This story was originally published Nov. 8, 2021 on WYDaily.com.
WILLIAMSBURG — Paddle On of Williamsburg just finished up their sixth season of offering unique Paddleboarding experiences to both tourists and locals.
Lori Erwin, the owner and yoga instructor, says that her boss is mother nature. Her company operates on the Chickahominy River, and at James Town Beach, and is typically open from the beginning of May through the end of September because of the warmer weather conditions.
“We are a stand-up paddleboard company that offers paddleboard lessons, paddle yoga, paddle fit, full moon paddles, social paddles, and fundraising events with paddles,” said Erwin in an interview. “Anything that you can do on a paddleboard and I’m always open to trying new things.”
Erwin grew up in New Jersey near the ocean and so the water had always attracted her. Before setting up her business in the Historic Triangle she had heard of paddleboarding, but never tried it. Back in 2014, she went to visit a friend in New Jersey. The friend lived on the bay and owned a couple of paddleboards.
“[A]nd I said, ‘Oh I’m going to try that.’ I got on and I immediately loved it,” Erwin said.
Erwin opened her business in 2016 and first offered paddleboard lessons and yoga. Since then, the company has expanded its offerings with fitness classes, meditative sound baths, paddle races, and by selling paddleboards designed by local companies in the Hampton Roads area.
“The lessons are the biggest part of my business. It brings me so much joy. It’s teaching someone how to do it. I would never just give someone a board and say, ‘okay now go out and do it.’ If they don’t know the right way to launch into the water, or the correct place to stand, or the correct paddle technique it won’t be fun for them,” said Erwin. “It requires a lot more core stability as your going through the poses and a lot more connection to your breath as you go through the poses. It’s such a great way to bring yoga into your practice. There’s nothing like sitting on your board while going through a yoga sequence. It’s amazing.”
The paddleboard lessons usually take place Friday mornings before the yoga classes. It’s an hour and a half and those who sign up for the class go through a twenty-minute land instruction first. This is when Erwin goes over the equipment, the anatomy of the board, the paddle, the life jacket, and how to launch in and out of your location. During this time period is when she goes over how to go from kneeling to standing on the board as well.
Paddle Fit is another class offered. The class is typically offered Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings. It’s different than her yoga classes because, unlike the yoga classes, the Paddle Fit participants’ boards aren’t anchored when the class is in the water.
“It’s more of an experienced class, and you go out of Jamestown beach,” said Erwin. “You take what you get because it could be choppy or it could be calm. You paddle and your work on technique and speed. Then you stop and you do a set of exercises, and you do all this while you’re floating with the tide.”
Community Support During COVID
The local paddleboarding business has continued to grow in recent years, including last year, in 2020, when her business actually experienced her best season yet.
“People were saying, ‘I am so thankful that you have this business and that you’re able to offer it to us.’ While I know that other businesses were suffering, 2020 was my best season so far. We didn’t have tourists. I maybe had one or two social media influencers that I took out who were coming into Williamsburg. Usually, I have more in the summer,” said Erwin. “I had a lot more locals come out in 2020. I cleaned all the boards prior to taking them to wherever we were launching from. Those who signed up for the class were the only ones. Twice a week I had a deep cleaning of all my equipment, and it is a naturally socially distanced sport anyway. You’re naturally socially distanced anyway because if you fall, you don’t want to fall on somebody else.”
Erwin credits the local community for the continued growth and support of her business because she doesn’t operate out of a traditional brick and mortar. She attaches a trailer, with all her supplies and gear, to her truck and she drives out to every single class.
“I went into this to spread the love of paddleboarding. I did this to grow the sub-community here in Williamsburg. So that’s what I’ve been working on and there has been a tremendous response,” said Erwin. “Everybody has loved it and they love the classes that I offer. They want more. I do classes every single night with the exception of Monday because that’s when I’m closed.”
They’ve also found ways to start giving back to the community. Paddle On of Williamsburg has hosted a Paddle Race on June first along the Chickahominy River to raise help raise funds for Evelyns Wildlife Refuge. The race took place at the Chickahominy riverfront park and they ended up having about 80 participants.
“We thought we were going to cap it at 50 not even thinking we were going to get 25 because we didn’t know what to expect. We’ve been talking about having a race for years. So we ended up having to increase that cap and ended up with 80 participants,” said Erwin. “There weren’t just paddleboards. People brought kayaks and Surfskis. We had two different races. One was a two and a half-mile and one was a seven-mile which was around the island. It was a race that went around Gorden Island.”
Paddle On is already planning on hosting their next season’s race on June 11, 2022.
In addition to that race, Erwin and her company have also partnered with Here For The Girls. In that event, the participants paddled from the drop-in point in Powatahn creek all the way to the marina. They paddled in decorated bras to help raise awareness and support for the organization. They are already planning another one for the upcoming season, on July 30th, 2022.
“At the end of every season, I never think it can get better but it does,” said Erwin. “It gets better, it gets bigger, and it’s just a joy that I get to offer this to the community.”