By Maddie Lutz | Correspondent
Editor’s note: Welcome to “Coast’s Day in the Life” series. For the month of August, we’ll be highlighting a few industry professionals that supply the in-demand goods and services that make the Outer Banks tick. Stay tuned as watersports captains, musicians, charter fishermen and more share a behind-the-scenes look at a day on the job.
Ever wonder what it’s like to run a watersports venture? As customers, we get to experience the thrills of parasailing, Jet Skiing, paddleboarding, tubing, sailing and more. But what is it like to actually plan and operate all of the adventures, teach techniques to new customers or boost the confidence of anxious participants? For Dan McIsaac, owner of Nor’Banks Sailing and Watersports in Duck, the best parts of the job are sparking people’s love for having fun in the water and knowing that no two days on the job are ever the same.
While the Nor’banks Sailing Center has been around since 1979 (making it the second oldest business in Duck after Wee Winks Market and Deli), Nor’Banks Sailing and Watersports as we know it has only been around since 2017. Then, the small company had only 11 positions, but it now employs more than 40 people. In the past year, its retail store, with everything from surfboards to swimsuits, has doubled in size.
Prior to the business offering its array of activities that range from paddleboards to pontoon boats, Nor’Banks focused on sailing and parasailing. McIsaac initially worked as an instructor at Nor’Banks Sailing Center and eventually became a manager. On the side, he ran his own trips for wakeboarding and tubing excursions. Fast forward to 2017, and McIsaac became the owner of the sailing center. This let him bring the wakeboarding, tubing, parasailing and sailing all under the Nor’Banks brand and additionally merge with the other pontoon boat and Jet Ski companies next door.
These days, he spends less time on the water and more behind the scenes performing managerial tasks. However, he always makes time in his day to interact with the incredible customers that fuel his passion to provide the public with a perfect day on the water.
The most important aspect of running a watersports company is to note that there is no such thing as a “typical” day. While some professions run on a predictable, planned-out schedule, fickle weather and an ever-changing timetable don’t allow for rigid, long-term scheduling in this line of work. A watersports instructor’s or captain’s day may include showing guests all the ways to play on the water or hours and hours of paperwork, with everything from scheduling to taxes. On the contrary, inclement weather may result in shutting down all equipment and bringing the day to a close at 11 a.m. You really never know!
You can find McIsaac doing anything and everything from power washing the sidewalks to renovating the retail display. When he surveys the premises, he “(sees) nothing but a to-do list.”
He adores the dynamic demands of working in watersports. Every day offers something new and different, and both he and his employees have the opportunity to dabble in all areas of business. No day is average, no day is boring.
This is especially exciting for the company’s younger employees, who receive the opportunity to learn about all of the aspects of the business and develop their skills both recreationally and abstractly. Some of these younger workers (some only 14 years old) go on to become captains and build careers off of the skills they learn. Others diverge from the field, going on to become doctors, lawyers and engineers after learning the importance of hard work and dedication. Most return annually to rekindle their zeal for life on the water. McIsaac is happy to provide employment for some of the Outer Banks’ youngest workers and guide them along in developing their interests, aptitudes and, of course, their ability to sail.
The business is growing, and it’s growing fast. Thus, new positions arise frequently, and employees are thankful to work at a place that provides opportunities to develop their interests. Likewise, McIsaac is thankful for the helping hands. These days, he sees himself more as an “extra person” that exists off the schedule. He can be found throughout the day shuttling back and forth between the pontoon boats and the office, maintaining everything from customer service to emails. He’s willing and ready to step into whatever role is required that day.
As for when the workday comes to a close, there’s never a certain time. McIsaac laughs, “As a business owner, your workday never really ends.”
Most days, there’s sunset pontoons and last minute scheduling adjustments to make. He admits that when he first became a business owner, he had a difficult time “shutting it off” and heading home for the night. After several years of ownership, he now has the support from his staff to usually call it a day around 6:30-7 p.m.
The development of the business’ upstairs neighbor, The Village Table and Tavern, provides the Nor’Banks crew a relaxing space to hang out and unwind at the end of the day, complete with live music, dinner and a place to soak in the incredible view of the Currituck Sound. McIsaac has nothing but good things to say about his neighbors upstairs, saying their positive relationship makes his job even more pleasant to wake up to every day.
With Nor’Banks a fully functional and stable enterprise today, McIsaac has the security to spend time thinking of ways to develop the business. He enjoys coming up with innovative solutions to problems, creating new services and expanding upon what he has already built.
A lighter work day allows him time to organize fun staff events or set up an impromptu photoshoot. His varied day-to-day activities supplement a love for the job and keep repetition at bay. The only thing that a watersports instructor’s or captain’s day guarantees is that no matter the day’s events, the work will be rewarded with the smiles and compliments of clients who come from both near and far to experience their services and nurture their own love for the water.