Business from Wind and Wave
Pat Ganase interviews Brett Kenny, owner and operator of the Radical Sports business at Pigeon Point. This feature was first published in the Newsday Tobago on Thursday, July 12, 2018.
|Windsurfer at Pigeon Point Tobago|
Brett Kenny runs a business built on wind and human energy. The northeast trades at Tobago are his allies; the translucent sea at Pigeon Point his workshop. His investment in boards and sails facilitates the release of human energy to allow anyone to enjoy the freedom of the sea. The skills that are learned in windsurfing, kiteboarding or stand-up-paddling would serve the amateur or professional athlete. He encourages participants to learn to swim; it is a requirement that can be learned easily: “we had a windsurfer who spent an hour each day learning to swim before he went on the board with a life-jacket.”
|Radical Sports headquarters and office is a modest environment-friendly cabin|
It is one of the things he believes parents and teachers should give priority to: “Why should an irrational fear of the sea deprive them of a lifelong skill which can open up so many opportunities? Schools, families, church groups must all be invited to learn to swim. One of my biggest goals is to eliminate the fear of water for people living on islands. People who come from far away save up for months to swim in our waters for two days. We have this privilege every day!”
The Radical Sports Kids Camp runs during July and August: “It is pre-requirement that our children know how to swim; but we haven’t let it stop anyone who might be keen on the water sports. The one-week sessions for the camp start July 9 and 16, and August 20 and 27; and ten kids are accepted in each session. They learn our sports – windsurf, stand up paddle. But it’s not only about being in the water; there’s football, educational games; and everyday begins with a beach clean up. More than that, it’s about being outside, on the beach, in the wind. Kids are expected to leave their devices in the office, or not bring them at all. To the crew at Radical, safety is top of the list.”
|The windsurfers and sails are stored inside Radical Sports offices.|
Brett’s story took him from Fatima (high school) to Roytech for computer programming: “everything I learned then is obsolete.” He eventually followed his brother Duane (two and a half years older) to Florida International University, for a degree in Marketing and Business. “Then I worked in a car rental firm in Florida. You can imagine my father, ‘I sent you to university to rent cars?’ When I returned in 2007, I worked for a foreign company renting cars.
“My father said, ‘Be happy. If you can, find something that you love, that keeps you alive.’ So I came to Tobago. Radical was an experiment; three weeks with Ricky Knowles (who had started Radical in 2005) and I bought the business (in 2010). I love being on the beach, meeting people here. It has shaped my life philosophy: to work in a place that I love. Buccoo Reef is two km out towards the horizon. The Bon Accord lagoon is in paddling distance. With all that, Tobago requires you to work harder than you will work anywhere else. It is the hardest place to be successful. And I don’t count success in financial gain but in the quality of my life and its sustainability. I am proud to raise Kai Noah (my son) in Tobago.”
Brett owns Radical Sports. Brother Duane owns the Stand up Paddle business. Together they started the bioluminescent tours (“bio” Brett says) in the Bon Accord lagoon five years ago. “Bio is usually visible on the nights before and after the dark moon, approximately 14 days a month. The rainy season, June to December, adds to the effects. We have a calendar on the website radicalsportstobago.com that indicates the tour dates over the next two years.
“Bio has evolved into a safari tour, lasting about two and a half hours, starting at the Radical headquarters at dusk (6 or 6.30 depending on the time of year). On stand up paddle boards or kayaks, we go quietly into areas where you will see fish such as tarpons, nesting birds including pelicans, and bats; and the bioluminescence. This tour is now on TripAdvisor’s list of top things to do in Tobago.”
For more on the phenomenon of bioluminescence, see the edition of Wild Tobago click here.
|Satisfied explorers of the bioluminescence and wildlife in the Bon Accord Lagoon (Photo courtesy Radical Sports)|
Brett knows he has been perceived as a kind of beach bum. To this he says, “Tobago needs new energy to develop things to do, to provide aspects of tourism that catch people’s imagination. It’s not expensive to have a good idea. It takes effort to persist and make it happen, and more so, to sustain it year after year.
“I say, ‘Bravo to young West’ who is responsible for the Island Crashers weekend that takes place at the end of June. That has now become one of Tobago’s premier events, this beach jouvay party weekend that rivals spring break. We need the energy and the intellectual capital that a twenty-something entrepreneur can bring. That event brought in hundreds of young people – and some families – soaked up available accommodation in the area; and injected cash and fun into the local economy. Most - but not all -the visitors were from Trinidad. Wherever they came from, they used services – car rentals, groceries, restaurants, rooms – and spent money.”
He talks about the surveyors from the THA Tourism department who came to ask how his business should be supported. “I told them, the same way the government should be supporting any other business in Tobago: with access and basic facilities. I also said, more Tobagonians should know how to swim, to enjoy and explore the ocean resources around Tobago. I use the summer camps to show that it is possible to be in the sea, outdoors, to enjoy life and have a fun business.
“There is, however, one thing that Tobago should have by now, and that is a marina. It’s not even on the books, but needs to be considered before many other things.”
The wind picks up. Brett gazes out to sea. In the distance, small waves break over the reef edge. It drizzles a little. Clouds drift overhead. The sun comes out. On Pigeon Point, it’s summer every day. Here indeed is paradise, and one man working to keep it so.