An innovative St. Petersburg-based business is offering a unique and relaxing way for people to receive an up-close look at the mangroves, saltwater flats, beaches and wildlife surrounding the Shell Key Preserve.
Richard Malone and his wife, Lyuba, recently launched Native eSUP Adventures to provide a novel spin on stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). The activity’s popularity has increased over the last several years, but many find it too strenuous – especially when working against a stiff sea breeze.
Malone said a chance encounter with someone out of San Diego specializing in outfitting kayaks with electric motors led him and his wife to try one on a paddleboard. He said they were “blown away” by the added enjoyment the small motor provided, and the increased maneuverability completely changed his perspective on the activity. The experience also sparked a business idea.
“You get to go faster, and obviously, further distances,” he said. “We quickly realized this would be a great tour to have for both locals and tourists.”
The couple soon launched a business not only unique to the area, but Native Adventures, according to Malone, is the first company in the country to offer eSUP tours. The husband and wife duo chose the name Native Adventures because they want people to have a hyper-local experience, witnessing the best aspects of St. Petersburg’s saltwater environment and ecology.
The couple outfitted seven boards with electric motors. They lead groups of six on tours of the Shell Key Preserve, embarking from Tierra Verde at the Pinellas Bayway South Kayak Launch for a three-mile loop, with a break at the key’s beach, about halfway through the trip.
On average, Malone said riders cruise at about 5 mph. He said they could reach a top speed of 7 mph with the wind at their backs. While that may not sound like much, he said it makes a big difference with a 10 mph headwind.
The motors also provide a safety aspect on the open water, said Malone, as it is common for a sudden increase in wind speeds to blow paddleboarders off course. Worse yet are the summer thunderstorms that spontaneously appear on the horizon and make quickly retreating to shore imperative and arduous, especially when someone is already tired from paddling all day.
“With these motors, we can just go right into the wind – no problem,” said Malone. “And get back smoothly.”
The electric motors, Malone explained, also add a layer of relaxation to the sport of paddleboarding. He relayed that following an excursion, one of the most common customer responses he receives is disbelief at how much they were able to see in two hours.
While the motors allow paddlers to cover more ground than traditional SUPs, he said it still provides a beneficial workout without the feeling of exhaustion. Rather than wanting to go home and take a nap, he said, paddlers are energized for the rest of the day.
“I still notice it,” said Malone. “Like I could do two or three tours and not get burned out as a tour guide.”
The small electric motors are quiet enough not to spook wildlife, said Malone, adding that encountering native birds, dolphins and fish is a common occurrence on tours. He noted the propellor is fully enclosed, making it harmless to both wildlife and people.
The SUPs include other safety features, and the motor automatically shuts down if a paddler falls overboard. Another unique aspect is the wrist band that acts as a remote and provides a kill switch for the electric motor. Malone said riders control the board’s speed from their wrist, including 12 settings for moving forward and two for reverse.
“It’s nice when you’re cruising along, and you have to kind of come to a stop,” he said. “You can always throw it in reverse.”
Malone said the motor and battery are compact and lightweight, weighing nine pounds combined. The battery sits underneath the board, effectively replacing the middle fin typically found on SUPs. A waterproof cable – Malone stressed everything is completely waterproof – runs from the motor to a small battery pack on top of the board.
He compared it to riding a bicycle – the hardest part is establishing that initial balance and then momentum does most of the work.
Native eSUP Adventures also utilizes larger, 11.5-foot paddleboards instead of the standard 10.5-foot boards. Malone said the increased size provides more stability, while the electric motor mitigates any increased effort needed for maneuverability.
“Our whole thing with this new idea is to bring more people into paddleboarding,” said Malone. “By making it less challenging, less intimidating.”