I have the best job in the world

January 14, 2016 | By Paige Bakhaus | In About Us

I have the best job in the world! How do I know? Because people tell me every single day that I do, that’s how I know! You don’t believe me? Ok, let me tell you a little about it and you can decide for yourself.

I own a stand up paddle board and kayak rental/tour/and sales business located at Don Pedro Island State Park called Hooked On SUP Paddle Sports. (SUP stands for Stand Up Paddle). Since I own the place and since I’m not really a morning person I decided we would open at 9am. And since I live in the marina where my business is located I leave my house with my 2 little happy Yorkies everyday at about 8:57 am and we walk 50 yards to work. “Work” is a air conditioned tin roof hut we like to call “the paddle shack”, with lots of Adirondack chairs out front being shaded by tiki umbrellas, and a colorful hammock strung between two palm trees. Don’t tell the fuzzy ones Layla and Bailey there’s a business happening here though, they think it’s just a place they go everyday so that people can come visit them and love and pet them all day.  

After I open up the shack I walk out back to the calm marina basin and our specially made stand up paddle board & kayak launching floating dock. Made out of recycled plastic and covered with Astroturf, it’s a smooth, safe, and comfortable launching surface and doubles nicely as a covered hiding place for lots of marine life, including 1 enormous snook named Greedy and a family of starfish that have been given various names like Sunny, Guppy, Daisy, Lefty, Slow Poke, and Goober. Don’t blame me for the names; they were mostly named during kid’s camp. I check on everyone and say good morning, and look for our resident manatee in the marina that we’ve named Dennis, after Dennis the Menace because of the red algae growth on his face and because he seems to have more than his fair share of curiosity. He’s usually there most mornings to give me a snort and wait for me to put some boards and kayaks in the water so he can bump them around and get some morning play time in before he swims away to go take a nap under his favorite dock.

Hooked on Sup Mannequin Yolonda
Mannequin Yolonda

Next it’s time to make sure Yolonda is dressed properly for her day. If you just asked yourself who the heck is Yolonda you’ve obviously missed something when driving on Placida Rd. Yolonda is Hooked On SUP’s roadside and Englewood’s most highly discussed fashion statement. Most days she’s standing out on Placida Rd. dressed for the weather, the holiday, or just possibly in a brightly colored outfit and holding a sign announcing our latest event or sale. She’s definitely a girl who turns heads; in fact we’ve gotten many reports of cars pulling over and the occupants taking pictures with her. We had a couple of kidnapping incidents early on and Yolonda 1.0 and 2.0 were never recovered, so we’ve taken added security measures for Yolonda 3.0 to ensure her safety, so if you stop to take your picture with her make sure you also smile for our hidden camera!

By this time of the morning Jill and Ashlee are already busy taking care of their responsibilities at Hooked On SUP. Ashlee is our Certified Florida Master Naturalist guide and most mornings she has a tour scheduled, so she will be putting kayaks and paddle boards on either the trailer or pontoon boat, or on the dock, depending on which tour is scheduled. We offer daily tours of Don Pedro Island State Park mangrove tunnel & beach, historic Boca Grande, Stump Pass/Whidden Key, and the Wolverton Trails. Ashlee’s genuine enthusiasm and love for all things in nature makes her tours our most popular attraction during all seasons. Our phone is usually ringing off the hook with people saying some version of….”my friend took a tour with Ashlee, and she said it was SO amazing, I want to go on that same exact tour!” Our guided tours range from $30-$45 per person, and include guide, kayak or paddle board rental and instruction.

Back at the shack under one of the tiki umbrellas my stand up paddle board lesson people have shown up and are ready for their first lesson. There are 6 people and Jill has already gotten them signed in for me. I do a quick survey and realize they are pretty typical of my average lesson clients. There are just as many males as females. No one looks particularly athletic or in shape and they range in body type from what could easily be called “needs to eat a sandwich” to “he must have eaten all her sandwiches”.  They are putting on sunscreen while they nervously laugh about who is going to fall in first and debate which one of them talked the others into signing up for this. But what may surprise you the most is their ages. They are all over the age of 60. At least 3 are closer to 70. I am always excited to introduce anyone new to the sport of stand up paddling, but I am always extra thrilled when I see people at this age willing to give it a shot. Because stand up paddle boarding is a perfect, low impact sport for people of all ages, but it has been known to be especially helpful in keeping aging people active longer by strengthening their core and back muscles, and improving their coordination and balance, which helps to prevent falls. So after making sure everyone can swim and no one has any adverse medical conditions, we start our water adventure. My lessons always start with a 10-15 minute land based lesson that includes how to start out kneeling, how to hold your paddle and steer your board, moving to a standing position when ready, boating and board safety, and basic paddle technique. Then I help each person get onto their board on their knees and we stay in the calm protected water of the marina for a few minutes as I gradually see and hear each one get comfortable on the board. “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” “Look at Marge, she’s already standing up!” And then we all cheer as the last one wobbles a little but finally stands upright and starts paddling along with the rest of us. By the end of the 90 minutes we’ve toured the local waters, rested on a sandbar where we found a few shells, played tag with a couple of dolphins just outside the marina, and Dennis the manatee came over to congratulate them on their paddle back into the marina. It turns out this was a celebration for Marge who had just gotten a clean bill of health after fighting cancer last year. They’ve all been friends since their 20’s and after that scare they decided nothing was going to stop them from trying new things anymore. If Marge could live through cancer, surely they could all live through paddle boarding! And now it was agreed they not only lived through it but it was the most fun they had had since that night in college when…oh never mind they said, they didn’t want to finish that one so I didn’t ask any more.  This is a pretty amazing story right? You might think it’s the only time I’ve heard a story like this. But it’s not. I’ve heard similar stories time and time again. But it never stops making my heart swell and my throat get tight. There’s something about stand up paddling that makes you believe in unimagined possibilities, and opens you up to abilities you didn’t know you had. It gives people courage and strength, and there’s a light that shines from their eyes the first time they stand on a paddle board that can only be described as the purest form of happiness.

Dog on Paddleboard looking at Manatee

I hug Marge and friends and send them to our pool and hot tub for a little relaxation, and then I run to help Jill strap down a new Yolo Board she has just sold to someone’s Jeep. They are headed to their house on Boca Grande for spring break and are super excited to paddle their new board decorated with beautiful sea turtles. Before they leave they make arrangements for us to deliver 3 more boards and a kayak for 5 days rental starting tomorrow morning when the rest of the sorority sisters get in.

The rest of the day flies by in similar fashion and usually sometime late in the afternoon a local or two who own their own board or kayak will stop by and put in to paddle from our dock or just hang out with us. One of our goals when we opened our business was to create a place where people could come to meet other people who like to paddle. Everyone is welcome and we never charge a launch fee. We have lots of events like Sip n SUP and monthly Full Moon Paddles, which are always free if you have your own board or kayak. And we really just encourage people to stop in and hang out with us anytime. On any given afternoon there might be anywhere from 2-10 of us just sitting under the umbrellas or maybe even going for an impromptu paddle after closing. So my day ends with a sunset paddle with a few friends, then we drink a cold beer from my roof top deck as I look at my cute little paddle shack with the tiki umbrellas and the hammock strung between two palm trees. I say a silent prayer of thanks for all of it, and for sending Marge and her friends today, and I pray for this wonderful job to last another day.

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