The folks at PADL have come up with an ingenious business idea…unmanned paddleboard rental stations, where there aren’t paddleboard rental locations. MiamiMan caught up with Parker Lake, a paddleboarding instructor with PADL, to talk about the company’s origins, growth and future.

PADL may not rise to the level of Airbnb or GoFundMe as far as astronomical success in the sharing economy, but their sheer growth potential does seem almost limitless. 

Put it this way: they can establish themselves wherever paddle-able water is, and where shops selling or renting paddleboards aren’t. And as PADL’s paddleboarding instructor points out, there’s a lot of water around.

“When you go into space,” he says, “you look down and you see a blue planet, and you realize that we’re more water than anything else, right?”

Well, most of us have only seen photos from space. But he makes a great point.

Parker Lake has been with PADL since its first station fired up in Key Biscayne. He was kind enough to tell MiamiMan about how it works, and he’s developed an effective elevator pitch.

“It is a paddleboard-sharing app. We have paddleboards that are placed at various locations. People can use the app to unlock the boards, and now kayaks as well, and paddle out onto the waterway or the beach, wherever it is. They pay by the hour or they have a membership, and we also offer tours and lessons from the location.”

It’s simple enough in theory, but it’s improving lives for a lot of people…not just PADL’s founders and employees, but also municipalities and new paddleboarding enthusiasts.

PADL solves a big problem that residents of beach resort towns are no doubt familiar with…all the equipment for body of water enjoyment that a beachgoer must carry. A paddleboard or kayak especially can be cumbersome.

Lugging one’s own board or loading the kayak on top of the car, or digging it out from wherever it’s stored, can hamper the enjoyment of a day on the lake or the river. It might persuade someone to think twice about it.

PADL simply puts the paddleboard there for you, and that hassle is no longer a problem. Just find your favorite spot with a station, pull out your phone, unlock a board through your app and you’re off.

It’s not that the joy of standing on a board, paddling through peaceful waters, and enjoying nature isn’t worth the trouble. But three clever fellows thought it was worth making easier.

The founders of PADL, Andres Avello, Felipe Jauregui and Khalil Khouri, are Key Biscayne natives and paddleboarding enthusiasts who found a hole to fill with their hobby.

Lake, who signed on with them at the beginning in 2017, knows their story well.

“What they were thinking about doing was coming up with a way for locations that are some of the most serene, and in amazing looking places, but don’t have a lot of footfall to make it feasible for that place to have paddleboards waiting, rentable for people to use. Some of the best spots don’t have a lot of footfall, because they don’t have a rental place there.

“So after thinking through a little bit, they realized that the easiest way to do that would be to have an unmanned power board station that costs nothing while no one’s using it, and to revenue share with the local municipality.”

The unmanned station aspect of it turned out to be more than just a money saver.

Everyone remembers the economic damage caused by pandemic lockdowns. Many long-established businesses did not survive, and many others are still recovering.

But some entities suddenly found themselves in the right place at the right time, and were able to demonstrate a new worth that the public hadn’t fully appreciated before we suddenly had to stay six feet apart. Doordash is an obvious example, as restaurants especially did whatever they could to survive.

Paddleboarding has had its enthusiasts for hundreds of years. But until the pandemic, not as many had realized the benefits of being able to find peace outdoors, get needed exercise, and enjoy an activity that doesn’t require close contact with others, in the midst of a trying time for everyone.

Lake says that while the startup was already showing great promise, the pandemic kickstarted some real momentum for PADL.

“Paddleboarding was already big down here,” he remembers. “It started to really pick up about ten years ago. But the pandemic really drove a lot of people to try to go out and buy paddleboards, to the point that paddleboards and kayaks became hard to buy, because there was way more demand than there was supply.

“And it was right at that time that we started to expand.”

This was especially fortuitous, given that it wasn’t a great time for new entrepreneurs to have invested in a startup along with some outside help, as PADL did.

“There was a lot of personal equity thrown into it originally,” Lake explains, “because we are first and foremost a hardware company, right? Manufacturing the station, getting the boards made, and now we have kayaks being made. Then we have to ship them to every location and place in town. So there’s a lot of expense from that standpoint.

“The first few years were as self-funded as we could, and then it moved on to crowdfunding and eventually a round of funding from angels. We now have reached a point where we are profitable, and we’re very proud to say that, because we know that a lot of funded companies take a while to get to this point.”

Not bad to be turning a profit considering that the idea raised over $400,000 on SeedInvest.

“For us, it was really important to make sure that there was profitability in the model, built-in from day one, so that we were always aiming to be where we are now. We hope to continue to be, to maintain our profitability as we expand.”

Lake didn’t have the exact numbers for MiamiMan…they’re growing fairly quickly…but he confidently estimated that PADL has had over 30,000 unique riders on their boards. PADL’s growth in just six years of existence, he says, is “mind-blowing”.

“We went from one location in Key Biscayne to nearly 50 locations now,” he says.

But it shouldn’t be surprising, especially given the opportunities our state especially offers. 

“We have locations up in the Jacksonville area, Flagler County, between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. We have conversations [about] St. Augustine right now; we don’t have a station area, but we do hope to soon. We have twelve in Miami and two in Broward County, which is just north of us. Tampa has a fair amount now, about eight stations. We have stations in the Keys, so we’ve pretty much surrounded the state.

“We just have to drill down and some of the areas that have great paddling don’t have stations yet, but everyone’s working hard to, both units on our side to get it approved and all out.”

They’re also well aware of the importance of keeping up with the growing demand…which PADL also does very well.

