I recently visited Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for technically the first time (you can read more about my three day adventure here) and had originally planned to spend one of my days kayaking.  I had contacted Outdoor Odysseys at random and talked to them about my trip and this website and how I wanted to write about my experience kayaking with them. However, due to financial constraints, I had to shorten my trip by two nights and sadly had to cut out a day of kayaking in order to pack in as much of the island as possible.  Luckily, Tom Murphy, the owner and one of the guides of Outdoor Odysseys, was still willing to meet with me!  Upon exiting the ferry and arriving at Friday Harbor one beautiful Sunday morning, my friend Janine and I met up with Tom for breakfast at Salty Fox Coffee and chatted about all things kayaking in the San Juan Islands!

Tom Murphy and I at Salty Fox Coffee in Friday Harbor after our interview. (Photo Credit: Janine Marie Tobias)

Outdoor Odysseys began operating in Friday Harbor in 1987.  Their mission is to deliver the most informative, safe, and fun kayak trips in the archipelago.  Tom has seen seals, sea lions, eagles, and whales on many of his kayak tours, but was honest when he said they can’t guarantee you will see it all. Instead he stresses everyone has the same chance to see something amazing.  He encourages his kayakers to focus on the right time and enjoy their moments on the water (how could you not with that scenery?).

(Photo Credit: Outdoor Odysseys)

Tom spoke to us about the unique qualities of the area which create an environment abundant in wildlife viewing opportunities.  The waters of the Pacific are calm here due to the protection afforded by Vancouver Island.  Water flows in and out through only 2 inlets.  This creates ten-foot tides (almost a cubic mile of water) that come in and out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca Shelf each day, bringing in the cold seawater. All this makes for a rich and abundant feeding ground for marine life.

All of the San Juan Islands lack having real beaches and the drop off from shore to sound is significant (300 feet to 900+ feet). With the beautiful scenery and all the activity deep beneath you on the water, Tom emphasized how mellow kayaking itself is.  It’s not dangerous, the risk is relatively low and you can have zero kayaking experience and still hit the water. Tom said they give their guides the autonomy to run their own show as a happy guide will run a great trip.  The ten guides of Outdoor Odysseys make a great team and will definitely make your kayaking experience one for the memory books. I plan on returning to the area to kayak in this amazing environment.  It was serene and simply stunning.

(Photo Credit: Outdoor Odysseys)

Outdoor Odysseys offers everything from half day to four-day kayak tours.  They also offer a 3-day yoga and kayaking tour, 3-day wine tasting, 3-day Northwest Craft Beer tasting, Women on the Water (WOW), custom family tours, and a Skagit Valley College Natural History/Marine Biology course. One of Tom’s favorite tours is with Team Semper Fi.  Outdoor Odysseys takes 30 medically-retired Marines out on the water with four guides for a three-day camping excursion. You can read more details on all of their tour options here. I will just mention here that Tom said that Outdoor Odysseys is one of the only kayaking tour companies that offers lunch on single day trips!

(Photo Credit: Outdoor Odysseys)

Tom was born and raised in Wisconsin and attended Lawrence University. He ended up in Washington, working at Camp Nor-wester, an outdoor residential camp where children gain significant skills and insights in a caring and supportive atmosphere, taking advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal character.  In 1987, when Pacific Northwest native, Clark Casebolt, founded Outdoor Odysseys, Tom went to work for him and the rest is history.  Outdoor Odysseys is closed for kayaking October – May, and during that time, Tom, who also lives in Leavenworth, spends his times hitting the slopes as a skier, and he is sponsored by Outdoor Research.

Tom with his part-time office dog, Shasta. (Photo Credit: Outdoor Odysseys)

Outdoor Odysseys Sea Kayaking
86 Cedar Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Ph. 360-378-3533
Email: paddle@outdoorodysseys.com


One Comment on “Interview with Tom Murphy, Owner of Outdoor Odysseys”

  1. 😂 I caution that the paddling in the San Juan’s is fine for beginners if with a guide. Just grabbing a kayak and “hitting” the water is not recommended for novice paddlers. Cold water, strong currents and quick changing winds can lead to a Coast Guard call. Some companies in the San Juan’s spend extensive time training guides to be aware of the hazards. For a great read check out Deep Trouble plenty of examples of paddling the San Juan region.

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