By Christina Baez
The average family might spend an afternoon flying a Charlie Brown–style kite, but Islamorada’s Walsh family is anything but average. Their family “kiting” afternoons are filled with extreme jumps, twists, flips and other acrobatics on the open waters of the Florida Keys.
Mike and Shana Walsh, owners of Otherside Boardsports in Islamorada, have brought new meaning to the expression “mom and pop shop.” Affectionately called the Otherside, their shop is a place where people can experience the more extreme side of Florida Keys waters through kiteboarding, wakeboarding, wakeskating and standup paddleboarding.
“Working at the Otherside is more of a labor of love than a job — we do it because we love it,” said Mike. “I actually care more about whether you have a good time than getting paid for it.”
The family affair blossomed out of Mike and Shana’s childhood years in New Jersey and their love of the water and action-packed adventure. Shana grew up living the “island lifestyle,” surfing, kiteboarding and wakeboarding almost daily in Long Beach Island, N.J.
“I unfortunately didn’t grow up on an island, but I’ve been trying to get there ever since,” said Mike. “I’ve always been into swimming, water sports and more extreme sports.”
Their kite adventure, friendship and romance began when Shana, 17 at the time, met 20-year-old Mike while working at Island Surf & Sail shop in her hometown. Unlike their kiteboarding escapades, the couple’s love story was no whirlwind experience.
“When we first met, Mike was just a goofball that made me laugh,” admitted Shana, who said eventually the friendship she felt for him turned into love. “If you ask Mike, though, he'll tell a very different story — he says he knew he was going to marry me since the first time he saw me.”
After several vacations in the Keys, Mike and Shana moved to Islamorada in 2006. They had dreamed of opening their own shop for years and finally made that dream a reality in October 2007.
When it came to selecting a name for their enterprise, they chose Otherside Boardsports because it literally was written on the wall.
“We used our son’s bathtub crayons to write possible shop names on the bathroom wall,” said Mike. “The bad ones would get washed off and the good ones would stay longer, and Otherside was there the longest.”
After its opening, the Otherside quickly grew from a small kiteboard and water sports shop to a “second home” for adventure- and thrill-seekers. Within two years, Mike and Shana quadrupled their inventory and moved to a bigger location.
In the true spirit of a mom and pop shop, they share daily store duties, assisted by a few staff members. Shana still holds a full-time job and their son, 4-year-old Cody, is the shop’s full-time mascot. On occasion, Cody has even been known to show customers a thing or two on the boards.
Mike and Shana have two teams competing in kiteboarding as well as wakeboarding and wakeskating. In addition to coaching boarding aficionados, they enjoy instructing first-timers. About 25 percent of the kiteboarding students they teach every year have never attempted any kind of water sports before.
“It’s more satisfying for us, watching someone who couldn’t do something at all and now it’s their favorite thing in the world,” said Mike. “There are people out there that we’ve taught that are now competing on a pro level — they’ve fully embraced the lifestyle of the sport and we introduced them to it, and that’s huge for us.”
Mike and Shana see the Keys’ warm, flat, shallow waters as an ideal year-round training ground for their favorite sports. Kiteboarding season runs from late October to early June during the best wind conditions, while standup paddleboarding and wakeboarding flourish during the summer months when flatter waters prevail.
“The sports we participate in are not only sports,” said Shana. “For a lot of people it’s a true passion.”
For the energetic couple, kiteboarding and their shop are their passion and their life. On long summer days, they often close the shop a bit early to go boarding.
As well as hoping to expand their business in the Keys, Mike and Shana Walsh currently are expanding their family. In a few months, they’ll welcome a new baby — a future Otherside kiteboarder, no doubt.
Cody helps dad Mike in the shop as often as possible.
Paddleboarding, or standup paddling, is an all-in-the-family sport, perfect for calm summer months.
Mike teaches a young kiteboarding student shoreside.
Otherside Boardsports has both quadrupled their inventory, as well as increase awareness of the kiteboarding and paddle surfing sports.
Mike and Shana have not only quadrupled their kiteboarding inventory, they are expecting a tiny addition to the Otherside Boardsports family in a few months.