“We found that on a Saturday afternoon in certain locations, like where we may have four boards or something like that, they get used up quite quickly, especially on the beach. But what we do in that case is we place a second station, a second unit, so that one station would have eight boards. Or like we do in Margaret Pace, which is downtown Miami, a park that faces the bay, we have a 12-board station.

“We’re constantly thinking of ways to do well by the three people we serve, right? We have our membership, the local people who haven’t used us yet, and we also have our municipality partners who we revenue share with. We want to make sure that everyone’s well served. So if we notice that an area is being used up and the boards aren’t available, we put down another station.”

It’s an idea strong enough that even a pandemic that crippled an economy couldn’t stop it. PADL keeps growing, even beyond South Florida, as it should. There are plenty of beaches, rivers and lakes in the Sunshine State, and only a small fraction of them have people nearby renting paddleboards.

PADL also offers the opportunity to have a station placed on your property, if you’re, say, a hotel owner looking to expand your guests’ activities. Lake adds that “a lot of people out of state and out of the country have reached out to us, and we’re in conversations with people in many different parts of the world about potentially setting up over there.”

About 250 years ago, a group of guys met in Philadelphia and declared that humans had the right to pursue happiness. They even thought that was worth founding a new country. The PADL folks embody that in a way we all dream of…earning a living doing something you love.

“I love working with the guys,” Lake reflects. “Now we have a bigger team, there’s a great vibe. We all love the water. We all love what we do.” 

Try PADL For Yourself

There are five easy steps to renting a paddleboard at one of PADL’s stations, as they clearly state on their website: download the PADL app, unlock a paddleboard, and ride with the included life vest. When you’re done, put the paddleboard back on the rack, and end your rental time on the app. If you’re using it for exercise, they include your stats for you, with a GPS installed in the paddleboard.

The rental cost as of this writing is $25 per hour, or you can get a membership for $30 a month or $100 for six months, and ride for two hours a day anytime and anywhere there’s a station.

Great…so where to go to try it? PADL also includes a list of “Adventures” stories on their website, some of which include details about destinations you can try out for yourself (and incidentally, many of their stations include kayaks as well):

Camp Chowenwaw PADL describes this natural habitat area in Clay County to be full of wildlife, including bats, owls and foxes. Their paddleboard station’s launch area is surrounded by lily pads, with Black Creek around the corner for more exploration. As the post says, there’s plenty more to do at Camp Chowenwaw, including hiking, fishing, volleyball, picnicking and more. And now there’s a PADL rental station.

Key Biscayne – PADL originated here, and in one post they share how Parker Lake led a group of new riders on a tour from Key Biscayne Ocean Park. The riders even got to see a rainbow over the western sky. They did have to learn the necessary skills to paddleboard on the ocean though, with the wind, currents, and “ocean swell” presenting a larger challenge than a typical lake.

Jupiter – One of PADL’s enthusiasts, Sara, told her story of enjoying the paddling in Burt Reynolds Park in Jupiter. According to Sara, in the waterways around the park, there’s a strong enough current to give paddleboarders a healthy workout. She recommends going out early in the morning at the first high tide, for a peaceful sunrise experience.

Pine Tree Park (Miami Beach) – One of PADL’s Miami Beach stations is located close to the Fontainebleau luxury hotel at Pine Tree Park. The park itself offers plenty of walking trails and scenery, and the PADL station makes paddling in the nearby canal simple. Paddling on the canal offers stellar views of the high-rise resorts along Collins Avenue.

There are other great stories on the site where PADL people share their palpable enthusiasm for the activity. Check it out at (That’s .co, not .com)

Learning How To Paddleboard

Parker Lake loves paddleboarding enough that as soon as he heard of the PADL founders’ idea for the app, he reached out to them and told them he wanted to be part of it. 

Today Lake is PADL’s lead paddleboarding instructor, and he heads a team of nine instructors in teaching the basics of paddleboarding. If you’ve never tried it and are interested, you can reach out to them through PADL’s website.

Lake describes the learning process as actually being pretty simple, and helping newbies understand that so long as they do things properly and wear a life jacket, paddleboarding is safe. The trick for some is to overcome their initial trepidation, which Lake is a big help with.

“The most important thing”, he explains, “and it sounds a little cliche, but it actually is very important. It’s safety, right? When someone feels safe, that’s when they start to have the option of having fun. First and foremost, we want to make sure that people feel safe.

“They’re in a safe environment, they have a leash for the paddle board, they have a life vest that we always have for our students. Any rider that’s on a lesson or a tour wears their vest.

“Then we head out from a lagoon. It’s enclosed, so it has less wind than the bay or the beach, but at the same time, you can leave the lagoon and make a left to go into the bay and make a right to go onto the beach. So we can quickly move someone up from beginner to intermediate, and even, if you’re already in intermediate, start doing advanced skills out off the beach, which includes surfing and paddling over waves, those types of things.

Surfing? No, it’s not quite like surfing, as you might think seeing the pictures on the PADL site.

“A surfboard is made to wipe out after the wave stops,” Lake says. “These are more like boats. They’re flat, but they displace water like a boat does. So you can wobble it from side to side, and it’s very stable.

“A lot of people, when they realize how stable it is, they immediately start to loosen up a little bit and they take two basic skills, how to go straight forward, how to turn right, left break, and then we just hit the water.”

After Lake’s two-hour session with new riders, he says, it isn’t long before they’re hooked…and confident enough to do it on their own. 

PADL even hosts corporate tours with the rest of its guides, in case your company is looking for one of those tax-man friendly “team building” exercises.