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Amanda Major in a kayak on a river

Staff Spotlight: Amanda Major

By Jim Sullivan

Staff Spotlight: Amanda Major


About a year ago Amanda Major joined the Zoar Outdoor Paddlesports team.  We caught up with her to chat about what a summer instructing at Zoar Outdoor is like, and some fun kayak questions.


  • What/who first drew you to employment at Zoar? What was the interview process like?

After taking a few whitewater kayaking courses at Hampshire College, I was hooked. I couldn’t (and still can’t) stop talking about whitewater kayaking. I knew I needed a way to keep paddling and expand my kayaking horizons. Jim came to a pool session with some demo boats, and we talked about what it was like working at Zoar. I was super excited about the possibility of having a job that put me on the river every week.

I remember the day I interviewed. The drive along Route 2 to Charlemont gives some really spectacular views of the Deerfield River. As soon as I saw a train chugging along the riverside, my level of hype about this possible summer job went through the roof. I interviewed with Janet and Jim, and I was a little nervous. Despite loving the river and being outside, I was a newbie to the outdoor education world. Janet and I talked about her first time interviewing for an outdoorsy job (skirts in folding chairs), and I am so thankful for that chuckle. Meeting both of them really reassured me that this would be a great place to work. I asked what their favorite part of working at Zoar was, and I remember Jim talking about the incredible community you can find in the paddling community on the Deerfield. He is definitely on to something with that answer. The people are really what make Zoar such a great place to be.

  • We do a lot of training during the summer, what were some highlights for you?

I took a lot of Swift Water Rescue courses. Taking a Swift Water Course is so valuable to anyone who loves water and paddling. My most memorable moments of these trainings would be doing strainer training with Jim and having people practice jumping over the pseudo-strainer. That was a really intense and eye opening drill. Swimming in mini Gap and doing tethered swimming was pretty fun, too. You should see Hank swimming through mini-Gap; the kid is a fish! I also remember being really pumped about successfully doing hand of god rescues because my arms are so short.

  • Who has been a special mentor/inspiration to your paddling?

I wouldn’t be where I am as a paddler or as a person without Glenna and Earl Alderson. I am so thankful that I’ve been lucky enough to take whitewater kayaking class with them at Hampshire College. Glenna really helped me prep for my American Canoe Association Whitewater Kayaking instructor course, physically and mentally. Earl is always ready to give me new tools to add to my paddling and investment toolbox. These two have had a huge influence over my physical skills and mental game in kayaking. All the shout outs to my Zoar Paddlesports instructors as well. They helped me develop my paddling and instruction skills enormously over the summer, from always “letting” me do the wet exit demos for clinics to getting me up on the Dryway.

  • Your teaching skills were developed before starting at Zoar, what is life like outside of paddling?

Outside of paddling, I work at a non-profit called Civil Liberties and Public Policy that supports awesome radical activists in the Reproductive Justice movement by providing a plethora of leadership development opportunities. I facilitate activist network meetings and support our undergraduate interns that we place all over the country at epic social justice organizations doing really great work. My teaching skills developed through all the youth work I’ve done in Worcester and Springfield. I was a sex education teacher at a middle school in Springfield, MA. I’m pretty sure you can teach anything once you have taught sex ed to 13 year olds.

  • What is a favorite teaching or Zoar moment from the summer?

There are so many! One of my all-time favorite moments was running the Dryway with Katelyn. That was totally a nectar list moment. Then, working with Steve co-teaching so many clinics was a lot of fun, both to learn from him and be able to teach people about paddling and proper chip bag folding. I really loved having groups of kids come from schools. I also remember one high school girl asking me what it was like to be a lady paddler in a sport that has a lot of dudes. Nothing can compare to seeing a novice paddler hit their first successful and sharp eddy turn and watching the smile radiate across their face. Those A-HA moments are what make this job so fantastic.

  • Can you share a favorite story from the staff trip to the Penobscot River in ME?

The Kennebec River was so much FUN! The water was at 8,200 cfs so it was like a giant rollercoaster with all the big juicy waves. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face once I got into the rhythm with the waves (gotta lean forward and take a bite out of the wave… that’s the technical instruction for big wave paddling). I remember giggling non-stop through the majority of it. It was epic.

  • What is your dream paddling destination?

I recently saw footage of people paddling the Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil) on the Rio Claro in Chile. It looks like the perfect mixture of challenging fun and terrifying! The Futaleufeu in Chile. All the Forks (Nork, Middle, and South). I really want to do some multi-day trips soon, too. Let me know if you need another person for your Canyon trip!

  • What piece of kayaking apparel would you never give up?  Five essentials excluded.

My NRS Drytop.

  • If you could be like any pro kayaker who would you want to be like?

Nouria Newman and Rafa Ortiz seem like really epic people. I appreciate paddlers who are awesome, humble, and have a good sense of humor.

  • Zoar has a vast set of c​​ore values, can you speak to one that identifies strongly with you?

The one I really love is: “We create experiences that enhance the lives of our guests, our staff and our community through exposing people to the best human-powered outdoor adventures available.” I know how much paddling has enhanced my life, and so many folks end up just as excited about paddling after taking our clinics. I love seeing people I’ve met through instructing dive right into western MA whitewater culture and community. It is really fun to see people get bit by the whitewater bug.

-Many Thanks Amanda!  We can’t wait to join you this upcoming summer in 2018.

Amanda Major in a kayak on a river


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