Haas School of Business

Kayaker with a Conscience

Charting a Circuitous Career

Pamela McNeeley, BS 77
Co-Owner, Blue Waters Kayaking
Point Reyes, Calif.


Pamela McNeeley

Pamela McNeeley navigated a long, winding course before paddling her kayak to the tranquil waters in West Marin County.

After Berkeley she worked at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) for three years, primarily in Dallas, where clients told her she had “way too much personality to be a CPA.”

Missing the West, McNeeley returned to the Bay Area, where she tested the waters in a handful of jobs: She trained customers on early personal computers and then worked for herself helping businesses set up accounting systems. She even launched a New Age greeting card business, which she still runs today.

Then she met her future husband, who co-owned a kayaking company with one launch on the east shore of Tomales Bay. McNeeley bought out her husband’s partner in 1992. In 1994, the couple bought Blue Waters Kayaking, which had a launch on the west shore and ran trips in Baja California, Mexico.

“The accounting background and marketing from Cal have been super helpful in our business,” McNeeley says. “I’ve had this framework all these years: I can look at financial statements, and I do endless analysis. People who don’t have this business understanding are lost.”

Still, serving 10,000 customers a year from two launches and 200 customers in Mexico proved “quite an adventure.” “They were always coming up with new rules in Mexico, wanting $8,000 or $10,000 because you didn’t do something that they never told you about,” McNeeley says.

And then came the recession in 2008, just after McNeeley put up $40,000 for chartered flights to Mexico. With business sinking 25 percent, Blue Waters left Mexico in 2010 and now markets tours there provided by local operators.

Although she loved whale watching in Baja, McNeeley is just as enthusiastic talking about the 20,000 birds that spend their winters at Point Reyes National Seashore. Her favorite excursion: spring kayaking through the restored Giacomini Wetlands at the southern end of Tomales Bay.

McNeeley calls Blue Waters a “lifestyle business.” “It’s not like investment banking, but we’re making good money—and I get to go kayaking whenever I want. We meet really nice people, and it’s a way to support our natural world.”

Through Blue Waters, McNeeley also has built strong ties in West Marin. She sits on the Chamber of Commerce, works on events with the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, and regularly donates kayak trips to local nonprofits.

“The neatest thing about Point Reyes is it’s very community oriented,” she says. “People here just want to do something for the planet.” –Ronna Kelly

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