Wow, I had so much fun recording this episode with Lisa 'The Boatanista' Almeida. Born and raised a Floridian, who claims to bleed salt water when she gets cut, Lisa turned a successful career in Sales and Marketing into her current role as the Owner of Freedom Boat Club, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Before owning her Freedom Boat Club locations, Lisa rose to Director of Marketing for the nine state Bellsouth region. During her tenure, she was continually recognized for her innovative, creative problem solving, and her ability to engage an audience with her speaking skills. In 2007, when she took an early retirement from Bellsouth to make a career change, she followed her passion for being on the water. Lisa is a member of the Captains Club, The Jacksonville Power Squadron, The Jacksonville Marine Association, and serves on the City of Jacksonville’s Boating Committee. As an Aquaholic she has done many charity boat rides for underprivileged children, and was instrumental in saving the Jacksonville lighted boat parade. In 2016 Boating Industry included Lisa in their list of Women Making Waves, recognizing women in the boating industry who have made large contributions to its success, propelled its growth and led their organizations into the future. Lisa has been a distinguished franchise owner winning several national awards including Marketer of the Year and Brand Champion.
Lisa’s passion for boating and enthusiasm is inspiring. We covered so much - how she boated at 3 weeks old, ‘boat-gating’ at Jaguars games, advice for boating with pets, empowering women boaters, essentials for beginners, following her passion into a fulfilling career she loves, and more. Enjoy the conversation!
On getting her boating start…..I like to say that boating is a part of my DNA and I didn't really even have a choice because my parents were competitive water skiers and they competed all over the states. They actually competed at Cypress Gardens. My mom kept waterskiing with me until she was six months pregnant. Then three weeks after I was born she said they would put me in a carrier and tie me up underneath the bow, I would go to sleep when the engine started. When the engine would stop I would wake up and then they would feed me, and then the engine would start and I’d go back into slumberland.
On her first boating memory…..I remember being at a tournament and I was three years old. My mom used to ski in a tutu and she would be on one ski skiing backwards and there's a picture of me three years old with a ski rope in front of me, and I had a little bathing suit with a tutu and I'm standing there with my leg out back trying to imitate my mom. I just remember it being such a loving atmosphere, and fun, and everybody was having a great time and that's what boating actually means to me.
On the first boats she was on…..I know that it was a Glastron, and another one of the first boats that my dad had was a Wellcraft. There's also another picture of me like four years old sitting at the helm staring at the wheel, and my dad said you're staring at it thinking ‘when do I get to drive.’
On learning to boat…..I was about 8 or 9 when I started learning to drive the boat. And then at 14 or 15 I was driving it with no problem. Later on, when I bought my first boat, my dad came up and really spent a lot of time with me and teaching me about the lines, and currents, and wind, and trailering. He has a great method called push/pull, learning how to spin on yourself with just one engine. He taught me about the throttle, and putting it in and out of gear, and just practicing and making it okay if you didn't do it right the first time.
On whether boating was intimidating…..Never, and I think it's because my dad had three girls and so because he wanted to ski and he always wanted to go boating, we all had to learn how to drive, back the trailer, etc. It was always a mindset of, 'of course you can do this!' It's really not that hard, I believe it's more of a mindset that women can do it. It's really just about pushing through the fear of the unknown, of the not doing, and if you've got someone there coaching you, teaching you, and letting you just be like, it's okay you made a mistake, then gaining experience and confidence is just what it takes.
On the feeling of being a confident boater.....I will tell you it is really really fun when I'm in my 32 Monterey and I am driving and I pull up to somewhere and pull it right in, and there's a guy standing there and many times he's going 'wow that's pretty impressive.' One of my favorite stories was in Fernandina Beach. They have a shrimp festival every year. It's a three day event with bands and music and food. I had a girlfriend and two guys on the boat with me and I was driving my 30 Sea Ray and it was pretty tight and we were coming in and I heard somebody on the dock say 'watch out, there's a lady at the helm.' We came in,I spun it around and backed up, and they gave me a standing ovation. It was awesome!
On her dream boat…..I’d really love to have a 46 or 48 sedan bridge because it is really nice to get up top on the sedan. The views are different, you can see things different and it's really fun when you're anchored out and everybody's hanging out up top.
