Paddleboard instructor Gary Francis, above, gives a quick lesson to a young student on the Cruz Bay beach.
Lily Francis shows off her paddleboard skills off Cruz Bay beach.
For anyone who hasn’t been bitten by the paddleboarding bug that is sweeping St. John, Pretlow Majette’s new Waterbase offers the perfect opportunity to try out the sport.
Waterbase recently opened in the former Low Key Watersports space in Wharfside Village and takes full advantage of its beach front location. Taking a cue from Majette’s popular retail store Big Planet in Mongoose Junction — where he also owns Made in St. John and Shade Eyeware — Waterbase offers island-centric clothing, shoes and accessories.
“Waterbase is a sister store to Big Planet,” said Majette. “It’s got a similar product mix to Big Planet, but with a bit more of a beach angle. There are brands that we don’t have at Big Planet so people who shop there will find things they won’t find at the other store.”
Inside shoppers will find top of the line sunglasses like Maui Jim and Oakley, flip flops, bikinis, board shorts and more. Just outside of Waterbase, right on the Cruz Bay beach, is where to find Gary Francis, who is teaching paddleboard lessons and offering demonstrations.
“Paddleboards are our main thing,” said Majette. “We’re offering 90-minute beginner lessons with the boards. A lot of people will rent you a paddle board and say, ‘Here’s a paddle, get out and have fun.’”
“And paddleboarding is really a pretty easy sport to get into, but it’s important to get some serious skills down,” he said. “The boards are 10 or 11 feet long and turning them can be kind of difficult. We’re doing lessons right on the beach.”
Majette recommends that all beginner paddleboarders take an introduction lesson with Francis before a rental, but experienced boarders are welcome too.
“We like for them to take an intro lesson with us if they do a rental,” he said. “If not, they can do a quick skills test with us, just to show that they can go out and come back without getting themselves into trouble.”
For paddleboard rentals, Waterbase offers lightweight inflatable boards, which sound kind of flimsy, but are in fact super high-tech and stable.
“We have these super high-tech inflatable paddleboards for rentals,” said Majette. “It’s this crazy technology that makes them so rigid you wouldn’t believe it.”
“You’d think you could never stand up on an inflatable board, but the technology they have uses thousands of little threads to connect the top and bottom at a really high pressure and you get these really thick and very stable boards,” he said.
In addition to being light-weight and stable, the inflatable board also means no strapping oversized boards to rental Jeeps or island cars.
“You can roll these up and put them in a backpack,” said Majette. “And you don’t have to sweat and put it up on top of a car. They’re tons of fun and safe and easy to carry around.”
“The best aspect of the boards is safety, said Majette.”
“For us, we were really concerned with safety,” he said. “If you put the board on top of your car and you don’t tie it down just right, you can really do some damage. Also, for little kids the fiberglass paddleboards are big and if you get hit in the head, it hurts.”
“These are safer and easier to use and you can get pretty much all the enjoyment out of it as you can a proper fiberglass board,” said the store owner.
For advanced paddleboarders, Waterbase does offer fiberglass boards, advanced lessons with Francis and exclusive offers boards for sale.
“Fiberglass boards are a bit faster and higher performance and we’re doing intermediate and advanced lessons on those,” said Majette. “Gary has spent every summer for the last five years doing this in New York and he has great programs.”
Using gates and poles and ropes, Francis has created an area just off Cruz Bay beach for paddleboarders to show their skills. Boarders can paddle in figure eights, navigate through gates and even jump over a pole with their paddle over their head.
“It’s not like learning how to windsurf, but doing the little course with Gary will save you a couple of hours of getting up and falling off and getting back on,” said the store owner.
“He’ll teach you to do a proper stroke and with the colored ropes can see how far you move the board. He can quantify your improvements.”
“And it’s tons of fun,” said Majette. “We had a family out there this morning, three kids and mom and dad. They has such a blast.”
Ready for a board to take home for good? Majette has an exclusive relationship with Naish, which allows Waterbase to offer great deals on the boards.
“We have a special deal with Naish and can sell the boards at stateside retail prices with no shipping charge,” said the store owner. “These boards are huge and the shipping can cost $250 easy. And they’re a nightmare to deal with logistically.”
“With our contract with Naish, you don’t have to worry about any of that,” Majette said.
So no matter what skill level of paddleboarder one is, Waterbase has all the bases covered. For more information call 776-6638.