Sitting Down with The Paddle Diva
by tracey toomey
Gina Bradley founded Paddle Diva in 2009 to focus on fitness for women
After graduating from college, “Paddle Diva” Gina Bradley moved from New York City to the Caribbean, where she worked for a publishing company selling advertising space in phone books. However, it wasn’t long before she realized that the only suit she wanted to wear to work was a bathing suit. In 2009 Bradley started Paddle Diva, a stand-up paddle-board (SUP) center that aims to make the sport accessible to everyone from enthusiasts to novices. “I started Paddle Diva because I recognized that this was a sport that was so easy to do, yet it seemed very intimidating,” says Bradley, who previously taught windsurfing, surfing, scuba diving, and fitness. “The issue with women has always been accessibility to water sports and being able to get through that learning curve fairly quickly so they don’t get discouraged.”
Another incentive for promoting paddleboarding among women was the physical transformation Bradley experienced after giving birth to her two children: Emma, 9, and James, 6. “I started paddling a lot with my girlfriends, and that became my time to be on the water and catch up with my friends,” she remembers. “Then I started noticing what was going on with my core, which gets demolished from pregnancy. I couldn’t believe how great paddling was for it.”
Many of those same abdominal tightening benefits can be found in the variety of fitness classes that Bradley and her colleagues offer utilizing the paddle-board, longer-distance paddles, and fitness paddles. Jennifer Ford and Shari Hymes teach Power Up on a SUP, that includes upper-body strengthening and a combination of sprints, “power paddles,” and exercises done on a SUP, followed by yoga-inspired stretches. Paddle Diva’s SUP Dog: Paddleboard Yoga class, taught by Jessica Bellofatto, leads students through traditional yoga postures with the added challenge of doing them while balancing on a paddle-board floating in open water.
Today with fans such as East End luminaries Olivia Chantecaille, Edgar Bronfman Jr., and Susan Cohn Rockefeller and a permanent location at the Shagwong Marina, Bradley has a secondary mission for Paddle Diva: protecting Long Island’s waterways, which she has done by participating in Susan Cohn Rockefeller’s documentary Mission of Mermaids as well as beach cleanups with the Group for the East End. “Tourists don’t always realize what a gem we have in the waterways of the East End,” says Bradley. “Sustainability is my big bailiwick. If every person who gets off a board with me decides that day not to use a plastic bag or water bottle, then I’m doing my job.”
Photography by zev Starr-Tambor