When Paige Taylor, Owner of Hooked On Sup, discovered standup paddle boarding in 2009, she was immediately hooked. Unfortunately for the Georgia native, she had no one to paddle board with. At the time, the sport was still new to the Southwest coast of Florida and paddle boards were price prohibitive for most people. For Taylor, this represented an opportunity.
“My ‘trade’ before I went full time on my business was a surgical dental assistant,” she said. “I only worked a few days a week, which left me with a lot of free time. One day, I Googled how to become a paddle board instructor. I thought if I could learn to teach paddle boarding, I’d have more people to do it with.”
Taylor’ Google search brought her to Jupiter, FL, where she spent four days to become a certified instructor. Upon her return to Englewood, she started doing paddle board lessons on a part time basis. She bought a few boards and established referral partnerships with local outfitters. At the time, with the sport being so new to the area, people were more inclined to first take a lesson with Taylor before committing to a $1,000 paddle board. Eventually, the business got to a point where Taylor had to make a critical decision.
“I reached a point where I was turning down business,” she said. “I was too busy with my day job. I knew I had to choose one or the other. In February 2011, I decided to quit my job to focus exclusively on Hooked On SUP.”
Taylor shared that, while the decision was the right one, it was still a scary one. She once owned a small retail business and had experience in real estate, but leaving a sure thing with a steady paycheck for the unknown was definitely a leap of faith.
“When I started the business, I was mobile for the first few months,” Taylor said. “It was pretty tough in the beginning. I was answering phones, making appointments, teaching lessons and doing eco tours all by myself. The first three years I worked 364 days per year. Honestly, I was about to have a nervous breakdown when a mentor, who owned a paddle board business in Key West, encouraged me to hire someone. At first, I was scared to be responsible for someone else and their pay. I started off by using someone for one day a week. That allowed me to use that entire day to focus on building the business.”
Taylor continued, “Eventually I had an opportunity to be based out of Cape Haze Marina in Englewood. By then, I was all over social media, blasting things out. This was back when Facebook ads and likes were free. It was much easier and cheaper than it is today. Regardless, getting the word out and educating customers about paddle boarding was the biggest challenge. Eventually, I added kayaks, eco-tours and different equipment to attract different demographics. From there, the business really took off.”
Three years ago, after growing her business through networking, connecting with the tourism board and by encouraging customers to leave reviews, Taylor was approached by two state parks to be their official water activities vendor.
“I did a lot of business in both Don Pedro Island and Stump Pass Beach State Park,” she said. “They knew of me and asked if I’d be their official vendor. The arrangement gives us a great place to be based out of and it helps drive additional revenue to the state parks.”
With night paddles and eco-tours led by a team of Florida Master Naturalists, Hooked On SUP has become Charlotte County’s premier destination for paddle boarding, kayaking and learning about the beauty of Florida’s southwest coast. For Taylor, who now maintains several paddle board certifications, it’s also a great way to share her passion with fellow water lovers.
“The look on someone’s face that just got sprayed by a dolphin coming up to breath is incredible,” she said. “You can feel them and even smell their breath. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. We’re bringing people together and showing them a great time. We even have ‘angry teenagers’ who, after 30 mins of paddle boarding, are talking and engaging with their parents. It’s a sport that everyone enjoys.”
Looking ahead, Taylor is focused on growth, but not at the expense of her customer’s experience. She prides her business on delivering personalized and exceptional service. Despite offers to expand to other locations, she’s happy with the current size of the business.
What advice does Taylor have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Take the leap, but be smart about it,” she said. “I remember when I took the PaddleFit class, there was one person who took early retirement from Coca-Cola and spent their entire 401(k) to start a paddle board business. They’re no longer in business. If you’re going to do it, do it the smart way. Don’t spend your life savings to buy a lot of equipment. Start small and grow. Leap off a hill, not a cliff. Also, it’s important to understand that your business is your life. Be honest with yourself and do what makes you happy. Lastly, treat others how you’d want to be treated.”