When marketing student Owen Baker graduated from Bishop’s University in 2022, he dreamed of driving solo across Canada and working as a surf instructor at Tofino in British Columbia.
Making the adventure a reality took a bit of ingenuity, some planning and a fair bit of input from his father, who helped Owen kit out the family’s Honda CRV into a lowkey “van life” ride.
The trip was astonishing – but things really heated up once he hit the Pacific. CAA Magazine sat down with Owen – now an intern with CAA North & East Ontario – and to hear all about the summer he went viral with 500,000 TikTok views.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You had 500,000 views or more on a video that you did in partnership with somebody who is a huge influencer. But before we get there, let’s bring it back. Where did your journey to TikTok fame begin?
Owen Baker: Road trips are a thing many people dream about. And I was graduating in May, so I was like, this is the perfect opportunity for me to really experience the vast landscapes Canada has.
Your parents were super cool with this?
OB: My dad was always super on board with the kind of idea of me enjoying myself, especially after university. It was such an intense time, you know, so much going on, especially with COVID and online classes. He helped me build the bed in the back of the car.
But he also gave you something.
OB: So, he was like, “You know what? For peace of mind, I want to make sure that if anything does happen while you’re on the road.” He gave me a membership and that was kind of my first introduction to CAA. I was kind of like really grateful for that opportunity just because, you know, it was peace of mind for me as well. I knew if anything happened while I was on the road, I always had CAA to count on.
What was it like being young and driving cross-country alone?
OB: There’s such a cool community out there, people that live on the road, you know, #vanlife. It was very comforting because every place that I would stay, there would be at least like two or three other people staying.
What was your impression of the Canadian Rockies? Had you seen them in person?
OB: That was that was my first time. Driving towards them was just incredible and I have such an appreciation for the prairies, but seeing the mountains in the distance, I was like, “Whoa, this is something I’ve never experienced before.” I went to Lake Louise and you know, I’d seen the pictures. When you Google Images “Canada”, that’s usually the first up. Just seeing that water and being like, “Wow, it actually is that blue. There’s no Photoshop involved.” That was that was a crazy experience just to just to see that.
How did you find yourself teaching surfing?
OB: I’ve surfed in BC a couple of times, surfed in Hawaii. So I was pretty new to surfing. Everybody out there was so welcoming in the surfing community. I learned a lot of different tips. The cool thing was that as I was teaching, I was also learning as well. I had all these fresh tips.
You have a degree in marketing, and you’re like, “You know what? I’m just going to bring that forward.” What did you do to elevate the profile of your employer?
OB: I’m a big TikTok user and I’ve been following this guy named Ben [Kieleskinski] on TikTok. So what he likes to do is go on adventures and bring people along with him. I saw that he purchased a wetsuit. I wondered if I could reach out to him and see if we can get him on a surf lesson. So I emailed him. Like an hour later, boom. He got back to me and he’s like, “That sounds awesome.”
I was just like, I would like to meet this guy and to get to know him because he’s huge – he’s got 2.7 million followers, right? (His content) got me through the pandemic. And that was such a shared experience I think a lot of people had. (Editor’s note: Kieleskinski’s content has evolved from mundane early TikTok videos to eye-popping POV adventures around Vancouver and BC’s mountains and coast. He’s been referred to as Canada’s “angsty Tom Selleck.”)
So he set up to make a TikTok?
OB: He just picked right up and started filming. I’ve never really talked to an influencer before. He was just such a regular, down-to-earth guy. [Later] we went to the brewery together. We went on some hikes together; I stayed at his place in Vancouver. He was just such a nice, accommodating guy. It was a great experience working with him.
Then the video went viral.
OB: People from all over were sending it to me and being like, “I just saw you on my For You page!” People who had done lessons with me previously were also commenting, “Owen was my teacher, too.” I’ve never seen something blow up like that before.
It’s cool how things can just spread like wildfire. You had some comments and thirst traps, right?
OB: Yeah, in the comments. They’re funny and flattering. I was very happy that people enjoyed the video. So, no complaints thereafter. To see how an influencer can affect a small company is really cool.
And now, I’m working here at CAA. I’m working in the Rewards program, and I think there’s so much room to expand and grow. It’s been very welcoming so far, and I’m excited to see where this takes me.
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