If you wanted to know what was so intriguing about Rob DeCanio, Brittany Jean and Nate Addy, you could stop at the fact that all three work at Zipline Hilton Head.
That alone, having the coolest job in the world, would probably be enough. While the rest of us are biding time until the weekend, demarcating our days in cups of coffee and bathroom breaks, they are soaring among the treetops, delving into the local waters, celebrating our unique ecology and spreading the gospel of Hilton Head Island to visitors far and wide.
Roughly everyone reading this found themselves on Hilton Head Island in the hopes that we could in some small part spend our days trekking through the natural wonder that makes this place so special. For these guys, that’s their 9-to-5.
But in each case, what makes them so worthy of inclusion in this year’s Intriguing People issue has almost nothing to do with the awesome occupation that sits atop their resume. It’s the stories behind how they found themselves here that make them so intriguing.
Rob “The General” DeCanio
General Manager Rob DeCanio would rather not talk about what makes him so intriguing. Sure, there’s the fact that for months he was on TVs across the country as a contestant in the Rotu tribe on "Survivor: Marquesas." There are the stories of foraging for food, fending off threats both from nature and from rival tribes, but DeCanio would rather talk about something far more interesting: his staff.
“I think the kids are really interesting,” he said in his trademark booming growl of a voice. “They are so dedicated and they do such a good job.”
He cites one employee who used to do rigging for Cirque d’Soleil, another who used to be a Muppet. No matter how much anyone wants to know about his days in Marquesas, he’d rather tell you about his Zipline tribe than the Rotu tribe.
Fortunately, his Zipline tribe is happy to talk about what makes DeCanio so interesting, even if he’d rather put the spotlight on them.
“He’s for real. Beyond the 'Survivor' thing, some of the work he’s done, he used to be a sports color guy, he’s backpacked through the rainforest. … His background is as varied and interesting as the rest of ours,” said Nate Addy, one of the guides at Zipline Hilton Head. “He doesn’t like talking about it necessarily; he just likes to showcase us.”
Another guide at Zipline Hilton Head, Bee Jean, echoes that sentiment. “That’s how most of us are,” she said. “When you’re on tour, if you ask one person about their background they’ll give you the SparkNotes, but they’ll tell you to ask another guide about theirs. We’re such a family that it’s like, ‘Mine is cool, but you should hear about so and so.’”
Brittany “Bee” Jean
Bee Jean (no one calls her Brittany) comes to Zipline Hilton Head after a long and varied career that can be summed up in the following quote.
“When I was in college I basically took a year and traveled all over the world and decided that I wanted to focus on animal behavior and training,” she said before upping the ante by adding, “I’m a touch crazy so I decided to focus on large predators.”
Her post-college, totally rational decision to begin working with large animals that, quote, viewed her “as lunch” led Jean to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas, where she worked with large bears and whatever dangerous carnivorous animals happened to cross her transom.
“A lot of the animals I worked with had been privately owned. One of the lions had been bought in a Wal-Mart parking lot,” she said, before explaining, “it’s Texas.”
Jean spent six months caring for an assortment of wild animals at the sanctuary. Before you ask; yes, she cared for lions and tigers and bears. Don’t say it. She’s already heard it.
Eventually, though, despite the fact that their Walmarts sound a lot cooler than everyone else’s, Jean found that Texas wasn’t quite a fit for her so she wound her way back north to Vermont.
There, she took what can only be described as the “mother of all career 180s” and went to work for IBM doing inline testing on microelectonic chips about the width of a human hair. While it certainly represented a dramatic shift in her career (we didn’t ask, but it can be assumed none of the microchips wanted to eat her), Jean soon found her wanderlust calling once again.
“It was a really good experience, but I can’t be inside for that long,” she said.
Plus, just as Texas proved to be a little too Texas, Vermont proved to be a little too Vermont.
“The polar vortex hit last year and I thought, ‘Why am I living somewhere where the air hurts my face?’”
Fate took the form of a job posting looking for tour guides at Zipline Hilton Head. And as you know, there’s no such thing as too Hilton Head.
“I had never heard of Hilton Head, to be honest,” Jean said. “But I’d been a tour guide, done promotions, and loved it.” She got the call back for the interview, hopped in her Jeep and took a 20-hour drive that took her far from the debilitating chill of the polar vortex. She interviewed on a Saturday, was offered the job on the spot, and returned two weeks later with a Jeep full of stuff bound for her new home.
“Now I do promotions at different resorts, getting people to come out,” said Jean. “One of the reoccurring jokes is that we’re kind of a family and kind of a cult, and we can’t wait to tell everyone about it.”
And beyond spreading the message of Zipline, Jean has found her career has come full circle. Just as she overcame her fear in caring for large terrifying animals, she overcame her own fear of heights (“Climbing ladders is an issue for me.”) and now helps others conquer their own.
“For a lot of people it’s about conquering a fear. It’s a great experience to have. People are always so ecstatic when they get over that fear.”
Nate Addy, Master of the Four Elements
We fibbed earlier when we said that working at Zipline Hilton Head is the coolest job in the world. In fact, working at Zipline Hilton Head and then spending your nights as a fire juggler probably takes the top spot. And as far as we know, that rare double whammy can currently only be claimed by one man: Nate Addy.
So how did Addy turn a bachelor’s degree in marine biology into a zipline/fire juggling career?
“The long way around,” he quipped. “I used to work in a circus and this is the best job I’ve ever had.”
The long improbable road to the coolest job in the world started for Addy in the classroom. His love of teaching coupled with a natural theatricality drew him to a company called Mad Science. An experimental hybrid of entertainment and education, Mad Science let Addy teach in a whole new way. “The students were having so much fun they don’t even realize they were learning.”
Plus, it gave Addy his first foot in the door to fire juggling, as a fellow Mad Science teacher in Columbia revealed that he was doing fire juggling at night and was looking to bring on a partner.
“We put together an act doing parties,” said Addy. “It was out of the lab coats and into the leather pants, and we were doing fire juggling shows at night.”
The unique act caught the attention of a belly dancer from Columbia Alternacirque, who wanted to add her unique talents to the show. Before too long, she was joined by a hula hoop artist, break dancers, magicians and poets. The resulting spectacle was known as CityCirque, and it lit up the Columbia performing arts scene.
“I was dancing, acting. … I never thought I’d be up there, and it ended up being exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.
A move to Hilton Head Island meant that Addy left CityCirque behind full time, but he still appears periodically in shows and, of course, keeps up his fire juggling by performing at Up the Creek Pub.
But fire is just one of the elements Addy has pursued in his lifetime. An avid hiker and certified SCUBA diver, it wasn’t until he’d made his way through the treetops at Zipline Hilton Head that Addy came to a realization.
“At a certain point I had done all that hiking, I was a scuba diver, I’m a fire spinner, and now I’m ziplining; I’m pretty comfortable in the four elements.”
And while the elevation of the runs and wires of Zipline Hilton Head would be enough air for most of us, Addy is now looking to round out his elemental experience by taking up skydiving. “I was trying to get all four of them,” he said. “It’s just kind of a personal quirky goal of mine.”