On boating to Jaguars games…..That is so much fun. It is one of my favorite things for my members to experience, even friends who have never done it. The stadium is on the river and right across from the stadium is the city Marina, so we don't tailgate, we boat-gate. Just like tailgating, everybody brings food, we put a tent on the dock, and it's really awesome when we're going underneath the bridge and you see the bumper-to-bumper traffic and we don't have any. Why go by car when you can go by boat?!
On her boating destination bucket list…..I want to go to Put-In-Bay in Ohio and I also want to do the Columbus Day Regatta in Miami, where thousands of boaters come together. Put-In-Bay has the round bar and a bunch of boats rafted up together. That's really when my heart is the most open and it's the most fun, when we're all rafted up together and there's all different kinds of boats and everybody is just one big happy family. It's just that connectivity. You don't ever meet a stranger, but you meet tons of strangers and that's the best thing for me about boating.
On her favorite boating activity…..Now my favorite thing really is going to the beach and rafting up with folks - swimming, enjoying activities, having kids around, bringing them up in the boating world. We have an island here called Fort George Island that is a big barrier island. The beaches are gorgeous and everybody just goes and rafts up together and anchors and it's kind of like you took your boat to the beach with a party of your 500 best friends.
On a new favorite piece of gear.....Maui Mats! They are 6 feet wide by 20 feet long. You can walk on it, you can put coolers on it, you can put chairs on it, kids love, it, and adults love it. It's really fun to just hang out on the Maui Mat, swim on it, jump off it, and walk on water.
On essentials for beginners.….I think definitely Navionics or something like that on your iPhone is a must. Being a BoatUS member and a Sea-Tow member, I recommend both because they each bring different things to the table, is also very helpful. There is so much you can learn from reading your BoatUS magazine, getting online, seeing their feed on Facebook. Anytime I get the magazine I'm pulling out articles on really cool tools to have on board, places to go, and things about boating. I think both of those things are really really important.
On her favorite boating ‘book’..…I don't really have a boating book other than my West Marine catalog! My friends do tease me that I would rather go to West Marine and walk around than go to the mall and it is the truth!
On her career change…..I went on an African safari and we were touring this mud hut, and 8 people slept in it and they were gracious and happy and I had an epiphany moment. I came back and decided to leave Bell South. Freedom Boat Club interviewed 12 people (11 men and me) and I got the job. Now I understand the difference between loving what you do and having a passion for what you do. I work all the time and I never feel like I'm at work. Even when I'm on my boat on the weekends at Fort George, in the morning and night I'm on my laptop working but it doesn't ever feel like work. I want to do it. I love doing it. I want everyone to get on the water and experience the joy of boating with your friends and your family!
On boating with pets…..It's really fun to bring your animal on board, but you also want to remember that you're in charge of them. You want to make sure they're safe, so number one - your dog should have a life jacket that fits them well and makes them comfortable. Also, when you're coming down to the dock you want to have them on a leash because if it's a floating dock they might feel wobbly and uncomfortable. Then definitely you have got to have water and a water bowl for them. They make a bottle that actually has a ball on it that the dog can lick and water will come out of it. There's lots of different things that you can buy but definitely have to keep them hydrated because when they get in the water they're going to drink, and if it's salty that's not good for them.
On success in the boating world..…I think of Carl Blackwell from Discover Boating and the reason that he comes to mind is because his whole goal is to make people aware about boating and learning about boating. Their website and their facebook page has a plethora of information. Of course I think about John Giglio, CEO and President of Freedom Boat Club. Many of our members leave and buy their own boats. They fall in love with boating which is great. We're putting product on the water for people to see and those people are taking friends. It's giving boating so much exposure. John's done an amazing job growing the business, we're at 120 locations.
Final advice for someone thinking about boating..…Stop thinking about it and do it! It doesn't have to be a dream. Just make it happen, make the decision. If you're unsure if you're a boating family, rent a boat. If they like the rental boat and you're still not sure about wanting to buy a boat, join a boat club. If you feel like you already know you're a boating family go to Discoverboating.com, read about the different kinds of boats, go to a boat show and see what kind of boat you think you want to buy. Just make the decision. There's lots of support out there, there's lots of help out there, just do it! Rent, join a club, or buy. Put one foot in front of the other and just make that decision and get your family out having so much fun. They're not on their iPhones, they're not on their iPads, they're laughing and joking and you are creating family memories that are going to last forever!
I can't wait to join Lisa on a boat-gate to a Jaguars game someday. Leave questions or comments below.