This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here
In some cases, being called a diva might seem insulting but, here on the East End, Diva (uppercase ‘D’) is being redefined to mean empowerment.
Gina Bradley is a female powerhouse — entrepreneur, mother, environmental advocate, world traveler, and now author. Her stand-up paddleboarding company, Paddle Diva, launched in 2009, celebrates a decade of success with a new published work “Paddle Diva: Ten Guiding Principles to Finding Balance on the Water and in Life.”
It may be Bradley’s debut in the publishing world, but the idea has been floating around ever since the days of running her business from a Motorola flip phone and a single, nameless pickup truck. Published by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon & Schuster, the coffee table book is as much a visual journey as a written one.
Prior to the Instagrammable stories of today, she had a “visual idea of trying to draw people in,” a way to give the public a glimpse inside her daily life on the water. On page after page of professionally shot images from a compilation of photographers, Bradley’s personal life is intertwined with the community she’s built, sprinkled with approximately 1500 words.
“What the book is essentially about is combining my enthusiasm and passion for the sport, then pulling in the environmental piece that has been so motivational for me, using my business to help protect the environment. And then the whole wellness aspect that comes along with paddleboarding,” Bradley explained. Today, the Diva empire has grown in such popularity that, beyond locations in East Hampton, Florida, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, her truck dons the Paddle Diva logo, a sure sign of warmer weather and a stronger community.
A kind of Lara Croft of the paddling world — always on an adventure, full of grace — Bradley, a former professional windsurfer, surfer, and PADI-certified scuba instructor, is an individual unlike any another. Perhaps that’s what makes the book so readable: It’s authentic to who she is and in her own voice. Her personal life is interwoven into the overall guiding storyline. “I wanted to create something super inspiring. If you don’t get a chance to meet me, this book will bring you into my world. People who do know me are going to read it and think ‘Oh my God. This sounds like Gina.’”
Her guiding principles to life and water are developed around her own mental and physical framework, creating a balance on and off the board. The intro details the backstory and process of what Paddle Diva, as a company, actually is, making it a great read for entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to jump in the water just yet when it comes to starting their own business. With a passion for what she’s created, Bradley provides insightful, encouraging words. Professional volleyball player, Gabby Reece and husband, big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton present a foreword attesting to Bradley’s innate ability to gather a community based on the water. (Bradley accredits Hamilton for being the vessel of stand up paddleboarding’s popularity).
Chapter 1, “Look Up,” opens to the setting of Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton, where her center is located. “Look up” is more than a paddling tip but a life tip, to focus on a still point and the rest will follow. The metaphor is a spiritual guideline to daily life. The following titles focus on the principles she’s been preaching for years: Believe in Your Strength, Dig Deep, Focus on Your Core, Enjoy the Ride, Be Comfortable with Yourself, Move Outside Your Comfort Zone, Positivity Is Contagious, Be Open to the Outcome, and Laugh Every Day, Smile Every Hour. Every title an insightful message.
Each chapter tells a story, including client stories and how Bradley instructed people to overcome their adversities. The serene beauty of this book will appeal to both men and women. A sidebar reads “How a Paddle Dude Can Become a Paddle Diva,” by Tim Wood, certified SUP instructor. “Women can be dudes, and men can be Divas. For a dude, paddle boarding is just a leisure activity. But for a Diva, paddle boarding is a high-intensity workout.” Other notable sidebars include that from Christina Cuomo, Elisabeth Halfpapp, Jennifer Ford, and Amy Worthington, with an afterword by Susan Rockefeller.
The core of it all is Bradley’s family, as her husband, Scott, came up with the company name. The two have a 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, which are mentioned in the book. “I was able to bring in the notion of ‘when the world is healthy, you are healthy.’ And I bring in my children. My kids have been very supportive of what I’m doing and are proud of what I’ve done as a working mom to stay very fresh and to be different than most parents.” Bradley lightheartedly detailed picking up her daughter from school in the Paddle Diva truck, as friends clamored around.