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Danny Barker of Penguin Paddling

Brings “Active Meditation” to the Community

occoquan lily pads
Danny Barker

By Jennifer Rader

Nestled along Neabsco Creek between the nature preserve Julie J. Metz Wetlands Bank and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, you’ll find Penguin Paddling, LLC, which Manassas resident Danny Barker founded, owns and operates. Penguin Paddling incorporated in March 2013 and guided its first kayak tour the following May.

The business is a comprehensive kayak and standup paddle board outfitter offering rentals and tours, including for groups up to 65, Barker said. Tours include paddleboard nature excursions of Neabsco Creek. The outfitter also has standup paddleboard yoga sessions.

On weekends April through October, Penguin Paddling is open at Hampton’s Landing Marina, in Woodbridge, where the outfitter’s rental facility is located. (It also has an online retail operation.)

Barker, who is a full-time Fairfax County firefighter and paramedic, has always been passionate about kayaking, he said. Knowing he wasn’t the office type, he once declined a job offer as a translator for the federal government. He decided to launch his hobby into a business.

PWL: What is your motivation behind the start of Penguin Paddling, LLC?

Barker: I have been blessed with having had a long series of great opportunities to learn about the outdoors and outdoor activities. Paddling is a form of “active meditation” for me and allows me to completely relax and forget whatever stressors I have going on at any particular time. I want to show people that experience. I have yet to see an angry face staring at me from a kayak or paddle board. During the happiest period of my life, I was kayaking between 80 and 90 days a year. I figured that setting up a business centered on paddling would probably ensure that I paddle quite a bit and make me happy. I was right. Paddling has helped me out quite a bit, and I want to share that with others. Penguin Paddling gives me a route by which I can have a positive impact on the community. This is more important to me than making a profit. I believe that leaving a place better than you found it is a more lasting legacy than the amount of cash in your account. I want Penguin Paddling to be an organization of integrity.


PWL:  In what ways is Penguin Paddling working to positively impact the community?

Barker: We offered the use of our boats to the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition on April 12 to assist them with a stream cleanup. Their cleanup operated at multiple sites and removed tons of refuse from the upper Occoquan [River].

We hosted an event on April 19 that pulled 1.17 tons of trash out of the Potomac River. We partnered with local businesses to make the “Penguin Pickup” a success.

We are working with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, Apple Federal Credit Union, Prince William County and the City of Alexandria to get at-risk youth out on our equipment, free of charge, to expose them to healthy, positive and wholesome outdoor experiences. This sort of exposure helped me become the person I am, and we are trying our best to pass the gift along. We are trying to set up a program where we will get 30 [to] 40 kids out on the water at a time at least once a month.

We are [also] partnering with charities based in our community to raise awareness and funding to their respective causes. Events will be hosted at our facility to this end. The 25th Project (Springfield-based nonprofit homeless outreach services provider) and Recycle Life [] are among the charities we are working on setting up partnerships with.

PWL:  Did you ever think you would become an entrepreneur?

Barker: Yes and no. I have never managed a business or owned a business. This is my first venture into business ownership/management. I learned about customer service and sales while working retail. And I have worked in other outdoor businesses. I had dreamt of doing so for years but for some reason, I decided to stop dreaming, stop talking and start doing. Penguin Paddling was born.

PWL:  What challenges had to be overcome?

Barker: The next one! Life is full of challenges. I prefer to think of them as opportunities to learn. There is always a “challenge” around the corner.

As far as challenges to the business go, it’s really difficult to figure out how to do everything from scratch. There is no employee manual for starting your own business. There is nobody who explains what you need to do and how you need to do it in order to stay out of trouble and be successful.

You have to ask different people and not be afraid to mess up. I personally have found marketing to be my biggest challenge, and it is something I am trying to figure out. I am hosting positive community outreach events to get Penguin Paddling as a whole out to the community. I am constantly building/maintaining relationships with businesses in related, but not competing, fields to establish working partnerships.

PWL: What is the future vision for your company?

Barker: This is the million-dollar question. I am concentrating on having my first rental location be a success. I want to devote my energy into making Prince William County’s waterfront into the best waterfront destination in Northern Virginia. I want to make Penguin Paddling into a positive fixture in the community. I want happy customers, happy neighbors and Penguin Paddling to be an instrument of good. People will know my company for the good times we provide and the good deeds we do. This is my way to shape contributions to the community. The gift is in the giving.

Penguin Paddling, a comprehensive kayak and standup paddleboard outfitter located in Woodbridge, offers rentals and tours.
Penguin Paddling, a comprehensive kayak and standup paddleboard
outfitter located in Woodbridge, offers rentals and tours.

PWL: What advice would you give others considering a business venture?

Barker: At the risk of dropping a cliché on you: “You only live once.” I encourage everybody to live a life without regret. Just go for it. The only thing limiting your potential is you. Is there risk in starting a business? Depends on how you look at it. I do not see risk. I see opportunity.

As a certified massage therapist, freelance writer Jennifer Rader enjoys studying nutrition, wellness, fundraising and entrepreneurship as well as writing on various topics within her interests. She lives with her son and husband in Manassas. Rader can be reached at [email protected]

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