Yolo Boarding in the Florida Panhandle

Along Florida's Gulf Coast, the word "yolo" has become common parlance to refer to the fast-growing sport of stand-up paddle boarding. The term is a reference to YOLO Board, a company based in Santa Rosa Beach in the northwest Florida Panhandle that designs and manufactures boards, gives lessons and conducts tours. The name of the company is an acronym of co-founder Tom Losee's daily mantra, "you only live once." Today, I'm lucky enough to have Losee as instructor and guide for my first-ever "yoloing" experience. We are on Eastern Lake, one of the rare coastal dune lakes in the South Walton area.

Losee seems thrilled that people now use his company's name as a verb to refer to the burgeoning water sport. Stand-up paddle boarding is a combination of surfing and paddling. You can ride ocean waves or go eco-touring on more placid waters. Eastern Lake is bordered by sand dunes to the south and the slash pines of Point Washington State Forest to the north -- a good place for novices like me to learn. I'm with a group, none of whom have "yoloed" before. Losee starts us out with a quick lesson. It's an easy sport to pick up, even if you've never surfed or paddled before. Soon we're off, exploring the brackish waters and forested banks of the northern section of the lake.

I've driven the Scenic Highway 30-A bridge over Eastern Lake many times in my life, but on a paddle board I feel as if I'm seeing it for the first time. We head into the marshy backwaters, away from the highway, paddling in a place unnavigable by canoes and kayaks, quietly coasting through the water grass. Each stroke of my paddle scrapes bottom, and I realize paddle boarding is a unique sport. Only a noisy air boat could go where we are going, which, of course, would ruin everything about this peaceful moment in nature. Before I'm halfway done with the tour, I know I've found a new favorite sport. When the group gets back to dock, I'm still going, heading under the Highway 30-A bridge towards the dunes, and the waves of the Gulf beyond. My party is calling me back. Our time is up. But I'm acting as if I'm already on my second YOLO excursion, searching for an open channel to the sea.  

Photos courtesy of Blake Guthrie