been the biggest thrill-seeker in the group or much of an adrenaline junkie. For instance, he was an avid whitewater kayaker and loved to hit class 4 or 5 rapids, but never needed to enter the risk of anything more technical. For Gareth, it just wasn’t necessary for him to have a good time out there.
After he had his first daughter, Ruby, he lowered the bar for what types of adventures he would go on. Gareth’s trips and experiences didn’t come to a sudden halt – he still went mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and climbing – but as an experienced adventurer, he knew how to be conservative about the risks he was taking. Once his third child, Joy, came into his world, life was different. The desire for extreme sports wasn’t present anymore.
Most Important Outdoor Skills to Teach Your Kids
When it comes to the skills kids (or adults!) need in the outdoors, organization is at the top of Gareth’s list. Gareth always kept his gear tidy and set a good example, teaching them this crucial skill along the way. He would pack up his belongings correctly and then show them how to do the same.
Recently his second child, Evan, came back from a camping trip with some buddies raving about how he was the only one who kept track of all his gear and was packed up way before everyone else. It pays to have parents who teach you these skills, and Evan too is able to pass along this wisdom to his friends. It really all comes full circle.
To be successful in the outdoors, Gareth knew getting his kids prepared for the elements was the groundwork. Another skill he taught his children was how to set up shelter when they got to camp. It may sound simple, but it is so very critical to your enjoyment on a trip. If the kids could set up their tents in a windy rain storm, they would be warmer, dryer, and safer. And ultimately, happier!
Some runner-up skills include knowing how to properly layer, putting in the hard work, and having the ability to suffer.
Advice For Adventure Dads (or Moms!)
When you’re in the outdoors, you’re very aware of the challenges in front of you. There are external factors, like weather, that may greatly affect the day. But if you’re with experienced partners you trust, you typically are mostly focused on yourself and reaching the end goal.
Enter parenthood: You now have a small human you are also helping complete the mission. Let’s say you’re on a hike. There’s a 99.9% chance they are going to need your help, and a lot of it! They are learning how to walk up a trail and hold their pack, but chances are they may not enjoy it and by the end. You’ll not only be carrying their pack, you’ll also be carrying said child.
Gareth has been through it all. He admits it can be hard, but it can also be so rewarding! Here are a few of his top tips for taking children out into the great outdoors:
- Go slow and have patience: This will make the experience more approachable for your little one!
- Lower your expectations: You might get tons of laps in with your kids at the ski resort, or you might turn the car around to go home before you even get out of the car. Listen to your kids and don’t push it if they are not up for the adventure. You may not get the powder day you were hoping for, but that’s okay!
- Build in a fun factor: Skiing down a mountain might sound terrible to a child, but if there’s hot cocoa at the lodge or skittles on the next chairlift, they might feel differently. Figure out a way to build in treats and fun into the day to keep your kids motivated!
- Make it feel comfortable and safe: Taking kids out into the outdoors, there are a lot of factors you can’t control, so make sure you choose wisely for your little one’s first experiences. Travel to familiar places, check the weather, and try to make the adventure feel as safe as possible.
Advice For the Kids Who Want to Work in the Outdoor Industry
Gareth has been through it all in the outdoor industry. He worked as a guide, an educator, and on the retail side of things. For kids who want to work in the outdoors when they grow up, his biggest piece of advice is to go out and experience the line of work you want to be in. Volunteer your time, take a course (i.e. NOLS, Colorado Mountain School, Outward Bound), and get out there to see what it is actually like. Working as a guide, field scientist, ranger, ski patroller or educator is not always rainbows and sunshine. While it can be extremely fulfilling, it can also be stressful and requires a lot of experience and patience. It’s a lot of hard work, so having a strong passion is necessary for people to be happy in these types of jobs.
And for those who want to work in the industry, but not actually work “outside,” there are copious other opportunities out there, too! There are plenty of nonprofits and organizations that coexist with the outdoor industry, where you can work from the comfort of a desk. Basecamp Outdoor, Camber, CoolWorks, and Occupation Wild are all great job boards to get started with!
Dad’s Final Word
Gareth’s three children all have unique interests and he’s loved seeing each grow through the years. Ruby took a gap year after high school, traveled to India, Sevilla, and Cameroon where she helped found PridePads, an organization that helps give women access to sanitary pads and menstrual health education. Evan just graduated from high school and will be attending a NOLS Alaska Mountaineering course this summer. Joy has an extreme love for skiing and is the one begging for one last run at the end of the day.
Gareth’s favorite outdoor memories with his family have been rafting trips. Overnight rafting combines a lot of skills: organization, camping, teamwork, rafting, communication, and hard work, to name a few. He enjoys seeing his kids utilizing the skills he taught them years and years ago. And the best part, they have the ability to take care of themselves these days and Gareth gets to sit back, relax, and enjoy being outdoors with the people he loves the most.
This isn’t the end of the road for Gareth. He still has hopes to summit mountains in the Himalayas and I’m sure he’ll go on many more adventures. Gareth’s love and passion for the outdoors is apparent, contagious, and not going away anytime soon. There is no chance that fire will be put out in his lifetime. It’s deep in his soul.