After working as a teacher for over ten years, Matt was ready for a change of scenery—he just wasn’t sure what that was. What he did know was that he loved exploring the ocean, and he would often take friends out to the best snorkeling spots in San Diego after work. His background as an educator armed him with a wealth of knowledge about the life teeming below the water’s surface. Impressed by his skills, one of his friends asked him “why don’t you just do this for your job?” And from there, the pieces started to fall into place.
Getting his feet wet
At first, Matt had a lot of doubts about hosting. He wasn’t sure that his tours would be interesting to wider audiences. Luckily, he had a friend who believed in him and encouraged him to try something new.
Despite his worries, Matt soon realized that being a host and being an educator had a lot in common. He loves the opportunities that snorkeling provides for him to craft “in-depth hands-on lessons.” When he spots an animal, he points it out to his guests and uses his marine biology knowledge to explain what makes that animal special. He believes that being an educator is what gives his experience an edge over others. “I’m just not a random tour guide. I’m actually a teacher, and I know how to give people an in-depth look at these animals.”
Matt runs three snorkeling experiences: one for beginners in Mission Bay, one in the marine-protected area La Jolla Shores, and one for more advanced swimmers out in La Jolla Cove. He acquaints guests from all over the world with the marine residents of San Diego’s shores, ranging from tiny sea slugs to giant sea turtles. “There are around 4 Eastern Pacific green turtles that live out here. We see them every now and then, and I know exactly where they live. Most people don’t know where to find them.”
Navigating rocky waters
Matt’s journey as a host hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Understanding how to acquire all the right permits was one of his first major obstacles. He admits that he didn’t realize how many different permissions he needed before he started. “You need to have a permit to take people snorkeling and make money on the water, even if you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard.” He also soon discovered getting the information on permits that he needed from his local government was not easy.
Rather than searching online, Matt approaches rangers and government workers face-to-face to get his questions answered. “I often just wait for the rangers to come by, and then I’ll say, ‘I think I have this permit, but if I don’t, how do I do this?’” Even though this can seem like a hassle, Matt knows that to run successful experiences, he has to be legitimate, so he works to make that happen. More information on getting the right permits is available on our responsible hosting pages.
As his experiences became more popular, another challenge that Matt faced was another host who posted an experience similar to his. He remembers how this host “basically copied and pasted [his] entire description and half of [his] bio and posted that as their own.” After reaching out to them, Matt’s efforts eventually resulted in the host editing their page to use their own words instead. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you can find more information on action to take here.
The ocean’s biggest hype man
Hosting experiences has allowed Matt to give his time and energy to the cause he cares most about. “I get to live out my mission, which is to create environmental stewards.” He feels that giving people the chance to see marine life up-close is what makes them care about ocean conservation. “If you have no idea what a sea slug is, you’re not going to care about it.” He hopes that guests on his experience come away with a sense of wonder and respect for the kaleidoscope of life just beneath the water’s surface.
Beyond supporting this important life mission, Matt also gets to witness moments of personal transformation in his guests. People often come to his experiences being afraid of the ocean, so he takes it upon himself to help them overcome that fear. It begins with getting guests comfortable with each other before going into the water. After having everyone in the group introduce themselves, he tries to forge connections between guests by finding common ground. “I try to take control of the conversation, and then pass the lead to someone else. I’m really good at facilitating.” This can be as simple as mentioning where someone is from, and asking if anyone else in the group has been there before.
Heading out into the water is the next challenge for guests, but Matt has found that patience and reassurance are key. He remembers one guest who began the experience “terrified,” but after he eased her into the water and helped her realize that there was nothing to be scared of, she was soon swimming eagerly and pointing out animals for the other guests. “Her confidence just shone through.” Matt knows how difficult facing fear can be for his guests, and he applauds the leap of faith that they take when they book with him. “I’m really impressed that a lot of these people can go out of their comfort zone with some random bearded guy and just go on the water for an hour.”
Riding the waves
Matt is thrilled to see that his experiences have grown so much since he started. He now reports that “more than half of [his] calendar is full of Airbnb trips that [he’s] hosting.” In light of this success, he recently started his own company, SnorkelMatt, and has begun to view his experiences more as a cohesive business rather than a side gig. “I’m completely floored by the rate at which it’s grown in less than 2 years. So it’s a sign that I just need to keep riding that wave while I still have it.”
Matt encourages anyone looking to get started as a host to adopt a can-do attitude in the face of difficulties. He remembers how when he “was always looking at the challenges” when he first started hosting, but he soon realized that he would need to shift his mindset in order to be successful. He started to re-frame roadblocks simply as things “on his to-do list.” He says “if you don’t have the permits,” all you have to do is “go get the permits.” He attributes this outlook to his success as a host: “I just keep pushing forward, because I’m never content with the status quo.”
To Matt, successful experiences are made possible with passion. His passion comes from his love for the ocean, but anyone with something to share can channel that drive. “You’re in control of your own destiny,” he says. “If you have the passion and you want to share that with people, you have nothing stopping you. Just go for it.”
Matt is the host of Marine Bio 101, Explore Marine Life in Tide Pools, and several other ocean-related experiences. He lives in San Diego, California.