Outdoor adventure has roots in Oak Bay

World-traveller teaches next generation of adventure guides

Students at Westcoast Adventure College learn safety manoeuvres during sea kayak introduction instruction.

Students at Westcoast Adventure College learn safety manoeuvres during sea kayak introduction instruction.

Phil Foster loves his job – “people pay me to sail” – and teaching to the point where retirement isn’t an option.

The Oak Bay resident says he’ll stop when he’s dead.

Foster taught his first course in 1966. Now he’s co-owner, along with Scot Taylor, at Westcoast Adventure College, something that epitomizes his working life.

“I get such a charge out of seeing people learn,” Foster said.

Before opening the college, Foster helped develop the B.C. Adventure Tourism program which he also taught at Camosun College. He worked with First Nations, Parks Canada and Malaspina University College to develop the Guardian Training Program. These programs and his other adventure tourism work  led to the development of the Westcoast Adventure College.

Outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore a career in nature tourism have a myriad of backgrounds “so we use every style of learning,” Foster said.

“Everything is integrated,” he adds, fingers intertwining in a visual. “Nothing really is a standalone [class]. It’s the best way to learn.

“Occasionally we challenge them by throwing them in the deep and then reviewing it. It’s experiential learning.”

While Taylor has a three-step commute to the Sooke classroom, true to its roots that’s not always where these outdoor classes are held.

Gulf Islands provide a stunning classroom and CRD Parks are both amazing and good business partners.

“They’re fabulous environments for us to use,” Foster says.

The sought-after seats are capped at 21 students, with the class split in half or thirds for a more intimate instructor-to-student ratio to provide quality over quantity. Any instructor they employ is actively in the business, not a difficult task on the South Island.

“We’re lucky in Victoria we have the best people in the world,” Foster said.

A recent program at Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a good example. They held a business panel where students queried a panel of industry experts from organizations like Oak Bay Marine Group and Prince of Whales Whale Watching in a “reverse Dragons Den” format.

“They were all industry leaders,” Foster said. “It’s fantastic. We have all these worldwide leaders in Victoria.”

Working on a decade as an accredited institution, the college’s highly professional instructors and program provide a wide ecology of opportunities. From kayak guiding to dog-sledding, whale watching to zip-lining, the college has had a vast array of successful students that have been hired around the globe. Graduates are spread across the B.C. coast and as far afield as Africa

“We have about 40 companies coming to us to recruit … so our students have choices of jobs,” Foster said. “They finish [the program] just when the companies are hiring,”

Students also complete a two-week work experience to wrap the program, often where they maintain employment. They also help run the BC Tourism conference often held in Vancouver.

“It’s what you do, to give back to the industry,” Foster said.

During his career in adventure tourism Foster has worked in Europe and Canada in a variety of positions such as director of outdoor adventure centres, teaching at universities and running his own adventure tourism businesses. He’s been involved in many facets of the adventure tourism industry, from skiing, sailing, kayaking, scuba diving and mountaineering, to training mountain and sea rescue groups.

Foster keeps his rudder in the tourism waters, with yacht and sailing charters outside the school and no plans to retire on the horizon.

“It keeps you at the front end of tourism,” he said.

Visit westcoastadventurecollege.com online to learn more about the program.

– with files from Sooke News Mirror