What’s SUP? Stand Up Paddleboarding

Florida-based YOLO has changed the face and pace of water sports.

Tom Losee calls it’s a “lightbulb moment.” He, a former landscape construction contractor, and his entrepreneurial partner Jeff Archer, a fitness clothing industry veteran, had realized six years ago that it was time to get into the promising-to-be competitive stand-up paddling (SUP) market. But what to name their company?

Tom Losee

“You Only Live Once” described both their early SUP moments and the risk of a new venture. And thus YOLO was born in the Florida Panhandle town of Santa Rosa Beach.

Definitely a better name than IGTI. That’s what I was thinking on a recent trip to Santa Rosa’s South Walton County: I Gotta Try It. Of course by then I’d heard a lot about YOLO, thanks to YOLO Watersports & Jim’s Rentals on Captiva Island. 

Marcel Ventura, owner of the Captiva business, actually had used the name YOLO since he opened in 1986, long before Losee and Archer started using it. You Only Live Once: “It was just my attitude in life,” saidVentura.

About four years ago, he started offering the YOLO yak — a kayak-surfboard hybrid manufactured through the same rotomolded polyethelene process as sit-upon kayaks — to buy or rent.

“It’s become one of my biggest rental departments,” saidVentura. “People hear about it and they come in to rent one. They can either rent the board on the beach and take it in the gulf or take it with them and take it to the bay, which is really the place to do it, because there are a lot of things to see.”

Last fall inNorth Florida, I paddled one of Walton County’s rare coastal dunes lakes, a stunning body of water called Eastern Lake, with YOLO’s concession branch.

Today the company has rental operations on nearby Western Lake at WaterColor Inn & Resort and at Red Bar in Grayton Beach.

Typically calm, unless there’s a lot of wind, the still waters make a perfect training ground. The stable YOLO yak, almost 12-feet long and 31 inches wide, is suited to beginners. Racers and wave surfers quickly graduate to more streamlined longboards.

Stand-up paddling, which has its roots in Hawaii, combines surfing and traditional kayaking and offers a vigorous core workout. SUPers use a long single paddle fitted to their height and stroke on both sides.

About three or four strokes a side before you switch,” Losee told us as we practiced on the dock. He taught us the basic Hawaii stroke and instructed us on how to stand up: Start on your knees on the friction pad with the paddle across the front of the board, then push off using the paddle to stand up with your feet apart.

“This is the number one learning sport,” he told our group. “It’s probably the easiest sport you’ve ever learned. You can pretty much do it anywhere there’s water.” Losee has taught all ages the sport, but emphasizes that its easy learning curve belies a sport with great dimension.

“The fact that you can stand up unassisted makes it accessible to everyone,” he said. “It’s so simple. It’s hard to fall!”

“It’s exciting because the onset of the stand-up paddling movement is getting people out on the water that otherwise wouldn’t venture out on a board,” said Losee’s partner Jeff Archer. “It’s the water sport for people who didn’t think they could do watersports.”

Although the sport has caught on throughout Florida and the world, Northwest Florida, where YOLO was born, remains one of SUP’s most popular audiences. That is due largely to the region’s 15 coastal dunes lakes, natural phenomena found only here and inAustralia, New Zealand, Madagascar, and the northern U.S. Pacific Coast.

The brackish lakes are separated from the gulf by dunes. In high seas, the gulf waters can wash away the sand between the dunes so that SUPers can paddle through the breach to catch some shore break.

“We have a year-round season for it here,” said Losee. “Florida has so much variety in types of water. I will argue with anyone that the paddle from WaterColor to Grayton Beach State Park is one of the top 10 paddles. It’s aesthetically beautiful with the snowy white dunes and boathouse architecture.”

The YOLO name, with its catchy philosophy, has caught on particularly around Florida. “YOLO has become a verb!,” said Losee. Southwest Florida mystery writer Randy Wayne White even wrote of it in his most recent novel, Night Vision:

“It was Tomlinson who had discovered the fledgling company, perhaps charmed by the YOLO acronym: You Only Live Once,” says main character Doc Ford in the epilogue. 

“As my friend pointed out, the name didn’t mesh with his convictions about reincarnation or life after death, but, as he explained, ‘You gotta love the kick-ass spirit it represents.’”

As an adjective, YOLO refers to a line of boards manufactured in Santa Rosa Beach, starting with the beginner 58-pound yak – stable enough to fish from, sturdy enough to let the kids crash around on. It retails at $695. At the upper end of the scale, its production sleek, surfboard-like epoxy boards are built for racing and performance, with prices up to $1,895.

A number of other companies have jumped on the SUP bandwagon. “They’re very competitive and similar in design and weight,” said Marcel Ventura on Captiva Island, who carries a variety of offerings.

Sanibel Island resident Mark Melancon distributes YOLO boards locally and sells them from YOLO Adventures Fort Myers, next to his Planet Fitness center in south Fort Myers. He also incorporates them into fitness routines. He deals exclusively in YOLO boards.

“I can tell you exactly why,” said the corporate-guy-turned-personal-trainer. “It’s not just the leaps they’re making in creativity and design. I believe in the philosophy. They take really a ground-up approach. Their whole lifestyle is really about maximizing your life. It’s because of their energy. It’s phenomenal.”

IF YOU GO:

YOLO AdventuresFort Myers, 239-249-4701

YOLO Board (Santa RosaBeach), 850-622-5760, www.yoloboard.com

YOLO Watersports & Jim’s Rentals (CaptivaIsland), www.yolowatersports.com 239-472-9656 or 239-472-1296

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