BY CASEY MURPHY, email@example.com
Debbie Cunningham knows her late husband would be proud she made their dream a reality.
Mrs. Cunningham and her son, Joseph “JoJo” Cunningham, started Turtle Island Stand Up Paddle Boarding in March.
“Our business was a family adventure,” she said. “It was a family dream.”
The water sport was something she and her son and now-deceased husband started doing as a family four years ago. They always have been active and love cycling, mountain biking and have even ridden in competitions and on a 500-mile excursion in Colorado.
“Our heart and our love was cycling,” she said.
Cunningham, 23, also likes karate, swimming, running and weight training.
After a trip to Hawaii, where they learned paddle boarding, the family began taking up the sport on Lake Tyler, frequenting the Hill Creek Marina area.
Mrs. Cunningham, 50, and her husband of 22 years, Joe Cunningham, who passed away in 2012, moved to Tyler 18 years ago. He taught literature at Tyler Junior College and planned to retire so they could start the business together.
He named the company after a poem, Turtle Island, as well as all the turtles that can be seen in the Hill Creek Marina and Concession Beach — areas of Lake Tyler where they often paddle boarded together. She said her husband also knew how he would run the business; they only had to put it in motion.
“I know he would be very proud of us,” Mrs. Cunningham said of them continuing the dream.
She and her son run the side business when she’s not working as a rehab director for Rehab Pro in Tyler.
They also both compete in stand-up paddle boarding races, which are 4 to 8 miles. In 2012, Cunningham took home third place at the Waterman’s Paddle for Humanity race in Austin.
Cunningham said he likes paddle boarding because it allows him to be outside and enjoy the water and nature while being healthy and fit.
“This is a home away from home,” Cunningham said while recently paddle boarding on Lake Tyler. “Fun time, water time.”
His mother agreed.
She said she loves that she has a sport to do with her son, and it allows her time to meditate and enjoy nature and everything
“God has provided for us,” she said.
Especially during early mornings or sunset, she enjoys relaxing and everything slowing down.
“When you’ve had a stressful day, and the sun is going down … it’s a time to enjoy everything around us that I think we forget to look at,” Mrs. Cunningham said.
Turtle Island is a mobile business, but they often teach classes at Concession Beach on Lake Tyler. People interested in taking lessons or tours or just renting paddle boards can call one to two days in advance to make reservations.
Mrs. Cunningham said paddle boarding is the fastest-growing water sport, and she is excited that the sport is becoming known in the area. She said they have gotten more customers than they thought they would this soon after starting the business.
“The reception has been really warm,” she said.
Together, she and her son teach basic safety and skills courses to beginners and take more advanced paddle boarders on tours of the lake. They offer lessons to anyone ages 12 to 85 and have seen students of all ages. They must have some athletic ability, have to be able to carry their own board and need to be able to get back on when they fall off, she said.
She reminds students not to panic when they fall. Mrs. Cunningham is all about safety first — everyone must wear a personal flotation device and a leash attached to an ankle and the board. The boards weigh from 20 to 30 pounds and range from 11.6 to 14 feet long.
The business promotes wellness, health, family, leisure and fun, she said.
They teach groups of about eight people, and classes are offered anytime on Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This month, they began offering yoga lessons on the boards, which are weighted down so they don’t move as much. Taught by Lauren Dalton, who works at XTC Fitness, students will do balance, core work and other moves during classes offered three Mondays each month.
The Cunninghams plan to soon add core fitness sessions, which will include such workouts as planks, pushups and leg work.
During the tours, they will take clients on a one- to two-hour tour of Lake Tyler, from Concession Beach to the Hill Creek Marina. When they’re ready, they also will show students how to walk on the boards, make turns and race against others.
“It’s all very easy and very fun,” she said.
IF YOU GO
Turtle Island Stand Up Paddle Boarding: Mobile
Safety/Skills Classes: Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Yoga Classes: Monday evenings