“It’s pretty gratifying to be a 52 year old guy doing this.” And by “this,” Steve LeVine means any water sport you can imagine.
These days, kite surfing is on his radar. “My goal is to get better at floating over water,” he said.
Steve and his wife Mary own Watersports West. They moved their business into the their store on Walsingham Road 10 years ago.
Things have changed over that decade for the LeVines, their customers and the environment.
“The evolution of technologies brought us sports that are easier and safer,” LeVine said, “We offer kite surfing which has gotten much safer with more wind range and increased performance."
“Paddle boards are now lighter, better-looking, way faster and prices have come down on paddleboards and kayaks,” he added.
The fact that none of these sports involves a gas-powered boat is no coincidence.
“Green is in," LeVine said. With gas at 4 bucks a gallon even wakeboarding has gone boatless. McCormick's, a cable wakeboarding park just outside of Tampa, in Seffner runs riders around the lake on cables instead of towing them behind boats. “These (wake parks) are popular in Europe and are catching on in the U.S.” LeVine said.
According to LeVine, all this adds up to one thing: “It’s gonna let more people get into the water.”
But LeVine, dubbed “Professor of Water Sports” by a friend, wants community leaders to remember this too.
“Living with it every day, I find myself a self-proclaimed water advocate,” he said. “I am always worried about projects that limit water access. We have to be aware of every bit of area.”
LeVine and several employees put this into practice by offering a free weekly paddle boarding clinic at Keegan Clair Park just south of the Holiday Inn in Indian Rocks Beach. With just a few feet of water access, LeVine’s team gets dozens of folks onto the water each Wednesday night from 5-8 p.m.
As things got underway last Wednesday night, six people were on the water including two tweens. Lily Benjamin, 9, is into water sports and had no problem paddling on her own. She also likes to kayak, sail, and go inner-tubing. “I thought it was awesome. You can catch wind.”
Her mother Michelle says the sport could cover a lot of bases. She may get into it for the fitness aspect but it's also to bring the family together. "It’s some family fun we can do together," she said.
Many people stopped by for the free ride. While some left without any apparent interest in buying a board, the free clinics are still good for business.
“I’m a marketing guy. If I can keep people from buying the wrong thing that makes a better customer,” he said.
“The icing on the cake is the nice people we get to meet. A lot of people who do business with you also want to be your friend.”
In addition to the paddle boarding clinics, Watersports West holds “ground school” for people interested in kite surfing. Stop by to talk to LeVine or just call (727) 517-7000 for details.