Paid to Play
The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play. – Arnold J. Toynbee
By Michelle Wagner
Sometimes when you follow your passion, everything else just seems to fall into place. That’s what happened for these Outer Banks residents who, whether on a board or in a boat, fell in love with the water and found a way to weave their water sports hobbies into careers.
For these folks – a kiteboarder, a surfer, a fisherwoman and a sailor – their jobs never feel like work. They got to that place largely by doing what they love and leaving the door open to possibilities. It didn’t really matter what their watery passion was; the real difference was that “can’t” never seemed to enter into the picture for any of them, whether they were at work or at play.
Take kiteboarder Evan Netsch. Raised in Southern Shores by water-loving, windsurfing parents, he took up kiteboarding at age 11 when the sport was in its infancy. By middle school, he was out on the water every chance he had. From then on, the wind has been a major prop in his life. Major kiting brands stepped in to sponsor him, and he competed and kited his way through high school and college.
“I never really realized or cared that I was one of the only kids who was kite boarding,” says Netsch, now 26 and a sales representative for Cabrinha, an internationally known kiteboarding company that produces kites, boards and accessories, and sponsors top athletes in the sport. His job takes him around the world selling and promoting and doing what he loves to do, which means is in the water nearly every day of the week.
“I never thought of the bigger picture or thought in terms of making it my career in any sense,” he says. “I just did it because I enjoyed it.”
This career with Cabrinha, he says, just “sort of happened.”
Four years ago, local kite store owner Barton Decker contacted Netsch while he was still attending UNC Wilmington and asked if he knew of anyone who could be a sales representative. Netsch said he’d think about it, but then realized he could be that person.
He went to work for Cabrinha while finishing college. He’s also a team rider with Cabrinha and still has plenty of opportunities to compete all over the world.
“The most interesting thing about it is that I never tried to get a job in the kiteboarding industry or make a living off of it,” he says. “I just always took the approach that I would do what I loved to do and see where it took me. I didn’t have a set goal.”
It ended up taking him down the right path. “I definitely would not be a good salesperson for something like furniture or cars, but I am passionate about the sport, so it doesn’t really feel like a challenge,” he says. “It is easy to walk into a shop and sell the product since it is much more than just a day job to me, it’s a passion first and a job second.”
Netsch says he’s spent the past three years living out of a suitcase, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He spends most of the kiteboarding season traveling the East Coast selling Cabrinha products. In the off season, he travels overseas for the company and independently, holding kite-boarding clinics in places like Greece and competing in Spain and other countries, filming kiteboarding footage and just enjoying the water.
Leanne Robinson, co-owner of Secret Spot Surf Shop in Nags Head, has spliced her lifelong love of surfing into a thriving business.
Growing up on Hatteras Island, Robinson was in the water as much as she was out. She was a mainstay at the popular surf breaks and Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) contests and had been sponsored by Secret Spot Surf Shop since she was 11. She went to college at UNC Wilmington to stay near the ocean, majoring in business and hospitality management. When Steve Hess, then owner of Secret Spot, heard about her graduation in 2005, he asked her to come back to the Outer Banks and run his shop.
“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never thought about owning a surf shop,” Robinson says. “He was moving to the Philippines and wanted someone to take over, someone who would continue his Secret Spot legacy and not change it.”
Even though it wasn’t part of her plan, which was to travel for a while before finding a career, she agreed to give it a shot. “I really wasn’t feeling it, but I said I would try it. That first week, he bought me a ticket to Hawaii for the whole winter.”
When she returned, Robinson took over operation of Secret Spot. She purchased it in 2012 with co-owners Shawn and Nikki Deane.
“Now, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else or living anywhere else,” she says. “And it’s just natural for me to talk about something I love to do and sell the things I enjoy.”
She still competes in ESA events and won first place in the women’s division in the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Regional Surfing Championships. Secret Spot is helping bring up the next generation of young surfers with sponsorships, just like the one that got Robinson started in her career.
Amanda Carignan, a charter-fishing captain with Rock Solid Fishing, grew up fishing in Manteo and was casting a line in the surf not long after she learned to walk. She bought an old 16-foot skiff in her early 20s and was always tooling around the sound in it.
In 2011, wanting to learn more about the fishing world, she went to work at TW’s Bait and Tackle, where she met fishing icon John Newbold. He introduced her to Aaron Kelly, owner of Rock Solid Fishing.
“I remember John was talking with Aaron at the fishing center one day and he said, ‘You ought to hire Amanda,’ ” she says.
And he did. In the fall of 2013, she received her captain’s license and went to work with Kelly. She’s one of only a handful of female fishing captains on the Outer Banks. Even on her days off she is drawn to the water, whether she’s surfing, fishing or beachcombing. “I just love being in the water, by the water or on it,” she says. “When you are out on the boat, you are in another world most people don’t ever get to see.”
Kitty Hawk resident Hardy Peters owned a construction company in Greenville, S.C., for many years but moved his family to the Outer Banks in 2011 to follow his passion of sailing. He went into business with Jon Britt, owner of Nor’Banks Sailing and Watersports in Duck. Peters has since launched East Coast Sailboats, the distributor of Topaz sailboats, and operates a sailing school for children and adults at Nor’Banks.
“I never thought I’d make a career out of this,” Peters says. “We don’t do this for the money. We have a passion for what we do as true watermen. We have an underutilized resource with our great wind and inland waterways. There are so few sails out on the sound. There should be sails all over out there.”
The kiteboarder, the surfer, the sailor and the captain are energized by sharing their passions with others. Regardless of where their careers may take them from here, they have succeeded in figuring out how to make their jobs feel less like work and more like play.