Company fosters team building
Board Meetings stand-up paddleboard rental, yoga partnership aims to help businesses provide wellness and fun for employees.
Paul Boynton took up surfboarding while living in Florida. His then-co-worker would say, “Let’s leave work early and go have a ‘board meeting.’” The term came back to him years later as a fitting name for a paddleboard rental company.
Boynton, born and raised in West Michigan, studied business and pre-law at Grand Valley State University, graduating in 2006. He spent a few years in sales, living in Georgia and Florida and surfing the East Coast.
Four years ago, Boynton was recruited back to Michigan for a job at a payroll management company and eventually worked his way up to district manager.
“I was working with HR managers for companies between 50 and 1,000 employees,” Boynton said. “A lot of the managers were like, ‘How do we get employees engaged in wellness?’ It was not in my wheelhouse.”
But Boynton started thinking about how he could answer that question. He had grown up on water — “I think I swam before I walked,” he tells people — spending time at his grandmother’s house on Lake Bella Vista in Rockford and her condo in Marco Island, Florida, learning how to fish, swim and play water sports.
“At Rose’s on Reeds Lake one day, I saw a team going out paddleboarding and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do that,’” he said.
“The next season, I bought my first boards and started doing bachelor parties and groups and made it an LLC. Then last season, I pulled the trigger and started full time.”
Board Meetings kicks off its third season the first weekend of June, weather permitting, and in addition to renting out stand-up paddleboards (SUP) for parties and individuals, it also offers company events, including team-building sessions and wellness days.
Boynton gets lake access via a partnership with the Gilmore Collection at Bostwick Lake Inn, Rose’s on Reeds Lake and Blue Water Grill on Versluis Lake.
This season, he has signed a partner, certified yoga instructor Jess Wheeler, who will teach lakeside yoga, stand-up paddle yoga and guided meditations beginning in May at Bostwick Lake.
Boynton met Jess Wheeler through her husband, John Wheeler Jr., who was a fellow ski and snowboard instructor at Cannonsburg Ski Area during the winter. Boynton mentioned he was looking to add SUP yoga to his offerings, and John Wheeler Jr. said, “You should meet my wife.”
“We really connected, and I could see right then that she would be the yoga half of my business,” Boynton said. “She was exactly the type of person I wanted to meet to expand to this service.”
Jess Wheeler studied under local yoga instructors Mimi Ray and Carol Hendershot and trained with prenatal yoga studio Blooma, as well as Renew Mama Studio.
She said she learned about the alignment and anatomy side of yoga through Ray and more of the breathing and experiential side of yoga from Hendershot and Sarah Longacre Ellers, of Blooma.
Both emphases have come in handy for her current role, Jess Wheeler said.
“(Once), I was teaching a friend how to paddleboard, how to SUP, at night, and I was guiding her under the moonlight how to get on the board, and I put on my yoga voice and guided her step by step. She said, ‘You should be a yoga teacher.’
“My mother was a teacher and her mother was a teacher, and it was in my background. I found that I had all this love to give and guiding people through a practice was a place I could bring that in the world.”
This summer, she will begin the yoga classes on shore, especially if the students are new to yoga, and then gradually will progress to SUP board yoga once participants are comfortable with poses, breath and balance.
“Now, I’m working to develop a sequence,” she said. “The thing about SUP yoga is there seems to be a push to be fiery in your practice; it’s more of a fitness thing rather than a meditation or a way to relax.
“I like to make it more relaxing.”
Boynton said he thinks SUP yoga will be good for those who have experienced trauma or injury, as it helped him recover from a neck injury. Jess Wheeler agreed.
“The subtle shift your body makes from side to side on the board brings coherence to the two sides of your body,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons yoga practice on a board can be more challenging or beneficial. It’s a call to your awareness. Stay focused, or you’ll fall in the water.”
For its first two seasons, with Boynton as the sole employee, Board Meetings played host to 100 to 200 customers, including pharmaceutical company executives, local restaurants’ kitchen staff and members of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.
The partners hope they will be able to add more guided tours this year, including a fall color tour. They also plan to expand rentals to Clark Lake in Jackson and establish a city-operated rental kiosk in Muskegon.
Boynton said he and a friend once did a kayaking brewery tour in Traverse City, and while Grand Rapids doesn’t have the waterway setup for that, Board Meetings is working on at least one brewery connection.
“We do have some partnerships we’re looking to expand on, like with Grand Rapids Brewing Company, where you could finish the bachelorette party, do yoga, then hop on paddleboards,” he said.
The Gilmore Collection provides Board Meetings free access from the restaurants’ backyards into the lake, and Boynton said it’s a symbiotic business arrangement.
“It’s good marketing for them. We bring clients in,” he said.
“We don’t need to make an official reservation, but usually the wait at Bostwick Lake Inn can be an hour to two hours. With groups, we give them a heads up we’ve got a group of nine coming in, and we then go out and go paddling, come back and they have a table waiting.”
The Wheelers, who live on Wabasis Lake and are longtime SUP boarders, now are Board Meetings partners via their purchase of 10 boards to add to Boynton’s current stock of 20 surfboards and SUP boards.
They will use the Wheelers’ van and Boynton’s trailer, which will allow them to transport 15 boards at a time.
“We plan to use the boards during the season and sell them at the end of the fall,” Boynton said. “Then as we grow, we’ll need more and more. Next season, we’re going to want to get a container or two. (Board sales will be) a huge part of our growth because that’s a great source of revenue.”
Boynton said the business comes full circle with a feature they will launch this season.
“We intend to expand to have bi-weekly business networking events — ‘Board Meetings.’”
For more information or to book rentals, visit boardmeetingsmi.com or call (616) 827-7515.