Eleven years ago, in the midst of a down economy, 46-year-old Ned Johnson made a bold move: He quit his job of 19 years to chase a dream.
Johnson bought a small stand-up paddleboard business, because he loved the water and believed that the sport’s many health benefits represented a major business opportunity. That was especially true in his home state of Florida, which is surrounded by ocean and has countless rivers and lakes.
“I had a passion for SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) and a belief in my ability to build a business around it,” he said.
It helped that his wife, Marla, agreed.
“Ned works very hard; and if he’s excited about something, he gets everyone to be excited about it,” she said.
When Ned Johnson took over the business, it had four boards and a few regular customers. He began personally leading tours in any body of water he could navigate. His passion for teaching, and his contagious energy, resulted in one satisfied customer after another — the kind of unsolicited, word-of-mouth recommendations that money can’t buy.
Today, Johnson is 57 and has more than 30,000 customers that include individuals, families and businesses. If it has anything to do with stand-up paddleboarding, he’s done it or is willing to try it.
Why has interest in the sport grown exponentially over the past decade?
“Because the learning curve is really simple,” he said. “It’s a gentle activity that anyone can pick up quickly and safely. And other than being a lot of fun, the benefits are three-fold and immediate: It’s good for your body. It’s good for your mind. And it’s good for your soul. It’s a great core exercise that requires some mental focus, while being a calming activity. There’s nothing better for our overall well-being than reconnecting with nature, and SUP is a great way to do it.”
In addition to giving lessons, leading tours and corporate outings, hosting private parties and staging races, Johnson has become the exclusive SUP vendor at Wekiva Island, a unique recreation complex on the pristine, spring-fed Wekiva River in Central Florida.
“Just walk up and SUP up,” Johnson said. “It’s the perfect place to paddleboard. There are no boats and it’s wind-protected.“
It’s been a fun and successful decade for Johnson. His business is booming, and a smile rarely leaves his face.
“I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to enjoy my 50s as much as I did my 20s, 30s or 40s,” he said. “Was I wrong! My 50s have been incredible. The risk I took 11 years ago was definitely worth it. Every day, I get to do what I love to do. Every day I have an opportunity to meet, influence and bring joy to people’s lives. And I have two healthy children and a loving and supportive wife. If all of that doesn’t make me a rich man, nothing can.”
While it has been a successful decade for Johnson, it’s not been an easy one. His story is not about luck or simply being the right guy, in the right place, at the right time. It’s about passion and persistence. It’s about a lot of hard work.
“Nothing that I’ve done has ever come easily,” he said. “Everything has literally taken me 10 to 20 years. It takes a long time to figure something out. But that’s OK. I enjoy the process. I never let my early defeats define me. I’ve always been willing, even anxious, to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.”
Unlike many entrepreneurs, who become over-stressed and develop unhealthy habits, Johnson has never lost his focus on or his love for fitness.
“It’s actually what led me to SUP in the first place,” he said. “It was a fun way to challenge my body and develop both endurance and strength, an amazing form of cross-training. I work out every single day, one way or another, and I have since I was a teenager. I’m also super conscientious about what I eat. I try to eat as close to the earth as possible, avoiding processed foods. But let’s be honest. I’m not a fanatic. I regularly enjoy stuff that I shouldn’t.”
Johnson’s Growing Bolder move 11 years ago was a big risk. They always are. But driven by his passion and a remarkable work ethic, he’s become a great example of an ordinary person living an extraordinary life. His advice for other would-be entrepreneurs?
“Belief in yourself, above all else, will help you get where you want to go,” he said. “But you have to take that first step. You have to try. Otherwise, it will just remain a dream. And it helps to have someone by your side to encourage you. I couldn’t have done this without my wife. I’ve been blessed to have a partner who says, ‘Yes! Be brave. Go for it. Take that step!’”
Ned Johnson loves the life he’s created and has no plans to make another big change.
“This is it. I’m gonna ride this horse into the sunset,” he said. “Life just keeps getting better and better, so why stop doing what I love? Right now, I can’t wait for my 60s!”