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Hidden Gems: Meet Raphael Darden of Xplore Kayak Tours

Today we’d like to introduce you to Raphael Darden.

Hi Raphael, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
I started out, initially, in a search for a kayak rental outfitter that I could book trips on random rivers and remote locations that I had seen while exploring the outdoors… I couldn’t really find one that suited my expectations. So later, I purchased my own kayaks and eventually started taking a small group of friends out on weekend outings. I can say that I’ve always preferred the ability to discuss, “what we did last weekend!” rather than saying, “Hey guys, guess what I did?” So, as the story goes… the activities started to draw more attention to the eye of the public. People always asked, “Are you a business?” or “Do you rent those kayaks out?” I actually had the opportunity to loan a few out for a small fee, while hanging out at a local beach.

Then I quickly realized, that I needed some professional knowledge of the sports if I were to continue hosting such adventurous activities. My focus was more on safety. So I took an ACA Coastal Kayaking Instructor’s course, which also required being wilderness first aid(WFA) certified. I then started my own LLC. The business began to increase, and eventually, I started connecting with outdoor activity sports coaches all over. I also ventured into, snow-skiing, snowboarding, hang-gliding courses, as well as training platforms for scuba diving and whitewater rafting. I started working with a few non-profit organizations such as Outdoor Afro and Issavibe Adventures in Charlotte NC.

These groups promoted activities and opportunities for people of color and minorities, to get more into the outdoor scene. Today, I continue to host regular camping, watersports, outdoor excursions, and training platforms in various areas of the eastern US, expanding further north and south, but still primarily in central NC.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road. It’s been a process to get people out of their comfort zones, and outside in the elements, taking on new challenges. I often heard excuses like.. “but I can’t swim!” or “I’m not going out in those woods with the bears and snakes!”

The fear of large bodies of water is ‘real’ in our communities, as well as the fear of heights, wildlife, bugs, and spiders.

But if we can educate ourselves, and explore a little, we can begin to see the world from a different perspective.

Eventually, some of our fears will begin to diminish, and life can be an amazing and fun-filled experience.

We’ve been impressed with Xplore Kayak Tours, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Xplore Kayak Tours is a veteran-owned business, that serves all communities, to create opportunities to explore and experience the outdoors in a safe and secure environment. We build platforms that allow individuals to learn new skills, make connections, and share with family and friends, amazing experiences…

What matters most to you?
What matters most is safety… Because every individual deserves to feel safe, in any environment or any type of setting. Whether they are in the safety of their home or out in the great and vast outdoors.

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