This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.
John Parkinson (JP) has been rafting for 10 years. He’s been at RITS for four years. His twin brother is also one of our guides. He’s a natural jokester, and you might catch him knocking a few on your bus ride.
Why do you like working for RITS?
A lot of companies only hire rookies. At RITS they hire people with good experience and have been rafting here and other places around the world. This is one of those rivers that you can take a lot of people down. We’re very professional with years of senior experience. We know how to act with guests, safety is a priority. Of course we hire rookies as we do need to train new people and give them a love for whitewater rafting.
Do you have a training program?
KP, Birdman, I, and a few other trip leaders do the training. It’s a hard process and we have to weed out people. There isn’t a specific walk of life to be a raft guide, but there are people from all walks of life. When we run private trips—in like West Virginia and the like—we always like to eat afterwards. When we eat, the waitress is trying to figure out how we all know each other because we’re like a college kid, a biker guy, a hillbilly, and inner-city kids. We are all like family, even though we aren’t, and we all laugh like family. You’ll get California kids and ex-cops and marines. It’s a melting pot.
What do you do when you aren’t rafting?
I teach snowboarding in Colorado. That’s the way I can balance this job out. 11 years ago, KP, my twin brother, took me rafting for the first time on the Pigeon River. Everything from the bus talk to splashing people in the face, swimming, and all, I loved. I fell in love with it. When he told me he was a raft guide, I had no idea what it was. I was from Nashville and when I got back home I was trying to figure out how I could quit my job. I had to work for a year before I could quit and then I’ve been doing it ever since. This is a real job. There is hard work involved in loading buses, keeping people entertained even if they might be having a bad day, and more.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I’m an entertainer. I love my guests. Ever since I was a little kid I loved entertaining. Not a lot of people are like that. I entertain from the beginning until the end. I like to be the center of attention. I have an outgoing attitude, and I get to use that as a career tool.
What’s your philosophy on life?
We only pass through this world once. Any good that we can do we should do it now. Any cool activity we can do, we should do it now. We can’t ever defer or neglect it.
What inspires you?
Whitewater. Only being a raft guide you’ll see realize that the song “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” is so wrong.
If you were to take a family with young kids, how can you reassure them the experience would be great?
Safety is one of our number one things. Ask for a senior guide or trip leader as they’ll always be on it. Rafting is one of those activities where adults and kids can have just as much fun as each other. You get the same experience as your kids. It’s a people thing. We have one of the most senior staffs on the whole river. Most of the staff is senior. I’ve had kids crying on the banks. What I try and do is try and talk to them personally, even if they aren’t on my boat. I learned a lot of this teaching snowboarding. By the end of it, I tell them if they don’t like the first half, we’ll take them back.
Rafting in the Smokies is a family-friendly rafting company. Don’t be afraid to bring your toddlers, because we have something for everyone! Older kids can enjoy the zipline canopy tour and high elements ropes course. Younger kids can have fun with their parents on the family float trip and rock climbing wall. Adrenaline junkies will love the upper pigeon river rafting trips. Book your next adventure now.