Some travelers who reach mile marker zero on the Overseas Highway- the Florida Keys only connection to the mainland -may view Key West as the end of the road, but for Sue Cooper it was the beginning of a whole new life. She departed a career in marketing and advertising in 1998 to start a kayak tour and rental business, and launch a line of merchandise named in remembrance of a favorite canine. --Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: How did you get into the SUP market?
Cooper: We had an active hurricane season in 2005, but the waves weren’t big enough for my surfboard, so I ordered three paddleboards to play in the waves. At the time, it looked like a poor business decision, but it was great for employee morale. The staff had fun with the boards but no one rented them for two years. Then, in 2007, it busted open. We now have 30 boards, the largest rental fleet in Key West.
SUP mag: What features of your location make it appealing for standup paddling?
Cooper: We have the most beautiful, calm, clear, shallow waters that are perfect for all levels of paddling. From our location you can turn right and be in the Gulf of Mexico, go left and be in the Atlantic Ocean or head straight down a canal through the center of Key West.
SUP mag: What SUP activities do you offer?
Cooper: We provide ecotours, backcountry snorkel paddleboard tours, rentals, lessons and yoga. Our paddle yoga program is very popular among the locals and visitors, and our Paddle Yoga Teacher Training is the first ACE certified program of its kind. We have been running certification classes in Key West, and will be taking it on the road this summer, starting with the Carolina Cup in late April.
SUP mag: What gear do you carry, and what's been popular?
Cooper: We have YOLO, Riviera, Surftech and Jimmy Lewis boards, paddles by Quickblade, Kialoa, Riviera and Surftech, plus leashes, paddle covers and gloves from Dakine. People love the Rivieria 11’6" and 10’6" boards- they are light and stable. We have lots of options to paddle, and all the products we sell are in our rental fleet, so customers can try out different brands and models.
SUP mag: Have you organized any events?
Cooper: We just took over running the Key West Paddle Board Classic, a WPA National Race coming up in May, which is 12 miles around Key West. The race is in its 16th year and I actually competed in the first one in 1998. There were only 12 of us, with half on prone boards, and the other half in kayaks. The race holds a very special place in my heart, because it was how I met my business partner, and it put me on my road to Lazy Dog. This year we have added a second day that will include a kid's race and clinic with Bailey Rosen, and open sprint race and relay races.
SUP mag: Tell us about your team.
Cooper: Our Lazy Dog paddle team is a great group of women who paddle and train hard, and travel around the country competing. They give back to the community in training and knowledge, and are committed to the local Special Olympics SUP program.
SUP mag: What should others know about Lazy Dog?
Cooper: Our staff has been around forever. Most of the crew has been with us for over eight years. We work and play hard together, and joke that we are each other's longest relationship. Our staff takes their time so we can educate our customers who are new to SUP, and teach them the right way. So, whether a beginner or experienced paddler, Lazy Dog is the place.
Our dynamic work environment nurtures our adventurous nature and promotes the philosophy that our degree of success is measured only by the amount of fun we have achieving it. It's not about the job. It's about the lifestyle. For us, they are one and the same, and we have the coolest job there is.