Go Yolo!

There I was in the dead of summer on a north Florida lake kneeling on a surf board sporting a life jacket while holding a paddle. I wasn’t training for a new Olympic aquatic competition; I was learning how to “YOLO.” “YOLO” can be described as stand-up paddling. The rider stands on a larger version of a surfboard while negotiating the water with one paddle. It’s a water sport that’s taking the Florida Panhandle by storm. Since it’s all the rage here, I decided that I must try it out not only as a story for this blog, but for my own “bucket list.”

As I embarked on my maiden Yolo voyage on Santa Rosa Beach’s Eastern Lake, I was a bit apprehensive. “How can I possibly balance myself on a surf board while rowing?” I asked myself. “I doubt I’m as good as the young lady I saw on the lake the day before who was happily paddling along with her dog on the front of the surfboard.” I was intimidated by that scene and the fact that I had trouble balancing as a kid on the balance beam. I had to take extra classes in coordination during my kindergarten year in grade school to learn that skill. My instructor, Tom Losee put me at ease as I pushed the oversized surfboard from the dock onto the lake. “OK, start out on your knees and hold the paddle to your left,” Mr. Losee instructed.

I held onto every word and didn’t even think about asking him about the depth of Eastern Lake, one of the area's coastal dune lakes. As I was paddling out onto the middle of the lake, I became comfortable with the paddle stroke techniques on how to go forward, turn left or right and even to “go in reverse.” At that point, I was ready to stand up. I was amazed at how I quickly picked up on “YOLO-ing.”

“You would be surprised at how some big guys get on here and are skeptical about this,” Losee said. “I’ve seen 300-pound guys get on here wondering if they could balance.”

YOLO Board is the brainchild of Mr. Losee and Jeff Archer, a resident of nearby Destin. As a veteran in the fitness apparel and equipment business, Archer partnered with Losee in 2006 to form YOLO which stands for “You Only Live Once.”

Mr. Losee and Mr. Archer collaborated with Steve Brom, a California surf legend and board shaper to design the custom line of YOLO boards for racing and performance surfing. From the Prowler to the Soul Searcher varieties, these boards are available at their Santa Rosa Beach headquarters next to Eastern Lake which is nestled on each side of Walton County’s Scenic 30-A road.

“It’s amazing at what a workout you get on these things,” Losee said. “We can go for miles on tours and really feel how toned we get.” It’s proven that YOLO-ing strengthens core muscles including the abdominals and lower back. In fact, Losee has participated in YOLO tours on many waterways and on eco-tours in Florida’s Everglades. In addition to the workout, Losee emphasized that “YOLO-ing” gives riders a special relationship with Mother Nature. I couldn’t agree more.

After I "audited YOLO Boarding 101" and spoke with Mr. Losee while paddling, I went solo for a bit on a lighter, sportier board. With the sound thunder coming from nearby Point Washington State Forest, I didn’t want to go too far. I thought that I might end up stranded in a storm. I would have felt more comfortable wandering far away with a large group or even one other person, but getting lost in the Panhandle’s waterways is not my idea of a great time. After all, I once got lost on a skiff boat in South Georgia years ago. I returned to the dock wanting more and knowing that I must return. After all was said and done, there was no storm in the area.

The popularity of YOLO boarding is growing in popularity on Florida's Emerald Coast. Losee can be seen in a promotional video on a local cable channel that is constantly playing in local businesses. Slickly-designed YOLO stickers are on car bumpers and ads are festooned in local papers. YOLO competitions are also popular here. Annual “YOLO Board Stand-Up Paddle Series” have been taking place on Eastern Lake, Emerald Grande on Destin Harbor and at the WaterColor Resort.

Fun Facts:
YOLO Board offers rentals, lessons, corporate and team building packages. The list is growing by leaps and bounds for YOLO Board Rental locations from the Ramada Inn on Okaloosa Island to Alys Beach.

There are a variety of YOLO boards that the company has on the market. The “YOLO Yak” is a hybrid stand-up paddleboard/kayak which features a front bungee tie-down system, molded-in tri-fins, foam traction pad and front and rear handles. The YOLO Yak has a recessed deck to facilitate better stability for fishing, crabbing or beginner surfing.

For more info: Yolo Board.com


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