By Tiffany Merlo Phelps

Andrew Medina grew up in Hollywood, Fla., a certified lifeguard in high school and later a triathlon competitor with 20 events under his belt. Now Medina, who moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2017, works as an IT project manager for a healthcare company, but his focus remains on the water. He lives near the Palm Valley boat ramp and loves to go canoeing, kayaking and, most especially, paddle boarding every chance he gets along with his four-year-old son, Cooper, and his English Springer Spaniel, Sissy. That passion has led him to start the Ponte Vedra Paddlers group in hopes of gathering fellow local water sports enthusiasts together for outings and nearby adventures such as to Anastasia State Park’s Salt Run. 

Q: What do you like about paddle boarding and kayaking? 

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A: I love getting outside. I’m at my desk all day for my job, and I really like to connect with nature. I love the water. Paddle boarding is the next closest thing to being in the water that you can possibly get. On a boat, you are a little more disconnected from the water. And I love getting out and doing something active. 

Q: What advice do you have for someone new to paddle boarding? 

A: Stay in the no wake zone as often as you can. There is more boat traffic right now due to COVID, so it is important to not linger in the center. If you do experience a larger wake, drop to your knees and point the front of the paddle board into the waves. This will reduce the impact of the wake, and it is the best way not to fall. Always check for boats before you cross from one side to the other. I always have a life vest on my son, and I bring one on board for myself. I am a very confident swimmer, but it depends on your comfort level and swim confidence. It is always best to have one on the vessel. 

Q: What did you like about being a lifeguard, and what were some of the challenges? 

A: I liked the idea of making people safe so they could enjoy the beach. Hollywood Beach gets a lot of tourists who might not be as confident as someone who lives near the beach. Plus, I got to hang out at the beach all day. 

Q: What attracted you to compete in triathlons? 

A: I first got into triathlons when I was living in Atlanta. A coworker (who is now a close friend) challenged me to do one. I slept on it for one night and with no training, equipment or knowledge of what it would take, I signed up for one. To train, you have to swim, bike and run. There are short triathlons called “sprints” and then the longest ones are called Ironman. For a sprint, you should give yourself about three months of training to prepare. My friend Kevin who first challenged me, was kind enough to train with me. We would do long runs on Saturday mornings, swim during lunch breaks at work and cycle after work. This became an entire lifestyle. After I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon, I was completely hooked. I was all in. I continued racing and training for about six years until I was injured. One of my favorites was the Amelia Island “AmeliaMan” Olympic distance triathlon. I enjoyed this one because my family was able to come watch and cheer me on, and I had a great race. 

Q: Do you need to be experienced to join the Ponte Vedra Paddlers, and what is the best way to join? 

A: This is not meant to be a hard-core paddling group. This is a very casual group. We have about 20 members through a neighborhood social media site. The best way to learn is to come out to a paddle. We love to take in the sights, bring a cooler and often see dolphins and manatees in the water. I am also looking for feedback on what the community would like to do and what time and how often the group should meet. Email with any questions or interest in joining the group. 

Photo courtesy Andrew Medina 
Andrew Medina 

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