By Pete Williams
I was having a conversation recently with a couple of Florida-based stand-up paddle board gurus who were extolling the virtues of the greater Destin area, often referred to as the Beaches of South Walton, as perhaps the best location in the nation for SUP.
It’s tough to argue with them. The 30-A communities around Santa Rosa Beach have plenty of flat water and mostly year-round warm weather. But 30-A also has an ideal demographic. It attracts mostly vacationing families looking for laid-back family fun. There’s nothing better for that than stand-up paddleboarding. The terrific folks at YOLO Board picked an ideal place to launch their business. The company’s annual YOLO Seaside Celebration (Sept. 6-10) is an awesome week-long celebration of the sport.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is similar but not quite as ideal a demographic. Tampa Bay has plenty of flat water, a warmer climate than 30-A and a much larger population. But it’s more of a Budweiser and jet ski crowd.
What other place, we wondered, is comparable to 30-A?
One came to my mind immediately: Sandbridge. As the name suggests, it’s basically a giant sandbar between the Atlantic Ocean and the Back Bay just south of the Oceana Naval Air Base and the Virginia Beach strip. There’s no commercial development, just single-family homes rented only to families.
I spent a good chunk of my childhood at Sandbridge, which in recent years has been put on the map by native son Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals. Surely, I thought, there must be someone in Sandbridge taking advantage of the growing interest in stand-up paddle boarding.
As it turns out, there is. Anne Gassett is an ACE-certified trainer, Sandbridge resident, long-time OC6 competitor, SUP enthusiast, and bootcamp instructor. In January, she ventured to Fl0rida and completed Brody Welte’s Paddle Fit certification class and has expanded her SUP business, giving lessons and renting/selling YOLO boards in Sandbridge.
I’m guessing there aren’t too many places where you can walk 100 yards in one direction and launch your board in the ocean and 100 yards in another direction and launch in a massive body of water like the Back Bay. But you can do that in Sandbridge, where surfers have enjoyed the ocean side for decades.
Just when I didn’t think I could enjoy Sandbridge anymore than I do, I got the thrill of seeing it by paddleboard today courtesy of Anne Gassett, who along with her husband Bill will be hosting the Back Bay Hei Hei Race in Sandbridge on Oct. 8-9.
Sandbridge is only about six miles long, not including the wonderful Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. That’s only a fraction of the Beaches of South Walton. But I’m guessing it won’t be long before Sandbridge becomes part of the discussion whenever people talk about premier locations for stand-up paddle boarding.