Made in SoWal: YOLO Board
June 18, 2012 by Jenny Etheredge
There seems to be a common spirit that unites people who choose to make SoWal their home, including a creative outlook on business opportunities, an enduring personality, and of course a love for the water.
As a cozy coastal community, South Walton may not seem like the easiest place to make a living, yet our small community is home to an arsenal of entrepreneurs in a variety of business endeavors from fashion design to coffee roasting.
YOLO Board founders Jeff Archer and Tom Losee are the ultimate embodiment of the SoWal entrepreneur, managing not only to establish a successful stand up paddleboard (SUP) empire headquartered here, but to also have found an occupation where being on the water is a daily requirement of the job.
Jeff & Tom
If you have somehow been able to avoid exposure to the sport of SUP, it is currently sweeping the nation and beyond as the best way to explore any body of water from oceans to springs to rivers to lakes. User-friendly with an easy learning curve, SUP involves standing atop a large surf-type board and paddling in a canoe like fashion.
Archer and Losee, two avid watermen and lovers of the outdoors, were introduced to the sport in 2005 and immediately realized that with the variety and quality of water sources available in SoWal and surrounding Northwest Florida, the area could be a mecca for the sport. This intuition proved to be right on, and the company quickly gained momentum to such an extent that stand up paddleboarding is often referred to locally as “YOLOing,” in honor of the YOLO Board brand.
“Jeff and I were both searching for a way to balance our careers, our families and our love of recreation,” explains Losee from his desk overlooking beautiful Western Lake at the WaterColor BoatHouse, one of the SoWal rental hubs for YOLO Board.
“SUP spoke to both of us and we wanted to create boards that allowed everyone to enjoy the water whether their goal was leisure or sport. We decided to take the plunge and based our company around the philosophy of ‘You Only Live Once’ and that’s how YOLO Board came to be.”
Now, five years later, YOLO is considered among the top SUP producers and has recently become a bi-coastal operation with a secondary headquarters in San Diego, California.
The expansion to California is a strategic decision towards the growth of the company, allowing YOLO Board to gain more recognition and presence along the West Coast where the sport initially exploded. The California operation also includes some of the most recognized names in the SUP world with Brody Welte, creator of the nationally accredited Paddle Fit, a SUP fitness program and certification, and E.J. Johnson, an elite SUP racing pro and designer of premier stand up paddles behind the helm.
“We could not be more stoked about our West Coast team,” says Archer over coffee at the recently renovated YOLO Board warehouse on County Road 393 in Santa Rosa Beach. “To have people that you respect and admire sign on to your vision as a company and want to be a part of it is truly the greatest compliment any businessman can receive. Overall, the positive response we’ve received to YOLO Board’s products and philosophy has been both humbling and inspiring.”
And quite a response it has been, with YOLO Board now represented across the country in rental and retail outlets and even internationally in places such as Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Today YOLO Board’s inventory boasts over 12 different models in an array of bold custom graphics by the company’s design partner Jake Meyer of I Will Design For Food, as well as two signature lines of stand up paddles and YOLO brand apparel.
“The theme of ‘You Only Live Once’ seems to resonate with people on so many different levels while paddling out on a YOLO Board and exploring the world around them. We’ve had people tell us that being introduced to SUP has changed their lives and those are the stories that really make your day and encourage you to keep on working hard,” adds Archer.
Another new development for YOLO in 2012 was the establishment of an official YOLO Board Elite Race Team with 12 sponsored racers scattered around different parts of the country who travel nationally to compete in sanctioned SUP racing events. The team includes local racers and South Walton Fire District Beach Safety officers Justin Cook and Gary Wise to E.J. Johnson in California and former professional skier and New Jersey-based Darian Boyle.
Team riders work hard to spread the YOLO spirit however they can such as Hawaii rider Ingo Rademacher’s newly initiated ‘Camp YOLO Board Hawaii,’ an all-inclusive SUP enthusiast adventure vacation on Oahu’s famed North Shore. Fun fact, Rademacher is best known as a Hollywood television actor with a recurring role on General Hospital and a recent cameo on Hawaii Five-O.
Locally, the YOLO Board crew is currently gearing up for the kickoff of the SoWal SUP race season with both the 5th Annual YOLO Board Race Series and the 2nd Annual YOLO Board Mileage Builder Series beginning in May. The beloved YOLO Board Race Series is held in WaterColor and includes relay-style competition by teams of three and four. Expect to see a sampling of the local community from chefs to realtors to lifeguards paddling their hearts out in this light-hearted, fun-filled competition.
Held at YOLO’s newest SoWal rental location at the Baytowne Marina in the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, the Mileage Builder Series features individual competition in distance races that increase by one mile increments from one to four miles. Both series include four monthly races from May to August and are exciting for SUPers and spectators alike.“Contributing to and boosting the local waterman culture has always been a central goal for YOLO,” elaborates Archer. “The Race Series has become so popular with participation expanding each year, and we wanted to offer a new competitive opportunity for paddlers seeking to enhance their individual performance through the Mileage Builder Series.”
Showcasing a true community effort, the events are made possible by the sponsorship of SoWal businesses with Destin Real Estate Company presenting the Race Series and Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and Sandestin Real Estate presenting the Mileage Builder Series along with other area companies. YOLO Board is also initiating similar efforts from their San Diego location by establishing unique Cali-inspired race events.
With all of this growth and activity, what could possibly be next for the company? Archer smiles wryly and says, “You only live once so you might as well cover all the ground you can. Expect big news from YOLO in the coming year. ”
And with that, the YOLO Board machine keeps ticking on, spreading its simple yet powerful mantra and inspiring new people to embrace life and achieve their goals both on the water and in their everyday lives.