New company causes a stir with electric paddle board tours • St Pete Catalyst
An innovative St. Petersburg-based company is offering people a unique and relaxing way to see the mangroves, saltwater plains, beaches and wildlife surrounding the Shell Key Preserve up close.
Richard Malone and his wife, Lyuba, recently launched Native eSUP Adventures to put a new spin on stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). The activity has grown in popularity in recent years, but many find it too strenuous, especially when working against a strong sea breeze.
Malone said a chance encounter with someone in San Diego who specializes in outfitting electric motor kayaks led him and his wife to try one out on a paddleboard. He said they were “blown away” by the extra fun the small engine provided and the increased maneuverability completely changed his view of the business. The experience also sparked a business idea.
“You can go faster, and obviously, longer distances,” he said. “We quickly realized this would be a great tour for locals and tourists alike.”
The couple quickly 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 environment and saltwater ecology.
The couple fitted seven boards with electric motors. They lead groups of six on tours of the Shell Key Preserve, embarking from Tierra Verde at Pinellas Bayway South Kayak Launch for a three-mile loop, with a break at Key Beach, about halfway through the travel.
On average, Malone said runners were going around 5 mph. He said they could reach a top speed of 7 mph with the wind at their back. While that might not seem like much, he said it made a big difference with a 10mph headwind.
Motors also provide a safety aspect on open water, Malone said, as it’s common for a sudden increase in wind speed to cause paddleboarders to veer off course. Worse still are the summer thunderstorms that spontaneously appear on the horizon and make a quick return to shore imperative and arduous, especially when someone is already tired from paddling all day.
“With these engines we can just go straight upwind – no problem,” Malone said. “And come back gently.”
Electric motors, Malone explained, also add a layer of relaxation to the sport of paddleboarding. He explained that following an excursion, one of the most common customer responses he receives is disbelief at how much they have seen in two hours.
Although the motors allow paddlers to cover more ground than traditional SUPs, he said they still provide a beneficial workout without feeling exhausted. Rather than wanting to go home and take a nap, he says, paddlers are energized for the rest of the day.
“I still notice it,” Malone said. “As if I could do two or three tours and not burn out as a tour guide.”
The small electric motors are quiet enough not to scare off wildlife, Malone said, adding that encounters with native birds, dolphins and fish are common sights on tours. He noted that the propeller is fully enclosed, making it harmless to wildlife and humans.
SUPs include other safety features and the motor automatically shuts off if a paddler falls overboard. Another unique aspect is the bracelet which acts as a remote control and provides a kill switch for the electric motor. Malone said riders control the speed of the board from their wrist, including 12 settings for forward and two for reverse.
“It’s nice when you’re sailing, and you kind of have to stop,” he said. “You can always throw it upside down.”
Malone said the motor and battery are compact and lightweight, weighing nine pounds combined. The battery sits under the board, effectively replacing the center fin typically found on SUPs. A waterproof cable – Malone pointed out that everything is completely waterproof – runs from the motor to a small battery on top of the board.
He compared it to riding a bike – the hardest part is establishing that initial balance, and then the momentum does most of the work.
Native eSUP Adventures also uses larger 11.5ft paddle boards instead of the standard 10.5ft boards. Malone said the increased size provides more stability, while the electric motor takes the edge off any increased effort needed for handling.
“Our goal with this new idea is to get more people into paddleboarding,” Malone said. “Making it less difficult, less intimidating.”