Ex-finance lawyer teaching snowkiting and kiteboarding
Simon Watson studied Maritime Business and Maritime Law at Plymouth university, partly as a way to spend lots of time sailing and diving under the guise of studying. After seven years in the City as a finance lawyer, he re-trained as an adventure guide in Alaska and learnt to teach snowkiting in Norway. In 2010 he set up a snowkiting and kiteboarding business.
mtl: Tell us about your legal career…
Simon: I studied Maritime Business and Maritime Law, more because of the watersports qualifications than the business side of the course and then on graduation joined a ship broker in the West End, which I hated. I decided to go to law school and then started my training contract at an Enron wannabe energy company called Aquila.
During my training contract I moved to Simmons and Simmons (as Aquila shut shop during the Enron energy crisis right in the middle of my training contract) where I did energy related, hedge fund and derivatives work and I qualified into the financial services group there. However I didn’t enjoy private practice as much as the in-house work at Aquila, so I left at 6 months pqe to go to Lehman Brothers.
I worked on the equities trading floor there for two years as a lawyer doing general banking work. From there I moved to Fidelity where I had a similar role. I was there for two years before moving to JPMorgan for another year.
mtl: How did you get from being a pretty established finance lawyer to doing your own thing?
Maritime Business and Maritime Law,
Training contract, initially at Aquila
and then at Simmons and Simmons
In-house finance legal roles in the
Guiding course in Alaska, travel,
learning to teach snowkiting
Set up Cruel Summer
Simon: I had wanted to run my own business for a long time but hadn’t discovered exactly what, when I came across an organisation based in Alaska that trained people to be guides. I left the law and spent four months re-training as a mountaineering, sea-kayaking, white water rafting and ski mountaineering guide, which were things that I’d always been interested in. When I was younger I hadn’t been convinced that it would be possible to make a career out of this kind of work, which is why I went into the City.
The course was great training and great fun and I spent the year after the course travelling, guiding and climbing in Ecuador and the Himalayas. I then met a polar explorer on a first aid course who introduced me to the idea of kiting on snow which basically allows you to go fast both up and down mountains, and travel vast distances with expedition equipment, just using the power of the wind.
I hadn’t really heard about the sport before and went to Norway to learn how to do it. I did lots of training to become qualified to teach it as it is a sport with regulated standards, as is kiteboarding (on water). The business idea came from that. It’s a popular sport in Norway but up until now there has been little appetite for it elsewhere in the world, though that is changing fast. It is a very progressive sport and pushes people to their limits both physically and mentally. Its application is enormous, and hence the possibilities for creativity and development are huge
mtl: Tell us about your business and how you set it up.
Simon: After putting together a business plan and after 6-9m of planning, I set up the business.. We use an excellent hotel on the Harddangervidda plateau in south central Norway as a base, and my brother designed the website for us. It is the perfect location to teach people to snowkite as it is very cold and windy, with very deep snow from November to mid-May. There is fantastic rolling tundra with road access to various different spots on the plateau, and many flat areas for teaching beginners.
The clients that we have come mostly from the UK and but also from all over the world. If possible I meet them first and prime them for the trip, for example by taking some kites to a convenient spot (usually Richmond Park in Surrey) to get them used to using them prior to going to Norway. We can therefore hone some skills before putting skis or snowboards on and maximise the benefits of being on the snow. Beginner packages are usually for a long weekend or a week to Norway. The trips include full board, accommodation and use of the harnesses and kites. Clients book their own flights and bring their own skis or snowboard, or hire them locally via a deal we get with a local hotel nearby.
The trips appeal to anyone interested in getting away from the pistes and to those who can already ski or snowboard or even kiteboard on water, however there is no requirement to be able to ski or snowboard to do a beginner course, as the ski/boarding skills are very different from those used in downhill skiing/boarding.
Cruel Summer offers courses for all levels, which are split into freestyle or expedition training after the beginnner level. Some of our instructors also guide people across Antarctica for a living and therefore are highly skilled in polar expedition training. Clients are taken out on the plateau and taught polar training skills i.e. how to pull a sledge using skis and a kite and survive comfortably in sub-zero conditions. Alternatively the freestyle discipline teaches how to jump, use the kite for lift and how to literally ‘fly’ down mountains.
The business has been running for over a year and in the future we will expand the destinations, for example by going to Central Europe which is a much less expensive location than Norway. In the long-run we may head to Newfoundland and other areas in East Canada too as it is only five hours from London and offers fantastic expedition opportunities.
In the summer we focus on kiteboarding tuition in the UK instead of snowkiting, generally taking groups of professionals for long weekends during the summer and teaching the full kiteboarding learner package. I’m also in the process of arranging land expeditions using kites with buggies as you can cover huge distances with them and it is very environmentally friendly (provided you have the wind!).
On the side of my kiting business, I occasionally work as a guide on interesting trips for an adventure company. My life basically involves a lot of travel! I have the option of doing a bit of legal consultancy work along the way but I try to avoid it…
mtl: What have been the highs and lows so far?
Simon: The hardest aspect has been the marketing as it wasn’t something that I’ve ever had to do before. The best thing has been teaching people to snowkite successfully (without injuring them!) and seeing them squeal with delight as they fly across the plateau, up and down mountains, with huge smiles on their faces.
mtl: Thank you Simon.
You can see Simon’s website here: www.cruel-summer.com. If you are interested in a snowkiting or kiteboarding trip or you’d like to do a taster day in Richmond Park then contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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