By Flora Tsapovsky
What makes an adventure? Can a divorce be one? For Nicki Clark, the founder of Marin Outdoor Adventure, one turbulent escapade led to another much more joyous one, and a business based on connection, empowerment and community was born.
“About four years ago I was in a pretty major life transition,” says Clark, a Marin native. “I had just gotten divorced with two children, now 10 and 8, was eager and ready to start working towards financial independence for the sake of personal growth and confidence and simply to be able to continue to live in Marin.”
Around that time Clark, who had previously worked as a mountain biking guide, a snowboarding instructor, a glacier tour guide and a CrossFit coach, got an email from a friend.
“I learned that Airbnb [was] starting a pilot program for offering ‘experiences’ and looking for people who were interested in being a part of that,” Clark says, describing what recently launched in multiple cities across the U.S. as a brand-new offering by the hospitality giant. The premise: In addition to staying in people’s homes, travelers can book an experience with a local guide—be it in the form of an artist’s studio visit, a cooking class, a behind-the-scenes look at a ballet group and more—as a way to deepen their romance with a place.
“The opportunity to work with Airbnb during the beta phase of this new product was a catalyst for me to start Marin Outdoor Adventure,” Clark says. “Within a few months I had my first booking for ‘Mountain Biking in Marin,’ which was the first ever Airbnb experience to be booked.”
Currently, Clark’s venture, working both with Airbnb and outside of it, offers countless local outdoor adventures for groups and individuals. Led by experienced guides, excursions range from exploring Muir Woods, to beginner and advanced mountain biking, to group surfing lessons on the coast. Surely, anyone can go hiking and exploring on their own, right?
“Having an expert who is passionate about whatever the activity may be makes the experience completely different,” Clark says. “We bring a quality of connection to the experience with each guest—a person-to-person connection that tends to lead the guests to a feeling that is memorable and special. It has to do with human connection and passionate, kind and experienced experts.”
While Clark hires both male and female guides, the representation of women adventure guides and what they offer is vast—Marin Outdoor Adventure lists Kathy Hutton, a windsurfing expert and triathlon runner, Audrey Le, a hiking enthusiast and producer and Drea Lester, a mountain biking lover, among its guides—and it’s no coincidence.
“I am passionate about empowering and inspiring women and young girls,” Clark says. “I have a weekly girl’s and women’s surf club that meets every Tuesday afternoon, and I think it could turn into something very powerful and special.”
Clark also works with Send It Foundation, a nonprofit offering adventures for young adults who are cancer survivors. On a regular week, clients could be locals and travelers alike, as well as companies aiming for teambuilding through mindfulness, adventuring and simply getting down and dirty.
Three years in, Clark’s business is blossoming; last November, Airbnb invited her to speak at Airbnb Open, the company’s community-based hospitality festival in Los Angeles.
“I had the opportunity to speak at the Orpheum Theatre in L.A., and give a presentation on what it takes to be a successful experience host,” Clark recalls.
In addition to participating in the experiences and running Marin Outdoor Adventure, Clark keeps incredibly busy in more ways than one; she recently accepted a position as regional manager for Air Concierge, a property management company based in San Diego. She also teaches two CrossFit classes a week at TJ’s Gym in Mill Valley and is participating in a teacher’s training with Mark Coleman, a mindfulness guru, to become a meditation teacher in a nature context.
“I feel like I am at a point in my life where my capacity for productivity is growing and developing, which is exciting,” Clark says. Add raising two young kids to the mix, and you’ll get an adventure like no other.
Marin Outdoor Adventure; 415/322-0034; marinoutdooradventure.com.