Riding the waves: Paddle boarding finds a home in SWFL

Andrea Gianello and Richie Gardner put their paddle boards in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening as they hit the beach for the relaxing sport. Paddle boarding has grown in popularity in Southwest Florida in the past few years and can be done by people of just about any skill level. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

Andrea Gianello and Richie Gardner put their paddle boards in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening as they hit the beach for the relaxing sport. Paddle boarding has grown in popularity in Southwest Florida in the past few years and can be done by people of just about any skill level. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Richie Gardner of Naples rides a small wave to shore as he paddles on a stand-up paddle board in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening. Paddle boarding has grown in popularity in Southwest Florida in the past few years and can be done by people of just about any skill level. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

Richie Gardner of Naples rides a small wave to shore as he paddles on a stand-up paddle board in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday evening. Paddle boarding has grown in popularity in Southwest Florida in the past few years and can be done by people of just about any skill level. Jason Easterly/Special to the Daily News

"You see everything from sharks, to dolphins; I saw a sea turtle that had to be six feet in diameter.”

— Beth Lawrence

The Naples Paddleboard Club is free and open to the public.

Anyone that owns or has rented a paddle board can paddle with the group on Sunday mornings at 1st Ave. South in Naples.

Information: Visit www.NaplesPaddleboard.com or (239) 601-2700.

As a paddle boarder gently glides through the peaceful, early morning sea, a dolphin swims by to say hello.

The only sound is the quite rhythm of the Gulf of Mexico, the lap of the water on the board and the creatures of the ocean.

This is Kelli Gianello’s favorite time to be on her board.

“When you go down there at 6 in the morning alone, you are with the dolphins,” Gianello says. “This is when the mom’s paddle. They are away from their husbands, away from their kids, alone in the middle of the ocean and peaceful.”

Paddle boarding has grown in popularity in Southwest Florida over the past few years, and most beach goers will notice boarders just off the beach standing on their boards and paddling along the shore. The long, flat, stable boards require of the rider only balance and a willingness to relax and enjoy their surroundings. Paddle boarders can be seen on the Gulf of Mexico and also on the back waters around Southwest Florida, taking in all of the wildlife and natural surroundings.

Kelli and her husband Enrique are the owners of Windstalkers Kiteboarding and Paddleboarding at 852 1st Ave. South in Naples.

“We are a kite boarding school and we had to find something to do in the summer when there is no wind,” said Enrique Gianello. “I met a guy in California who had started his own paddle boarding business and I started with my first board here in 2007. I did good, I kept doing good, I’m still doing good.”

Two years ago the business expanded into a more commercial business.

Now the company delivers paddle boards to people wanting to rent them, sells paddle boards and accessories and teaches kite boarding and paddle boarding.

Enrique also teaches a summer camp for Collier County Parks and Recreation that includes kite boarding, paddle boarding and skim boarding, depending on the weather. Their business is strong in both paddle boarding and kite boarding and Enrique teaches kite boarders from all over the world.

He says that Marco Island is in the top 10 in the world for kite boarding so this keeps him busy teaching and training and also working with his sons, who compete in kite boarding events world wide.

Meanwhile Kelli stays busy with the paddle boarding business, renting and selling boards and meeting up with the paddle boarding group that she started- the Naples Paddleboard Club.

“I meet a lot of really cool people and become friends with them,” said Kelli Gianello. “We started the club and on Sundays we go paddle and now they are happy. In Naples we created this water sport that nobody did and now we meet all of these people on the beach.”

Naples resident Beth Lawrence was driving one day and passed the shop on 1st Ave. South. She saw all of the boards leaning against the building and decided to rent one.

“I rented it for one morning and was hooked. I came back the next day, tried a different type and purchased one,” Lawrence said. “I don’t like aerobics or spin class because they are so routine and I get bored with things like that. This is an incredible workout for your entire core and because you are on the water you see all the sea life; where can you have that much fun and have that kind of a workout?”

Lawrence is a realtor for Premiere Plus in Naples, so she keeps a busy schedule. She tries to get onto the water any morning that she can and usually meets up with the paddle board group every Sunday at the beach at 1st ave.

“Mornings are the best for paddle boarding because you get out there and the water is like glass,” Lawrence says. “You see everything from sharks, to dolphins; I saw a sea turtle that had to be six feet in diameter. At first (the wildlife) scared me, but now I am used to it.”

Lawrence says she only paddles in places where she isn’t afraid to swim in case she falls off the board. She is taking her 77-year-old uncle out to try the board soon. She says she has seen everybody from every walk of life, different ages and physical abilities out on boards.

“The thing that makes it so fun is I see couples where the guy can’t stand up, but the girl can, but they are both having fun,” Lawrence says. “It’s still fun even if you are not standing. You see people with young children and the child is sitting on the front with a life jacket while the parent is paddling from the back.”

For Richie Gardner, paddle boarding has become something he enjoys when he isn’t kite boarding.

He has been competing in kite boarding competitions throughout Florida for the past four years and riding for nine. He says he will be 50 in 10 days, but is lean and fit and full of energy from burning 2000 calories a day kite boarding.

“The cool thing about paddle barding is that when it is not really windy or choppy, that is the best time to go so it is a great complement to kite boarding,” said Gardner. “I love riding little waves and have been paddling for two years.”

And paddle boarding enthusiasts don’t have to leave all their stuff on the beach while they ride the waves.

“People, they take a backpack and paddle for a long time,” Enrique Gianello says. “You can put accessories, a cooler on the front and that’s why people prefer paddle boards; you are right on the water, you swim, you go back on the board, it is really good.”

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