The job title listed under Jessie Renew's name on her business card says "Ambassador of Fun." It sounds like a job description most people only dream up, but Jessie is one of the lucky few whose work and interests in kayaking and the outdoors are rolled into one.
Jessie's ambassadorial position is with Outside Hilton Head, a longtime island company that specializes in everything water (and fun, of course), from sitting in a fishing boat to stand-up paddle boarding. "I love working there," said Jessie, whose enthusiasm is reflected in her voice. "It's one of those crazy things where just after my first week of work, it was like, "Wow, this is the most satisfying professional experience of my life. It's really, really amazing!"
Much of Jessie's responsibilities are in public relations, educating the community, and its many visitors, about what the company and area have to offer. She also works at Outside Hilton Head's retail store at the Plaza at Shelter Cove.
Jessie is one of the company's two American Canoe Association certified instructors. During peak tourist season, she is one of about 30 kayak guides, who, like Jessie, have other responsibilities. Because Jessie is busy with public relations this time of year, she's limited to taking clients on kayak trips to about two to three a week. By mid-June, she'll be up to as many as seven trips per week.
"It was her passion more than anything. Her love of spending time with people and the outdoors," Outside Hilton Head founder Mike Overton said about hiring Jessie more than a year ago.
Coupled with her passion, her qualifications undoubtedly left other possible candidates in her wake. She grew up on Hilton Head and has an advanced knowledge of the area's many waterways.
Jessie was ten-years-old when her family moved to the Lowcountry to escape the crime and social unrest of their native Johannesburg, South Africa. "I had this sort of woodsy childhood with a lot of space," said Jessie, who is now 27. "In comparison, in my earlier life in South Africa, there were electric fences and gates."
Jessie's schooling was at Hilton Head Island public schools before she was accepted into the South Carolina Governors Schools of the Arts in Humanities in Greenville at age 15. After two years of college at Virginia Commonwealth University, Jessie transferred to the College of Charleston, where she earned degrees in studio art and art history. She found her niche working mainly in mixed-media art, such as painting on furniture. "I was always crafty and liked to explore different types of mediums and incorporate them into painting. It was never really about a career so much," Jessie said. "The type of art I do was never really commercial. Either you get famous and have a fantastic life, or you don't."
Jessie has found her "fantastic life" through nature. About five years ago, she was introduced to kayaking by two friends who were kayak guides. The simplicity of the sport and the fact it was easy to pick up appealed to her. "The first time I ever went out, it was, 'Wow, you're really good at that.' That's all I needed was for someone to tell me I had some natural ability for something. I've always liked being out on the on the water, so it wasn't a big stretch," Jessie said.
But it's not all about drifting on the Broad Creek on a lazy summer's eve. Adventure is a big part of the allure. Earlier this year, Jessie and two others kayaked and camped throughout the Florida Everglades, carrying a week's worth of food and water in their small vessels. "We saw dolphins in fresh water, gators in salt water, things they shouldn't have been doing. We also saw a shark. I love a good little shark," said Jessie, spoken like a true "Ambassador of Fun".
Background: Born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Family moved to Hilton Head Island when Jessie was 10.
Family: Mark and Colleen Renew, parents; Guy, older brother; and Natalie, older sister.
Interests: Anything on the water. "I love to swim and want to get more into fishing and sailing."
Salt or fresh water? Definitely salt water. "I have always loved the ocean. In terms of gear, it gets a lot more beaten up. Sun and salt are a crazy combination."
Something beginning kayakers should know: It's all in the heart. The reason people are unsuccessful at kayaking is because they let their head get in the way. They need to relax. If you're relaxed, your boat is relaxed.