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5 questions with ... Abi McIntosh, Standing Paddle Co. and New Era Signs

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Name: Abi McIntosh

Occupation: Co-owner of Standing Paddle Co and New Era Signs Inc.

Age: 37

City of residence: Decatur

What is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and how did you get into it?

I have family in Pensacola, Florida, and first rented a SUP there. We loved it on the bay but I realized right away that would also be something we would enjoy on flat water in Illinois. Our daughters were little, and we could easily put them on the front of our boards. At that time we lived very close to Clinton Lake. I first owned a kayak and found it very liberating to load and unload my own vessel and head out intrepidly on the lake.

We purchased our own board in Florida one year and hauled it back. I would get a lot of funny looks and comments at first, taking what looked like a surf board to the lake. But mocking soon turned to interest, as what had become commonplace in coastal areas has made its way inland. More people are now familiar with SUP and curious to try it.

I networked with other SUP owners locally and a few of us started a Facebook page with the hopes of building some enthusiasm for the sport, a reference for pleasant locations to paddle, etc. Quickly we were receiving weekly messages asking if we offered rentals. I kept saying no to people, and it just felt wrong. If I really loved SUP and wanted others to try it, I may have to take the leap to offer rentals myself. We did some polling, research, shopped for boards, supplies, insurance, and networked with the amazing people at our local Decatur Park District, and Standing Paddle Co. was born late summer 2016.

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What options do you have for people to try it locally?

Right here on Lake Decatur at Nelson Park! Isn't that amazing?! We have people coming from Champaign, Springfield, and Bloomington to try this on Lake Decatur. We are located in Nelson Park at the Snack Shack, 2451 E. Cantrell. We are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and also by appointment when possible though the week for small groups.

We have eight SUPs available (six for adults and two for kids) and five kayaks (single seat). We have life jackets for all sizes. We go through some brief instruction before people leave the dock. We start people out on their knees on the SUP and teach them some tips for how to get to their feet, how to deal with boat wakes and traffic, and the best place to stand on their board to maximize stability. 

What kind of community reaction have you gotten to offering rentals on Lake Decatur?

I've encountered the occasional naysayer, but largely, I have met the most amazing people since I started doing this out at the lake. I have made new friends, have regular customers, and have experienced such joy seeing people smiling as they paddle back into the dock.

Most people are trepidatious at first. They worry they will fall into the water, the fear they won't be able stand, they tell me they have "horrible balance," etc. Then, 30 minutes later, there they are, paddling back toward the dock with a huge smile on their face, standing on Lake Decatur. It's such a confidence-building exercise and I am so grateful for all of the people who have been willing to try. I also teach SUP yoga classes at the Decatur Athletic Club and Fairview pools, and the response to those classes has been really great as well.

How long have you lived in Decatur and what do you like about the city?

We have lived in Decatur for 3 years now. We love the West End, our girls have been incredibly happy at Dennis Lab School, our Decatur Park District is phenomenal, and it is (by and large) a very economical place to live, work, and raise a family. We have met so many kind, generous, hard working people here. I am grateful to call Decatur home.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start a small business?

I hardly feel like an authority on the subject. We have owned the sign company for 5 years and don't even have a full year vested in Standing Paddle Co. Still, I guess I have learned a few things along the way.

The biggest misnomer to business ownership is the concept that there is somehow more freedom. Starting a business venture that you want desperately to see succeed becomes a part of your every waking moment, and some of your sleeping moments too. Be willing to invest your time and your energy.

Do a lot of polling, research, and networking prior to roll out to make sure there really is interest out there. Try to start small and within your means, if possible. Have a back up plan for the days (and sometimes weeks or months) that things don't do well. If you hire someone, connect with someone who has the same passion and drive that you do, and pay them well, otherwise do it yourself. Facebook is a fantastic small-business marketing tool, use it well, don't abuse it.

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