A journey starts with a single step (or in this case stroke)

I was recently giving a new gondolier some advice for rowing in heavy wind, “Don’t think of getting to the end of the cruise, think of moving forward one foot. If you can move one foot, you can move another and eventually you will make it back to the dock.” I am now feeling that the same advice works for starting a gondola service. It is a long way to the beginning, you just have to take that first step to get there.

“You are who you are because of where you were when.” – Morris Massey

Sixteen and a half years ago I walked up to the office of Gondola Company of Newport answering a job ad at a local Jr. College. Gondolier? Sounded different, and not in an office, I was hooked. After weeks of practice I eventually passed the test and became a gondolier plying the canals of Newport Beach. I became a member of a select and rare breed, the American Gondolier.

People ask how long it takes to learn to be a gondolier. I tell them, “A few weeks to learn to row, 2 years to know what your doing, 5 to 7 years to get good at it.” After 16 and a half years I can still say that I am learning things. There is always an opportunity to see something new and different, whether it is with the customers, the business side of things or even with rowing the gondola itself. You always have to keep your mind open, looking for new and better ways of doing things.

Gondola’s are an amazing thing. Few people learn the true art of handling these special boats. I have been fortunate to have the time and ability to learn how to row such unique vessels. It is hard to describe the anxious excitement waiting for the first boat I am having built to be finished so I can hop on and feel her under my feet. More about her in a later post.

One of the exciting things about opening a gondola service is that you can do things how you wish, yet that is not completely true. While Gondola Paradiso is my gondola service, every place that I worked for in the past is a part of it. This photo is a great example.

Gondolas in Oxnard, Channel Islands

For anyone who as ridden or rowed a gondola cruise at Bepi’s gondola servizio in Sunset Beach they would recognize the lantern configuration on Teresa in the picture above. It is simple, elegant, and looks thoroughly Venetian yet, is a purely Californian design.

Every gondola company I have worked for has influenced who I am today. Every gondola company is a part of Gondola Paradiso. For this I have to say thanks to…

Gondola Company of Newport

My home away from home. 16 and a half years of rowing for Gondola Company of Newport as allowed me to hone my skills not only from a rowing perspective but, they gave me the foundations of how a gondola service is operated. The core of my knowledge and experience comes from here. The friendly atmosphere and treating everyone as a member of the family is a major part of what I will take away from Gondola Company of Newport.

Sunset Gondola

Bepi gave me my first opportunity to row an authentic, squero built (venetian boat yard), gondola. It took me 12 years to set foot on a true Venetian gondola. His “Gondola Get-Togethers” are an event not to be missed. It is the one place where as a gondolier that you can feel that same wonderful feeling your passengers feel every cruise. I would be remiss if I did not mention a big thank you for his hosting of the 2nd Annual U.S. Gondola Nationals. It was an incredible event enjoyed by all.

Gondola Getaway

Gondola Getaway provided an intriguing opportunity. No where in America is there a more divergent group of gondolas in one place. Most company’s have 1 type of gondola, with subtle variations. At Gondola Getaway they have a large range of boats. From the little sondolo to the racing pupparin all the way up to the huge 14 passenger Carolina. Every boat requires a different technique, in stance and how you handle the oar. Gondola Getaway showed me that there is no “one way” to row in the Venetian style.

I should also tip my hat to Mac, the manager of Gondola Getaway. He has done amazing work since taking over managing the business a year and a half ago.

Gondola Adventures

While I never rowed for Gondola Adventures, located across the bay from the Gondola Company of Newport in Newport Beach, I saw Gondola Greg and his gondoliers nearly every day for 16 years. It was only in half jest when I would tell my customers that I would knock the Gondola Adventures gondoliers off their boats with my oar like a jousting knight, if only they were not so fast that they could run away. It was all in good humor. I always liked to row past those gondoliers and have some funny little thing to say to see them laugh. “Look out for the hippo around the bend, she is grumpy today!”

I have more thanks to say to Greg, the owner of Gondola Adventures, but that is for a later post.

That is all for now, I can’t express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has helped me with my new endeavor. Best wishes and good luck. I migliori e buona fortuna!

Mark Schooling Owner and Gondolier
Gondola Paradiso