I was invited to a wedding in Jamaica, who turns that down? Not this guy! I’m going and I’m paddling, it’s an island, right? I thought it would also be great to see how other places run their paddle board rentals and lessons. It would be interesting to see what kind of lesson they give for SUP (stand up paddle board), what kind of equipment and boards they use. Turns out this trip to Jamaica changed my life, changed the way I look at paddle boarding, and changed the way I run my paddle board business.
So, I started to Google search the area we would be in. Negril had the clearest water you could imagine, no waves or current. It looked to be a picture perfect place for a relaxing paddle board vacation. I loaded a backpack with board shorts and GoPro, and we’re off.
Land in Jamaica; make the scenic two hour ride to seven mile beach, its amazing! I Arrive at the resort at sunset and head right to the beach. I found the paddle boards parked on the beach next to unbelievably clear ocean water. This is going to be good. Except the water sports shack is closed for the day. In my search for vacation activities that are not SUP; I settle up to the resort bar only to find I’m sitting next to a young man who is the water sports manager. What luck! He agrees to give me the local tour in the morning, I offer to give him some paddling tips, and he seems impressed with my vast knowledge of bar paddle talk.
I arrive slightly hung over and excited to paddle in paradise. He’s opening up shop, so I take a look at our equipment for the day. Something’s wrong, something’s missing. Where are the paddles? Where are the fins on the boards? Maybe they are inside. I ask him, “Dude, where are the fins and paddles?” “Na mon, don need na fin.” He says in Jamaican accented English. Wait, what? Ah, screw it, let’s see where this goes. I noticed we’re also using kayak paddles, when in Rome I suppose.
These boards didn’t look fantastic; they only had parts of the deck pad, no fin and were not what I would have called quality when new. Missing a key component (fin) and it’s actually really hard. While struggling to stay upright and move only in perfect circles; I had a realization, “is this what it’s like for first timers who have little to no instruction and horrendous equipment?” Yup, I bet it is. If you’ve never tried to SUP (stand up paddle board) without a fin, you have to try it, it sucks. It takes the best pro paddler and turns them into a beginner real fast. No technique will allow you to go straight; you will always go sideways and spin, maybe forward a little. If this was my first experience with SUP, I’d never do it again, and I’d tell the world it’s lame.
While flailing about like a rookie, I started to watch my guide, he had it figured out. He was actually going (fairly) straight. He couldn’t explain how, but he had it down. So, I did what he did. I now call it the “gondola stroke”, here’s how it goes. Using a kayak paddle, hold the blade of one side, start the stroke at your feet, then slowly and gently push back as far as you can. Then switch sides after every stoke. Boom, we are moving (kinda) straight. The trick was to be gentle and slow, we’re on island time here people. Now I could actually enjoy my surroundings. Up until this point I hadn’t even noticed how amazing this place was; I was too worried about falling and actually moving to realize I was in paradise. The water was so clear you couldn’t tell how deep it was, took almost an hour of paddling to even notice it.
At first I thought, this only happens in places that aren’t common for paddle sports. Until I came across an Instagram account of a rental place (in a big city of America) putting people out with no life vest, no leashes, and some people even have kayak paddles while standing on paddle boards. Kayak paddles? Did they even have fins on these boards? I’m having a hard time figuring it out; do they not care about their business, who needs repeat business?
This is why quality equipment matters, it makes the first impression of the sport. Give your clients all the amazing experiences they deserve, they might even come back again. You only have one chance to get first time paddlers to love it, do it right and you’ll make a fan for life. Do it wrong and you’ll never see or hear from them again, and who knows what they will tell their friends. They might even write a blog about you.