An overflowing email inbox doesn’t faze Doug Ritchie – at least not when he’s on the water. 

When you’re paddling through the serene waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, that phone call from a client panicking about the latest market fluctuation doesn’t matter as much as it otherwise might. When you’re racing through a Class IV rapid, the last thing on your mind is that pile of email waiting in your inbox.

That’s why Doug Ritchie of Kenmore spends so much of his (admittedly sparse) free time on the water, kayaking and coaching junior paddlers. Ritchie’s career as a senior financial advisor for KMS Financial Services demands many monotonous hours in front of the computer screen. Meeting with clients is a nice break from the computer, but it doesn’t provide a break from stress. Ritchie helps clients deal with their personal concerns about what the market is doing.

Doug Ritchie at work as a financial adviser. Photo by Rachel Coward

Doug Ritchie at work as a financial adviser. Photo by Rachel Coward

“If the market is going down, clients are terrified. If the market is going up, they’re not making enough,” he says. “Additionally, you don’t have control over what happens six months or two years later with the value of the asset. Over the years, I’ve found it becomes mentally taxing.”

Kayaking, on the other hand, puts Ritchie in control of his destiny and keeps his mind off the market.

“When I’m paddling and coaching, I have a lot more control over the outcome. It’s much more related to how much work and effort I put into it,” says Ritchie. “Whitewater paddling demands that I don’t pay attention to work. If I’m not thinking about the river then I end up upside down. Sea kayaking is really helpful for getting mentally out of office. It allows me to really appreciate the natural environment.”

Ritchie first became interested in kayaking during a family camping trip in Kernville, a California kayaking hotbed
along the Kern River, when he was 9. Once Ritchie saw boaters on the river, it didn’t take long for him to want to join them. Four years later, he and his brother bought boats and were hooked.

The Ritchie brothers soon started racing competitively. Eventually, Doug landed a spot on the USA Canoe/Kayak later that year Ritchie jumped back into whitewater racing. Team. He raced with the team from 1984-1990, competing around
the world at the highest level. He specializes in a form of kayak racing called wildwater, where paddlers race down a 4-6 mile stretch of river with Class III and Class IV rapids.

In 1990, Ritchie left competitive kayaking behind and made his foray into the finance world at Merrill Lynch. He credits his kayaking career with helping land him the job.

“My athletics showed that I had the self discipline and was a self starter and all these other things they look for,” he says.

Ritchie spent 10 years at Merrill Lynch before moving to Morgan Stanley’s Bellevue office. The long hours of financial advising kept Ritchie at his desk more than in his boat, which took a mental and physical toll on him.

“Expectations in the industry are very high,” he says. “You try to work really hard and be successful, and the demand in corporate jobs makes it difficult to balance that with anything else.”

In January 2005, Ritchie weighed almost 215 pounds, up from his typical 172. “This cannot be me,” he remembers thinking at the time.

Ritchie was still sea kayaking regularly with his children and loved taking camping trips by kayak in the San Juans. But the sea kayaking just didn’t match the physicality of his whitewater days, so later that year Ritchie jumped back into whitewater racing.

“I knew I was on the road to a heart attack if I didn’t start working out,” he says. So he approached his return to competition with the same drive that led to earlier success in the river and the finance world.

In his first months back, he couldn’t paddle more than 20 minutes without his hip hurting. But eventually he got back into form through training and racing. He also began coaching junior racers and helping as a team manager, one of his new passions.

In 2007, he became the team manager of the U.S. national team that he had been a member of in the ’80s. In 2011,
he took the U.S. junior team to the world championships in the Czech Republic. Last summer, the junior team went to
the world championships in Italy, where Ritchie both coached and competed in the wildwater classic race. He got 41st place.

Doug Ritchie competes in  a whitewater race. Photo courtesy of Chris Norbury

Doug Ritchie competes in a whitewater race. Photo courtesy of Chris Norbury

“Not bad for an old man,” Ritchie, then 53 years old, says.

These days, Ritchie is on the board of directors for the newly formed Kenmore Canoe, Kayak and Crew Club and is an
active member of the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club. He’s on the water at least five times per week, either training on lakes and local rivers or sea kayaking with the family.

Ritchie says both kayaking and his work in the financial services industry have helped shape his worldview.

“I know my life as a kayaker and athlete got me into this career in the first place. But that competitive streak in me … helps me empathize to peoples’ situations in life and their goals in finance,” he says. “The two complement each other and make me better at my job.”