The East End is known for many things, but especially its unparalleled ocean and bay access that provides opportunities for aquatic activities. Local entrepreneur, Gina Bradley, founded Paddle Diva in 2009, an alternative form of exercise that taps into a beloved feature of the Hamptons. Bradley traveled and lived around the world and pursued her passion of fitness in a variety of sports like SCUBA diving and windsurfing. She is no stranger to the world of water and fitness. Most strikingly, Bradley has found success as a mother, businesswoman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
Bradley has drastically grown her business, Paddle Diva, over the past 22 years and has been featured on Bravo’s “Summer Share,” HGTV’s “Island Life,” and on Bethenny Frankel’s “Bethany and Frederic.” It’s no surprise that Paddle Diva has become a large part of the Hamptons recreational offerings.
I spoke with Bradley to learn more about her path to entrepreneurship in the Hamptons.
Take us back to the start of your career. Did you ever imagine you would launch a business like Paddle Diva and was there a particular experience that encouraged you to get started in 2009?
GB: I have had a long career in business development and sales. I lived in the Caribbean for five years. At that time, I worked in the Cayman Islands selling yellow pages, sailing all over the Caribbean, and becoming a SCUBA diving and windsurfing professional. When I returned to NYC, I worked with some of the top branding, advertising, and design shops in business development. When I first had the notion to start Paddle Diva, it was like all my skills merged together to create the perfect storm for a great business. I had an unusual skill set of being a water woman, marketer with a great business acumen, and an accomplished athlete allowing me to adeptly build Paddle Diva. Running a watersports business has great challenges and it’s not always as easy as it looks. Fortunately, with the support of my husband Scott Bradley, who in the beginning often taught for me on the weekends, and extraordinary general manager Amy Worthington, I have been able to grow Paddle Diva into a mainstay brand throughout The Hamptons. Paying a visit to Paddle Diva is a must, even if you don’t want to get on the water. You will always be greeted with a warm welcome and lots of enthusiasm just for showing up.
Can you speak a bit about your relationship with fitness and why it is so important in your life?
GB: I have always believed, “do what you love and the fitness will follow” and I have lived my life that way since I can remember. Being fit and healthy is something that I believe everyone can achieve, if they just give it a chance and commit to an active lifestyle. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 16 and I have never let that stop me from living my best life, and keeping my body strong to combat many of the side effects of the curve!
You knew your market well and targeted women from the start. Has your audience evolved over the past decade?
GB: Absolutely, I decided to target women at first because originally this sport was targeted towards men. The boards were big, heavy and were not designed for a female frame. I quickly worked with a local board shaper to develop a line of custom stand up paddle boards that were lighter, smaller and had a handle that made carrying them easier. As demand for the sport grew, I found a growing interest in the male market, because we are instructionally based. We stress with all of our students paddle stroke technique, stance on the board and other advanced moves like pivot turns. We also instruct in varying conditions making the experience exciting. Most importantly we make sure people have a great time! All of our clients come back for more! At this point, I’d say Paddle Diva is just about 50% men and 50% women. And we have tons and tons of kids who join us in our SUP Wize Kids program!
Paddle Diva has been featured on various television shows and introduced you to local celebrities. Did you ever imagine your business would open you to so many exciting opportunities?
GB: I did have a vision for Paddle Diva that was high reaching. I always over set my goals and try to get as close to achieving them as possible. When I started this business I knew the Hamptons was the right area for this to thrive because we have so many celebrities and attention from the media. I really understand the power of media (both good press and bad press) and I engage in every opportunity that I am given. I don’t think Paddle Diva has quite reached my fully realized visions, so you will have to stay tuned to see what I have coming next!
For someone who has never gone paddle boarding before, what is your biggest piece of advice?
GB: Go Paddling! It’s a sport that is for EVERYONE, no matter your age, size or athletic ability. With the proper instruction and equipment anyone can step on the liquid to enjoy the glide!
What are your favorite places to paddleboard in the Hamptons?
GB: Right in Three Mile Harbor. It’s my home base for Paddle Diva, but also the bay I first started paddling on in 2008. It’s the bay where my children learned how to swim and paddle as well. I live in Springs about two miles from Paddle Diva’s Headquarters in the Shagwong Marina. It’s going to be my home for a long time, I can’t think of a better place in all of the Hamptons.
Paddle Diva participates in many local philanthropic events. Can you speak a bit about that and why this involvement is important to you personally and professionally?
GB: There are many events I enjoy being part of. I find it hard to say no to using my brand to create awareness around philanthropy. I have been active with Susan and David Rockefeller (They were one of my first clients in 2009) in their efforts to help the oceans rest. We worked with Oceana, South Fork Museum of Natural History, and on a short film Susan produced called Mission of the Mermaids. I have been involved in the annual Paddle For Pink with Maria Baum and the BCRF. The race is in a transition this season, but I was lucky to work with Iris Danker and Holiday House to continue to raise money for breast cancer research. I work with the Town of East Hampton’s Shellfish Hatchery as part of their program to seed our bays with baby clams, scallops and oyster seeds to help filter the waters in an effort to rid our bays of blue green algae. Recently, I have been asked to join the board of The East Hampton Food Pantry and I find that to be some of the most rewarding work as it directly serves my community which I love to help and support so directly.
As a female entrepreneur, what is one lesson you learned early on in your business that could help the younger generation?
GB: That it’s all in the execution. I have so many people who come to me with an idea, thinking that’s the hardest part, and then want me to execute it. What I know makes a good entrepreneur is the ability to never stop trying, and if one way did not work, back it up and try another way. It is all in making the idea come to life and then keeping that idea going, no matter what!
To learn more about Paddle Diva and sign up for a class, visit www.PaddleDiva.com.