By Chris Gragtmans

It was about a year and a half ago that I quit my full-time marketing job, and decided to make a living on my own. I had taken the job immediately after graduating college to pay off student loans, and it was a great jump-off point. But there was a fundamental problem- I didn’t believe in what I was selling. My lack of fulfillment was enough to spur my departure, and I left without too much of a plan, other than to work hard in life and have as much fun as possible. 

After a two month biking and kayaking “sabbatical” to Whistler, BC, I came home to North Carolina with virtually no money to my name, but a heightened resolve to make a living on my own terms (and in perpetuity).   

Things were by no means easy.  My new lifestyle involved a significant ramp-up period. Slowly but surely, I created work and poured all of my passion into my professional relationships. I started working with Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, a very supportive Southeast mag that still enables me to write consistently about the things that I am excited about.  My mind was stimulated like never before as I took the time to reflect on the experiences that I had as a kayaker and outdoors athlete.  Those moments only become more powerful when relived a second time with attention to the deeper meanings.

A few dollars began to materialize to buy a burrito or put some gas in the tank…

 Shortly thereafter, I took on my current position as Pro Team Manager and Athlete for Dagger Kayaks, a company that I have always looked up to as the leader in my sport.  That position was a turning point for me, because being on the other side of the table helped me to understand the Outdoors Industry in ways that I never had before.  I jumped on every opportunity that I could, doing retailer visits, competitions, and R&D.  Life was accelerating.

2013 has exceeded every single expectation I could have had. I have forged relationships with brands that I only dreamed of working with in the past (including Chaco!). I have been able to pay a lot of knowledge forward to the next generation, an experience that gives me serious déjà vu from when I was in their shoes. Standup paddleboarding, a completely new sport for me, has entered my life, and I am grateful to have achieved podium results on its professional stage.  A few key people helped me to learn about and apply the power of appreciating returns and long-term investment strategies for a healthy retirement. And most importantly, I was able to spend a ton of time with my girlfriend, Ashley, and with my family.

There have been some tough times along the way as well, but to say 2013 was a beautiful year would be an understatement.

Here are a few links, photos and videos from the journey that has become my dream career and life:

Finding a new way to interact with a familiar medium…

Photo Credit: Ashley Woodring

This was just a really bad idea!

Working with Camp4 Collective, Martin Agency, and BFGoodrich Tires on this project was a true pleasure. Every day was filled to the brim with passion and creativity by everyone on the team…

Unwinding in California with my camp shoes!

And going for a hike with Ashley on her birthday…

Credit: Nick Gragtmans Photography


Sometimes it just seems as though the world opens up and allows us to achieve whatever we want.  I think that the two most important things to do when this occurs are to:

1)   Appreciate the hell out of it.  After all, as residents of the first world, with disposable income to play outside, we are among the most fortunate people on the planet.

2)   Work hard to achieve our potential.  As a child, my parents instilled in me a quote that has resonated ever since: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”  I think this is self-explanatory- be awesome and do honor to every opportunity that comes along.

I hope that all of you enjoy your holidays, and here’s to another good one in 2014.  Catch ya on the flip side! 




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