During the public health crisis, long-time Dogpatch resident Adam Zolot rededicated himself to standup paddle boarding. Living across the street from the newly opened Crane Cove Park, he no longer had to lug his board to Pier 52, instead accessing the Central Waterfront with ease. Zolot saw the park as an opportunity to share his extensive paddle boarding knowledge. Last September, he launched the Dogpatch Paddle Club as a closed group on Facebook; prospective participants have to request to join.
Within a month the group had grown to 450 members. By January it hit 600 followers. In March close to 800 people joined to share information, safety tips, and paddle boarding route ideas.
The Dogpatch Paddle Club is open to San Francisco Bay Area residents who are water sport enthusiasts: paddle boarders, kayakers, rowers, and canoers. Most group members live within a few blocks of Crane Cove; 75 percent are Mission Bay, Dogpatch, or Potrero Hill residents, according to Zolot. They’re almost equally divided between those aged 35 to 44 and 25 to 34.
“I love being part of this group,” said Elisabetta Villani, a Sunset District resident. “What I like about the paddle club is getting advice on gear and standup paddle board-related topics. It’s a great way to meet new people as well. I love the sense of belonging to the paddle club even though it’s been only a few weeks.”
Members share tips with one another and have meetups. Last Halloween, upwards of 40 people paddled together while wearing costumes. Meetups shriveled in the winter, but Zolot will restart hosting free monthly gatherings at Crane Cove Park this month.
On Sundays, the paddle club offers beginner group lessons at 11 a.m., intermediate group trainings at 1 p.m., during which participants are taught how to properly paddle board, with the proper stance, and taken on a route. Zolot or another instructor teaches the lesson, which costs $59. Renting a board is an extra $15.
“It’s a sport that anybody can do,” Zolot said. “It doesn’t have as steep a learning curve as some other water sports.”
Camps are offered during the spring and the summer. A typical day starts at 9 a.m. with eight- to 15-year-olds debriefing the previous day, playing games, and stretching in groups of five. Participants paddle from 10 a.m. until about 11:30 a.m., eat lunch, play in the park, and paddle again at 1 p.m., with the day ending at 3 p.m. The Monday through Friday camp costs $649. Within days of launching, camps for this summer are two-thirds sold out, according to Zolot.
The group lessons and camps led to a new commercial venture for Zolot. In the before times, he ran a wine country tourism business, which shuttered during the public health crisis.
“My entrepreneurial side said, ‘If there’s demand, maybe this is my next venture,’” he told the View. “I started to test the waters, doing lessons on the weekends, and decided this was something I wanted to dive deeper into.”
Zolot wants to lease Building 49 from the San Francisco Port to house his new enterprise. The long-vacant structure is part of the Pier 70 Union Irons Works Historic District. The Port is interested in rehabilitating and repurposing it for use as a public facility. Zolot is working with the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, Potrero Boosters, and local architects to craft a reuse proposal to submit to the Port.
Zolot envisions launching three efforts from the edifice: the free Dogpatch Paddle Club, a commercial Dogpatch Paddle LLC, and eventually a Certified B Corporation that marries purpose and profit.
“The club as I see it is always free,” Zolot said. “It will always be information rich, always about sharing and connecting people in community. I don’t want that to ever change.”
Dogpatch Paddle LLC would use Building 49 as a node for water sport lessons, equipment rentals, sales, and storage, replacing a temporary location on 18th Street. If the Port approves Zolot’s request to use the structure commercially, people with their own equipment will be able to store it there and upgrade to a club membership to use the facilities: lockers, showers, studio space, fitness classes, and other amenities like food and beverages. People without equipment could rent it from Dogpatch Paddle.
The Port is presently accepting proposal for building use and expects to select a tenant by the end of the month.
Eventually, Zolot wants Dogpatch Paddle LLC to serve under-resourced communities. Scholarships are already available for paddle board summer camps; Zolot intends to create afterschool programs, collaborate with other neighborhood organizations, and donate a percentage of his company’s profits to support clean water projects.
“First and foremost, we’re for, of, and by the community,” Zolot said. “There’s something for everyone.”