Ask Marcus Hinz to name a favorite part of the Oregon Coast, and the Executive Director of the Oregon Coast Visitors Association barely takes a pause. “Estuaries,” he responds. “The volume and velocity of water constantly being exchanged just blows my mind. I understand the science behind it, but still it’s magic to me.”

As the founder of Kayak Tillamook, Hinz spent more than his fair share of time meandering through coastal estuaries. Turns out, his career has taken a similar winding path. “Windy and circuitous,” he says of the background that brought him to the helm of OCVA. “I never, ever envisioned myself working in the tourism industry.”

It wasn’t until his kayak business was asked to host a few media fams that Hinz began to learn about travel and tourism in Oregon. “It started to dawn on me that there was a whole industry out there around this business I was operating,” he recalls. Hinz interviewed for the OCVA executive director position in 2012, he says, out of curiosity. “Each interview made me a little more curious and a little more fascinated. I began to see the thoughtful relationships, the reciprocity, the cooperative spirit. I wanted to be part of that community.”

What OCVA saw was a guy with a broad array of expertise: Hinz had led a couple of associations (including a stint as executive director at the Oregon Country Fair) and the community education program at Tillamook Bay Community College. He held a degree in public administration—with studies in administrative law and conflict resolution training—from Portland State University. And not only had Hinz run a tourism business on the Oregon Coast, he’d excelled at promoting the region’s waterways and scenic beauty: The successful Watershed Activities to Estuary Recreation (WATER) program he launched at the community college earned the Gene Leo Memorial Award in recognition of outstanding contributions for tourism-related activities that specifically focus on Oregon’s natural beauty and outdoor recreation at the 2005 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism. “The patchwork of things I’d done turned out to be a great fit,” he remarks.

Today Hinz uses that array of skills to oversee a telecommuting staff of four that’s scattered from Oceanside to Gold Beach, and “To look forward,” he says. “My job isn’t to get mired down in programmatic details, but to manage relationships and ensure we’re a healthy, well-positioned organization.”

That means working to spot tourism trends and patterns, he suggests, then working with OCVA partners to address a need or find a niche. To address public safety, for example, OCVA is piloting a program in Tillamook County to gather better data from search and rescue organizations. “We need to document where and why these rescue efforts are happening. How many are water rescues? How many are high-angle cliff rescues? With better data, we can reconsider how we communicate with the public, and laser focus on the most important places to intervene.”

As for filling niches, Hinz says there’s been a disconnect between what motivates visitors who come to the Oregon Coast, and then what they actually do here. Studies like the Oregon Visitors Report from Longwoods International, he says, suggest that the region’s visitors want more outdoor recreation.

“If I ran a taco stand and half the customers came in wanting a hamburger, I’d start making hamburgers,” says Hinz. So OCVA is beefing up its recreational offerings, making major investments in hiking, biking and paddling trails. It’s positioning the Oregon Coast as a year-round mountain bike destination, and it recently remapped the entire Oregon Coast hiking trail, complete with 10 adventure guides and new videos.

Hinz makes his home in Oceanside, just a few minutes from the beach. “I love big bodies of water,” says Hinz, who spent his youth on the Great Lakes in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Oregon Coast captivates him, he says, with its “raw, rugged nature and people.”

Hinz segues into a story of his first visit to Oregon, when an old friend picked him up at PDX and they headed straight for the Pacific. “My very first week in the state was spent driving down the Coast,” Hinz recalls. “It was fall, and I was just in awe of the landscape. Right above Netarts Bay—true story—I remember thinking, ‘How could I ever find a way to live out here?’”

Little did he realize that winding road trip down 101 was precisely the right way.

By Tina Lassen