Chukka: It’s Time To Play
The inspiration for Chukka sprang from its founder’s passion for polo. In the early 1980’s, Danny Melville hosted polo matches on Saturdays at his polo field in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. On Sundays, to help the horses relax, the polo players took the horses swimming in the clear saltwater of Mammee Bay. International polo players loved the tradition, as did Danny’s children. When Danny opened a polo and equestrian center for locals in 1983, he decided to complement it with an opportunity for tourists to encounter horses. The Horseback Ride ‘N’ Swim was born—the first adventure tour of its kind in Jamaica, and thirty years later, still our signature tour.
Danny named the company Chukka, which describes a period of play in a polo match. Chukka captures the spirit of adventure and excitement inherent in the game of polo and the childlike wonder inspired by a swimming horse.
A Home-Grown Company
Danny remains Chairman of the Board of Chukka, but the management has transitioned to his sons, Marc, Alexander and Daniel Melville, along with their childhood friend, John Byles. These four partners have labored together to keep Chukka joyful and responsible.
Chukka also strives to maximize its positive social impact in the Caribbean. Chukka is one of the largest employers in the Caribbean, employing 700 people, including nearly 500 in Jamaica alone. We pride ourselves on our meritocracy: we provide everyone with opportunities for education and advancement and those who show their skills are promoted. One employee began as a guide and now runs a management team. We have also financed undergraduate and graduate programs for a number of promising employees.
A Steep (and Deep) Learning Curve
John and Marc still laugh when they recall Chukka’s first jeep tour, a carefully planned, exciting off-road ride into the jungle, over rivers, and into the wildlife. As the jeep ventured across one river, John and Marc realized—just a moment too late—that the recent rains had left the water level a bit too high. The jeep stalled mid-river, and with water reaching the doors, John and Marc were forced to climb out the jeep windows to push the jeep and its passengers to the far shore. When the guests returned to their cruise ship, they reported to their excursion desk that their tour guides had provided a truly exhilarating 4×4 tour—complete with a perfectly orchestrated jeep breakdown mid-river!
At a trade show, Marc discovered canopy zipline tours, which were unknown in Jamaica at the time. Marc, Alexander and John ventured to Costa Rica to learn more about this new phenomenon. Banking on the extensive adventure tourism experience, the three bravely signed up for an extreme canopy tour involving numerous zip lines at dizzying heights. The first zip line left a platform at a height of 14 feet and, hundreds of yards later, arrived at a platform 100 feet high in a tree. Marc soared along the line, arriving exhilarated and ready for more. But after John parted from the first platform and flew over a vast expanse of rainforest suspended from a 1-inch cable by nothing but a harness, he wrapped his arms around the tree on the second platform, began to hyperventilate, and refused to budge. Alexander was left dangling in mid-air, unable to land on the second platform until John released the tree. By the end of the canopy tour, though, all three agreed that Jamaica needed a zipline tour, and Chukka would provide it. John imposed the caveat, though, that each canopy tour would start with a zip of modest length and height, in an effort to quell the fears of any anxious guests.
Eating From the Same Pot
Chukka has always been close to the communities in which it operates. John grew up playing at an oceanfront property at Sandy Bay, west of Montego Bay. Up the hill from Sandy Bay, in the seven-year riverside floodplain, lies Pumpkin Bottom, a rural community where John made many friends as a child, riding horses in the hills, swimming in the saltwater, and fishing with makeshift poles.
At one time, the main road traveled a circuitous oceanfront route, and farmers routinely cut across the Sandy Bay property. John and his childhood friends imposed small “taxes” on the shortcut, collecting yams and cassava from the kind farmers passing through. John exchanged some of the yams for fish and other fixings, and the children repurposed a huge kerosene can as a pot for a stew. Everyone contributed what they had, and everyone ate out of the same pot.
The same sense of community permeates Chukka today. When the river breached its banks in 2012, as it does every seven years, Pumpkin Bottom was destroyed and its community suffered terrible losses. Chukka donated food and shelter and helped the community rebuild its homes.
Even in the absence of disaster, Chukka routinely invests in our local communities. Chukka runs an adult literacy program in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, providing education for Chukka’s guides and other employees as well as members of the community. In Kenilworth, Chukka runs a children’s literacy and homework help program for children in Pumpkin Bottom. At different times throughout the year, Chukka supports its communities in myriad creative ways. In September each year, Chukka supports children as they return to school by providing books and schoolbags for children in each community in which Chukka operates. During the winter holidays, Chukka visits the communities where it operates and throws holiday parties for the children, complete with cake, ice cream and small gifts such as soccer balls.
Chukka’s commitment to its community is reflected in its offerings to our guests as well. Because Chukka tours are designed to give its guests a taste of the real Caribbean, 30% of tour guides are hired from the immediately surrounding areas. Also, ATV, dune buggy and 4×4 tours explore not only the lush rainforest and stunning trails but also the beloved communities in the area.
The Chukka Spirit
The Chukka logo’s colors capture the multifaceted spirit of the Chukka experience: green for lush vegetation and foliage; yellow for the brilliant sun; turquoise for the Caribbean Sea and sky; and red for the heart of the Chukka team.