Paddleboarding by James Coulter

Paddleboarding: Above Board Adventuring
By James Coulter

The still, teal-green waters of Lake Summit glimmer under the sunny blue skies above. Save for a lone fishing boat and the crying of herons, nary another soul presides at the lake.

On its sandy banks near the dock and reeds congregate seven people garbed in neon-colored wetsuits. They are preparing for a paddleboard tour of lakes Summit and Eloise in Winter Haven.

Their brightly-colored boards, contrasting against the green waters and greener grass, lay upon the sand. They bob with the waves stirred by the breeze, adding a chill to the 71-degree morning weather.

Heading the group is Audrey Nettlow, owner of Paddleboard Winter Haven. Before her group ventures out, she offers brief instructions on standing and stroking. They then straddle their boards and push themselves into the water, first by kneeling on their boards, and once in deeper waters, by standing.

The sky shifts from clear blue to cloudy gray. The prospect of rain hardly deters them.

“On days when you think it isn’t nice to be outside, [those] are some of the very best days to be out on the paddleboard,” Nettlow says.

She recalls a previous tour on a muggy, chilly day that forecasted heavy rain. Their bravery allowed them to witness a flock of pelicans, herons, and egrets descend around them in the lake.

“Those things, if you stay inside, you miss,” she explains.

Her group enters the canal connecting the two lakes. Passing through the reeds and under the Spanish moss, they enter Cypress Gardens, encountering such sights as the Florida Pool, long since blocked off from LEGOLAND Florida guests.

Upon approaching the rubber tire barrier dividing the ski show area from the rest of the lake, a flock of seagulls resting upon it take flight and soar over them.

Later, they encounter the abandoned paddle boat, the Cypress Belle, its dilapidated wooden structure resting upon the shore. The curious paddleboarders look through the hazy windows to see chinaware spread upon the banquet table inside.

Around noon, they return to watch the ski show from a perspective few LEGOLAND Florida guests are privileged enough to see. As the water-skiers and motor boards zip by, the paddleboards ebb and flow in their wake.

Returning to Lake Summit, the paddleboarders are greeted by a banana-yellow toy motorboat zipping along the shore where a small family awaits.

Paddleboarding has recently been trending in popularity, especially in Central Florida with its numerous lakes. Though many hesitate to try the sport, mostly in fear of falling over, those brave enough end up loving it.

When Kent Viles started last year, he struggled keeping his balance and often fell into the water. After three or four more tries, his balance improved. Now he can stand upright and even perform a few tricks.

Viles, who helps with marketing for Paddleboard Winter Haven, can easily strap his own board onto his car, drive to any nearby lake, and launch into the water with little time or effort.

Living among the chain of lakes, Viles loves observing the diverse wildlife. Lake Elbert is his favorite spot, its clear water allowing him to see the fish, turtles, and other aquatic life swimming underneath.

Standing on his board offers him a much better perspective than he would have sitting in a canoe or other boat, and gliding silently atop the water allows him to observe the wildlife without disturbing it.

Though he enjoys the strenuous core muscle workout one can experience paddleboarding, he much prefers to take it easy and relax.

“If you want to go out in the middle of the lake, you can just go out, lay out on the paddleboard, fall asleep, and take a nap,” he says. “It can be a very peaceful journey that is beautiful and relaxing.”

All ages can enjoy this relaxing and invigorating activity. For Jess Fuller, who has been paddleboarding for a year, the sport provides her a fun family activity for both her 3-year-old child and her 70-year-old grandmother.

“It’s such a fun way to spend time with the whole family — young or old,” Fuller says.

Whether you are a professional or a first-timer, paddleboarding is an easy activity to get involved in.

As someone who moved to Florida for the sunshine and outdoor life, Jean Voisard loves being on the water, whether partaking in the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, or watching her step-son partake in the LEGOLAND Florida ski show from the comfort of her board.

Voisard has been paddleboarding for two years, and the ease and comfort it provides her, along with the social interaction, makes it an activity she highly recommends.

“It’s a fun activity to learn quickly and just have a great time outdoors,” Voisard says.

Those wishing to experience this unique sport can choose from a couple of local paddleboarding services to help get them started. One such business is SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Winter Haven, operated out of M. Marie Boutique alongside Lake Winterset in Winter Haven.

When Megan Mackie is not selling women’s clothes and accessories, she is renting paddleboards that customers can carry down to the lake and enjoy.

She started paddleboarding when she received a board as a present four years ago. Upon opening her boutique, she wanted to expand her business to include paddleboard rentals and lessons. Moving her boutique to its new lakeside locations has allowed her paddleboard business to boom in popularity.

Aside from rentals and tours, she offers fitness classes where she integrates exercises like yoga with paddleboarding, offering a unique workout experience.

“It’s just a little bit more of a challenge than doing it on the land because you are on water,” Mackie said. “If there is someone who does yoga a lot, they will find doing it on the water a new experience.”

While SUP Winter Haven focuses on fitness, Nettlow’s Paddleboard Winter Haven focuses on adventure.

Ever since her husband gave her a board for Christmas four years ago, Nettlow has been enamored with the sport. Though she loves canoeing and kayaking, she much prefers paddleboarding, as the equipment is easier to transport by herself, especially with her small stature and weight.

She loves adventuring with her husband. The ease of portability of her board allows her easier access to the many lakes throughout Florida, and touring them allow her a much more intimate experience with the wildlife.

“I think it’s good for your soul, to be out there standing on the water, to hear the water lapping on the board as you paddle,” she says. “You get to see God’s creation out there.”

Wishing to share this experience, she became a certified paddle-fit instructor and launched her business last year, and since then, it has become quite popular.

Paddleboard Winter Haven offers paddleboard rentals, classes, and private lessons. Especially popular are the guided tours, where she takes customers out on many of the lakes in the area.

Whether they are new to the sport or are experienced professionals wishing to network with other paddleboarders, Nettlow invites everyone to give paddleboarding a chance — and knowing how to swim is always a good idea, just in case.

“As long as you can stand up on the ground, you can stand up on a paddleboard,” she says. “I just encourage everyone to give it a try, just because I love it so much and I want to share it with everyone else.”

For more info on Paddleboard Winter Haven contact 863-289-9502 or visit For more info on SUP Winter Haven contact 863-318-9600 or