A surfer’s dream
How does a wildlife enthusiast from Estonia end up working on all things attractions in the Gold Coast? Meet, Mariana Kuprijanova, Pico Play’s resident show production coordinator/wildlife trainer/surf park guru. Mariana has had a interesting journey to end up where she is today – a story too unique to not be shared.
Before even the birds are awake, Mariana is off to the beach to, a.k.a, her second home. Whether it is surfing or stand-up paddle boarding, you can guarantee she is in the water watching the sunrise. Whilst she joined Pico Play to primarily work with show production, she has naturally fallen into work surrounded by all things surfing and surf parks – the hottest new trend in the attractions space.
Mariana was kind enough to answer some questions about her life and work below.
Tell us a little bit about your journey from Estonia, to Hawaii and now to the Gold Coast?
I moved away from Estonia straight after high school to study Biology in one the most beautiful places in the world – Hawaii. I’ve grown up by the water and have never lived (and hopefully never have to) more than a half hour drive away from the sea or ocean. After graduating I moved to Dubai for work and then Philippines, before moving to Australia, where I did my MBA in Resort and Hotel Management with the aim to always stay close to beaches both in personal life as well as my career.
You have been in the zoo industry for 14 years, what has it been like?
I’m privileged to have worked with many amazing animals and people. As an operations manager, I gained a lot of experience in managing teams and guests in tourist attractions, managing conservation programs as well as developing new ones, managing rescue and rehabilitation programs and ensuring a high level of welfare and standards and creating and managing educational programs.
Some of my favourite moments in my career so far include the special encounters that I have had with amazing animals, creating an education/conservation program with local Indigenous learning centres and working on building a strong and positive team culture. I’ve always believed that if you take care of the people, they will take care of the animals which will lead to good welfare for all. No two days were ever the same and being surrounded by so much passion and innovation was very inspiring.
Your recent work has been shifting more towards surf parks, what has it been like working in this space?
I’m very excited to be working in the surf park development. I consider myself very lucky to have the ability to enjoy the benefits of surfing on a daily basis. And I’m so excited to be part of an industry that will make this activity more accessible to people who don’t have the luxury of being near a surf beach. It is so great to watch this space and the rapid development of this new industry and I’m excited to be a part of it.
What does your typical surf session look like?
I wake up before sunrise, go have my morning coffee, take care of my animals at home and head out to the beach. My favourite part about a morning surf is watching the sun come up from the horizon as I sit on my board. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day before heading to the office. I also really enjoy SUPing, as it’s a completely different experience when you are standing on the water, where you get to see dolphins, turtles and rays swim underneath you. My favourite part about SUPing is going out past the break and waiting for that magical sound – the deep loud breath of a whale cruising past.
What is the best thing about working in the attractions industry?
I enjoy engaging with people and projects that inspire new thoughts, ideas and innovation. It is a very challenging time in the world right now, therefore I am stoked to be part of projects that bring a sense of happiness and adventure to a wide audience, both thrill seekers and more timid alike, at a single location.
Mariana has over 10 years of operational experience in zoological facilities across the world. Having worked in the Europe, USA, Middle-East and Asia, Mariana has now settled in a small beach town in Australia. After her early morning surf, she jumps into her Jeep to drive to the leafy Pico Play office, where her daily work of research and development of Pico Play’s growing surf park projects continues.