(This article first appeared in the July 12, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)
It’s noon on a windy, sunless Saturday as I arrive at Shagwong Marina in Springs to meet the Paddle Diva team. After receiving an email that morning that read “We never cancel,” I should have been tipped off that I’d be in for a rough introduction to paddle boarding. It was time for SUP FUN: Tour and Fitness! Bathing suit on and sized up with my paddle and board (see the connection there?), after a brief tutorial I was aquatic where it all started.
“The inspiration for Paddle Diva came in this harbor,” Gina Bradley, founder of Paddle Diva explained. “My husband [Scott Bradley] and I had the first two paddleboards ever made on Long Island and I would load those big, huge heavy things in the back of my girl friends’ pick-up truck. I sort of taught myself and taught my friends how to paddle, because I was always the lead.”
Paddling into the wind, to avoid being taken adrift, I kept my legs steady, core tight, and arms in a continuous motion with the paddle deep in the water. It was all a rhythm. Despite the adversity of conditions I was relaxed through the help of my fellow “divas.”
Diva is the name of the board used and the name for Bradley’s company. Back in 2009 it started with only two boards while teaming up with a board maker to manufacture “divas” — those small enough for women.
During a meal at Babette’s in East Hampton, “I was like, ‘I’m going to start a business,’ and Scott was chuckling at me. ‘Women don’t belong on those boards. Those are ocean boards.’ Nobody knew how this sport was going to bang out,” remembered Bradley. But she knew better, realizing the potential for the female enthusiast if only properly built and marketed.
Initially, boards were up to 11-12 feet and would take three persons to pick it up. Bradley, a true pioneer in the sport of stand-up paddle boarding, envisioned a handle for hassle-free carry, in addition to smaller dimensions. While men typically do well on a board 11’6 – 12 feet, 32 inches wide, most women perform best on a 10’6 board between 28 to 30 inches wide.
But what’s a business without a catchy name? Scott Bradley had the answer.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Paddle Diva because with you everything is diva, parking and getting a diva table.'” Bradley admitted,
“You’re right. I live for diva parking, it’s the best parking around,” pointing to the first spot in the parking lot where her pick-up truck was.
While the activity is a great way to keep fit, it’s also an appreciation for a certain lifestyle. Bradley has a second year-round brick and mortar location for her company in Rincon, the famed tropical surfers’ paradise in Puerto Rico. Since 1998 the Bradley family — Gina, Scott and their two children — has vacationed there, and built a home. Wanting others to experience the same beauty she’s soaked in for years, the company offers retreats to the area. As an escape from the cold, the retreats provide more than yoga or SUP lessons. Guests have the option to participate in as much or as little as desired with other activities such as waterfall adventures, exploring the island, and more.
“This sport is constantly evolving and people are getting more and more skills,” Bradley explained. “In my core, I want people to like it, I want them to have the most seamless experience and love the sport,” she admitted. “[I plan for] no accidents because I’ve done them all so I know what they all are.”
Locally, Paddle Diva rents out boards at $50/hour with $10 each additional hour to those who are skilled enough and are familiar with the water, even offering offsite rentals for an extra $10 pickup and delivery charge. Want to go all out? Rent for an entire day, from 9 AM to 6 PM. Aside from their East Hampton location, Paddle Diva paddles out of Gurney’s and The Surf Lodge in Montauk.
As I finished my lesson, after a brief fall in while attempting to Instagram (a product of my generation, but I’ll blame it on the wind), I couldn’t wait to return and try again. But with all the other SUP companies out there it’s a testament to Bradley’s expertise that she stays afloat.
Without worry, Bradley confidently expressed, “I love it [the competition]. It makes me put my head down and work harder, work smarter and innovate and get ahead of it. So that people are copying you versus getting ahead of you. Every day I wake up, it’s kind of corny, and I pretty much say ‘It’s a brand new day.’ It’s the only thing you get, guaranteed, new and shiny and bright every day, every time you open your eyes…What’s going to happen?”
Perhaps the policy of “We never cancel” goes beyond just her company. A special thank you to my official instructor, Steve Tavolilla, for unleashing my inner Diva!
Paddle Diva is located at 219 Three Mile Harbor HC Road, at Shagwong Marina. For more information visit paddlediva.com or call 631-329-2999.