In this Adventure Approved series, we will be interviewing the people behind your local favourite businesses in Squamish. These are like-minded businesses who are dedicated to exceptional customer service and share our love for adventure. Today we are chatting with Graham Young from Canadian Outback Rafting. He has worked his way up from a raft guide to become a partner in his whitewater rafting company. Graham is a passionate Squamish local who shares his love for the rivers and mountains with guests from all over the world.
Tell me a little bit about who you are and where you came from?
I actually grew up in Northern Saskatchewan, so becoming a raft guide was not really on the radar when I was a kid. We were in lake country and I loved to fish, which got me out in our family canoe. That’s where my connection to paddling and love for the water really started. In my teens our family moved out to Victoria and from there my dad and I started canoeing the Cowichan River when it was in flood. I look back at it now and we really didn’t know what we were doing and I’m glad nothing ever went too wrong. I took a summer job as a raft guide in the Rockies in 2005 and was hooked. The summer turned into a winter guiding boat in Costa Rica, by the next summer I had lined up rafting work in Whistler and used the Sea to Sky as a base while working all over the world for the next ten years. I actually accepted my original management position at Canadian Outback from a street corner in Zambia. There’s more to that story but I’ll leave it there.
How did you first hear about Squamish?
We had a family friend with a place here, so I knew of it but had never really spent any time until I moved to Whistler. At first it was just a place to go get groceries and run the odd rafting trip with the Whistler based companies. I really didn’t think it was where I would end up making a home.
When did you move to Squamish?
In 2012 Canadian Outback offered me a management position, I’d wanted to own a rafting company since that first summer and I decided it was time to take the next step down that road.
What are some of the best & or biggest changes you have experienced in that time?
I really just love seeing the pride that this town has developed over the last little while. I think everyone could have told you they knew it was a special place, but there maybe was a bit of an inferiority complex having Whistler as the big brother up the highway. That complex is gone now. We as a community know who we are! Now when I tell someone I am from Squamish I see a twinkle in their eyes instead of a question mark. As an employer I’ve seen the difference in the amount of people wanting to come work and live here and share in everything we have to offer. As a tour operator, we’re finally able to draw from a pool of people that are making Squamish their destination, instead of just a day trip for rafting. That’s where a business like Squamish Adventure is really helping this community. By working with multiple activities you are able to show people that it’s worth booking a hotel and spending a weekend or a whole week exploring Squamish.
What is your Favourite activity to do in Squamish?
Honestly I am biased, but after working on 50+ river on 5 continents I still see the Elaho-Squamish as the most scenic river I have ever worked on and it has some really good quality rapids on top of that. I love getting people out to that area and showing them our backyard. It’s been cool showing the Squamish born and bread locals, most of whom have never rafted, what it’s like up there as well. When I’m not on the river I try to get out on my bike a fair bit and I’ve picked up kiting in the last year which is turning into a new obsession.
Tell me about what you do for work?
These days I spend less time on the water and more time behind the scenes. Being a small business owner in a seasonal business, means you are wearing a lot of hats. The majority of my focus is on hiring the right people and making sure they have the tools and training they need to be successful. It took me a while to get there, and I’m still working on it, but I’ve been trying to create a company that the staff are extremely proud to work at. Somewhere where everyone believes and buys into the experience we are trying to create for our guests. When I came onboard we had almost no returning staff and needed to make some changes. This season we have 11 of our 12 guides from last year returning and I am extremely proud of that. I believe our clients can see that our staff want to be here and believe in the company.
What Makes Your Business a Local Favourite?
We’ve been the largest tour company for a very long time in Squamish. When you think of the amount of people that have come and seen Squamish for the first through rafting we’ve brought a lot of direct and indirect revenue to the area. I think a lot of other businesses see that value. What separates us and why do some many rafters choose us each season? We are the only company in the Sea to Sky where all we do is raft. Our focus is 100% on the experience for the client. Again with my experience with companies all over the world I was exposed to so many different set ups. I always said if I became an owner I would take the best techniques from each company and I’ve done that. From handing out dry wetsuits to each customer, to bus talks that have gotten our staff invited to do stand-up we pay attention to every minute detail. When people raft with us we focus on making it an extraordinary experience for every single person.
How do you manage to balance your hard work while still enjoying the outdoor lifestyle in Squamish?
Honestly this is something I’ve struggled with. When the season is in full swing I really struggle to get away at times. Last year I got into a little bit of night riding. It made the trails new all over again and I really enjoyed that side of things. Other days I’ll just block a two hours in my calendar and sneak away with my fly rod.
What is your ideal Squamish Adventure day?
I think you need to ask what your ideal Squamish Adventure week is? One day is simply not enough. If it’s me and I’m not going rafting… I’d go up the gondola in the morning and get a hike and some views in. Head over to the spit for a bit of kiting in the afternoon. Once I’m all kited out I’d bike up to Cat Lake for a swim then work my way through Squamish’s wicked trail system on the way back. By that point I’d be ready for a pulled pork burrito from Mags and a back yard fire with the crew.
What is your vision for the future of outdoor recreation in Squamish?
It is an endless resource for revenue and opportunity. As our population grows and becomes more sedentary places like Squamish are a connection point with nature and our more basic past. I’m extremely excited to be involved in Adventure Tourism in Squamish and to be able to help it grow over the next 5-10 years.