Ten years ago, before she was a household name among well-heeled Hamptonites, Gina Bradley was running her Paddle Diva stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) operation out of the back of her truck and dreaming big about where her little company would go.
Today, with a well-established Springs headquarters, Paddle Diva clothing and product line, and a brand new book, Bradley has elevated herself to near guru status as she leads devoted women along a journey of fitness and empowerment on East End waters.
“When I first started 10 years ago, it was a very slow, organic growth,” Bradley says, recalling the early days when SUP was getting lots of attention around the country. While she wasn’t the only business to offer lessons and tours in the Hamptons, Bradley’s Paddle Diva quickly took shape as something special. She wasn’t just teaching people how to stand up, balance and paddle around on a board, she was creating a community of women and showing them a way through fear and a path toward better living. This unique approach set Bradley and Paddle Diva apart from her competitors and planted the seed of what would come next.
“I saw how empowering it was for women,” Bradley says, describing the evolution of her business and the magic of creating her “tribe” of female paddleboarders. “I came from a background of windsurfing, scuba diving, sailing, mountain biking—really aggressive, extreme sports—and what I found with paddleboarding is it was so accessible to people, to the average woman, but they felt the same way I used to feel when I was surfing, windsurfing,” she explains, relating the joy of taking regular, not necessarily athletic women out on the water. “It’s that same adrenaline rush, but getting into it was so much easier, so when I saw that empowering aspect, I think the beginnings of the book were born in my mind.”
Paddle Diva: Ten Guiding Principles to Finding Balance on the Water and in Life hit bookstores in May, and Bradley is proud of what she’s created. Mingled with years of photographs from her life on the water—including Paddle for Pink races, adventures on the bay with her regular students and friends, fun with family and more contemplative moments alone during early morning paddles in beautiful East Hampton scenery—the book focuses on 10 important credos.
“I realized there were 10 things I told people every day when I taught paddleboarding,” Bradley says of the book’s main conceit. Few could argue with her call to “Look Up,” “Believe in Your Strength,” “Dig Deep,” “Focus on Your Core,” “Enjoy the Ride,” “Be Comfortable with Yourself,” “Move (Gently) Outside Your Comfort Zone,” “Positivity Is Contagious,” “Be Open to the Outcome” and “Laugh Every Day, Smile Every Hour.” And with each of these chapters, Bradley shares anecdotes and wise words about living well.
A foreword by big wave surfing legend Laird Hamilton and his volleyball pro wife Gabby Reece—both Bradley’s friends and fellow paddleboarders—further drives home this message and calls her “the perfect infusion of energy and positivity” who has the “capacity to get a lot done in a way that appears effortless.” The famous couple, who encourage readers to use the book as a roadmap for finding balance on the water and in life to unleash one’s inner athlete, show great affection and respect for the author.
And why not? Anyone who’s spent time with Bradley, either joining her for a paddle, chatting at a party or interviewing her for an article, can immediately sense her powerful mix of kind, maternal energy, self-assuredness and drive. It’s no wonder people—including women, men, children and a handful of celebrities—flock to her classes, tours and retreats. What she’s doing could perhaps best be described in two words: accessibly aspirational.
“I love the intimacy of paddleboarding. I love looking for fish. I love spotting ospreys. I love seeing striped bass darting around my board underneath me. I love seeing turtles in some of the ponds. I love seeing deer swimming across a little stretch of water in between two pieces of land,” Bradley says, pointing out how paddleboarders connect with the environment in ways boaters never could. “I would have such a different perspective when I pulled off from land and got out to sea,” she continues. “That is such a magical moment for me, and I would always say, how can I show them what it is that I’m experiencing so they want to come out and experience this change in perspective, this resetting of your mind, this uber-confidence that you have to have in yourself to even stand up on one of these boards?”
Clearly, Bradley figured it out. Her Paddle Diva Center, the hub of her business at 219 Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road in Springs, offers a range of daily lessons, rentals and paddles in the waters around Three Mile Harbor, Hands Creek and Gardiners Bay by Sammy’s Beach, Sedge Island and Maidstone Park, to name just a few of the beautiful spots nearby.
For her momentous 10th summer in business, and now that her book is finally on shelves, Bradley is exploring new ways to expand Paddle Diva’s reach. Part of that plan is to “let go” and allow her trusted managers and instructors to take over a bit more of the day-to-day operations at the center so Bradley can assess how Paddle Diva would fare in other locations without her presence.
“I’d like to see if this lifestyle concept for paddleboarding would make it to vacation destinations,” she explains. “Not so that paddleboarding is just one of the things you can do, but so that there’s a Paddle Diva at a resort when you go to the Bahamas and you say, ‘Oh my God, honey, let’s book at this resort, Paddle Diva’s there,’ and we know we’re going to have a similar experience.”
Additionally, when she’s not spending time with her supportive husband, Scott, and their teenage children, 13-year-old James and 15-year-old Emma, Bradley says she hopes to give speaking engagement this fall and winter, to spread her message of empowerment and positive living to women who could benefit from it.
“I’m overworked and I’m stressed out, and I’m fantastic,” Bradley says, proving exactly why the world could definitely use more of her Paddle Diva mojo.
Learn more at paddlediva.com.