Interview: South Shore SUP Queen, Karen Marvin

By Anika LanserKaren Marvin is no stranger to this publication. She introduced us to the standup paddleboard culture of Long Island. She is present in many charitable sporting events we regularly cover – including the Fire Island Ocean Charity Swim; Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim; and Bay Shore Yacht Club’s Annual SUP Race, supporting Save the Great South Bay. For Karen it has been a year of highs and lows, first winning SUP Connect Magazine’s Paddleboard Shop of the Year award in September 2017, only to have her beloved shop in downtown Babylon lost to fire just over six months later at the end of April. However she rose from the ashes to start anew, with temporary headquarters now operating at Long Island Yacht ClubFire Island News (FIN): How did you find stand up paddleboarding?Karen Marvin (KM): Well I found it through my friend Gina who told me that I had to try it. She let me borrow her board and I got up immediately and started paddling around and I absolutely loved it. I realized the feeling of paddleboarding was too good not to share, so I decided to open up my own paddleboarding shop. There was really no place around to get paddleboards at the time. There were maybe two or three surf shops on the island, but they had no real selection in boards. I wanted to make sure that when I opened up I could give everybody a large selection and now we’re the biggest SUP shop on the island.FIN: What was the process of starting the business like?KM: Well I knew I wanted to have boards from companies that were respected in the industry, and brand-recognizable. So I started doing research on board companies. I found out a lot at Surf Expo. I go every year to Surf Expo in Orlando. So I go and I see new vendors and meet new people and see new boards and products. I pretty much have everything you need for paddleboarding, right down to life jackets, leashes, lighting equipment for the board, paddles. Then I educate everybody who comes into my store about the boards. You know, there are boards for flatwater paddling, racing, surfing, down winders, there are different boards for different types of paddling. So people come into my shop and I listen to what their needs are and then I set them on the right direction of what board would be good for them.FIN: What were you up to before you started South Shore Paddleboards?KM: Before I started South Shore Paddleboards, I was a residential house painter and I specialized in faux finishing. I had my own painting business for 15 years. I graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in visual merchandising and exhibit design. I used to be a window dresser in Manhattan. Ever since I was 10 years old, I always wanted my own store. I just never knew what the store was going to be. And when I stumbled upon paddleboarding, it just was such a strong feeling that this was exactly what I was going to do. Everything I put into my store was from my vision that I had since I was 10 years old. Five years ago, that dream came true. And now we’re the largest paddleboard shop on Long Island. I also won a nationally-recognized award of the #1 Paddle Board Shop in the United States. So it’s all good stuff, until April 19 when I had the fire.FIN: What does it mean to you to be named the #1 Stand Up Paddle Boarding Shop in the United States?KM: I have no words. I’m completely blown away by the award, by the recognition. At the end of the day when I come home and sit on my couch, I just can’t believe that my dream actually came true. It’s beyond anything I ever dreamed of. I just wanted to have my own shop, I didn’t expect to be the #1 shop in the country. It’s very humbling, and exciting. I’m super proud of myself, I’m proud of my family, I’m proud of the community. We’re all in this together. I couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for my customers or my friends or my family and the people supporting and loving the shop and what I do.FIN: After the fire at South Shore Paddleboards, you received a lot of support from the community and fellow paddleboarders. Can you touch on what that means to you?KM: The support was beyond anything I could ever comprehend. It’s been a real gift to me. I’m very overwhelmed with everybody’s generosity and everybody’s support. I had support from all over the world. I had people from Spain, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and England reaching out to me. You read people’s texts and you see people’s posts and it’s very, very graciously overwhelming. And it’s because of everybody in the community that I keep pushing and don’t give up. After the fire happened, within five days I bought a shed and had it delivered down to the Long Island Yacht Club and within 14 days I was already open for business. So I didn’t stop, I kept going. I’m not going to lie, that was a little bit difficult because it was done with a lot of emotion. But I just kept on going and I try not to look back, but you know you can’t help but look back because looking back is what makes you stronger when you move forward. Without everybody in the paddling community … they help make South Shore Paddleboards what it is. It’s more than a shop. You know, I was part of a community, I was part of Babylon, I was part of Long Island. South Shore Paddleboards will always have a heartbeat. It will always be thriving, no matter where we go or what we do.FIN: Can you speak a little bit about your relationship with the Long Island Yacht Club?KM: I’ve been a personal member for 10 years of the Long Island Yacht Club, and for the past five years South Shore Paddleboards has been a member. We do lessons and rentals down there. We hold a lot of group events down there including Sunday morning paddles and then breakfast on the beach. Tomorrow we’re having a Blessing of the Boards. We do full moon paddles. We have a race league that meets on Thursday nights. We started having a Monday evening meditation on the beach and then going out on the paddleboards. The Long Island Yacht Club, as soon as they heard about the fire, called me right away and said, “Karen we’re here to help, bring your shop down here for the summer.” The new owners, the Stettners, they have been a huge support. The mayor of Babylon Village [Ralph Scordino] was also really supportive. All the other real estate agents and people from Fire Island were calling saying, “We have a plot here,” but I knew I just had to stay in Babylon because it’s my hometown and where the business was.FIN: Can you talk a bit about being a business owner who is dependent on the environment and what that means for how you and the business engage with local environmental groups?KM: Every time we go paddleboarding I make it very apparent to people on the water that our job is not just to paddleboard and have fun but also to clean up the bay. So I educate people about the importance of cleaning up the trash that’s around. We do a lot of canal and creek cleanup, probably every week, every time we go out. I host a lot of paddleboard cleanup events. I do work closely with Save the Great South Bay and the Babylon Creek Defender Program. The health of the bay depends on the health of the creeks. If our creeks, rivers and canals aren’t clean then it ends up in the bay. As paddleboarders we can get into tiny areas. We can paddle up a small creek and pick up the trash. I’m very big into volunteering so all of that is really important to be doing. If we don’t keep the bay clean, we can’t paddleboard. It’s our seashore, it’s nobody else’s. We have to take responsibility of what goes in and out of the water.