More than 13 years ago Captain Andrea Paulson decided to skip the hustle and bustle of Key West shopping to spend her weekends entertaining herself and other fishermen's wives by exploring the Lower Keys backcountry by kayak.
Today, Paulson entertains hundreds of Florida Keys visitors annually with her Reelax Charters Lower Keys backcountry kayak excursions.
A 20-year Keys resident and lifetime outdoor enthusiast, Paulson named her business Reelax Charters for her nickname "Ree" and the relaxing experience participants enjoy.
Originally from Rochester, N.Y., she grew up boating and canoeing on Lake Ontario. A true water lover, she even worked as a lifeguard on the beach.
Paulson met her husband, Bobby Paulson, while visiting a friend who owned the house he was renting. After a long-distance romance that often involved commutes back and forth from Palm Beach, she moved to the Keys permanently in 1993.
"I came down and was expecting to meet some old salty captain," Paulson said. "We met and that was it; it was kind of love at first sight." While her husband is out guiding flats-fishing trips, Paulson guides participants on a journey by motorboat seven to nine miles off the Lower Keys. There they begin their kayak adventure in a realm of crystal clear waters, remote islands, pristine beaches, shallow flats, mangroves and more.
While exploring, kayakers enjoy an "off-the-beaten paddle experience," discovering islands and areas unreachable by kayak alone. They might spot native Keys wildlife like great white herons, ibis, starfish, stingrays, colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and even a dolphin or two.
Offered daily by appointment from Sugarloaf Marina on Sugarloaf Key, Reelax Charters' fully customized kayak excursions are an escape in time. Participants begin at their leisure and Paulson doesn't watch the clock while guests are having fun. Most tours last four to five hours and accommodate up to six people.
A few couples, clearly romanced by the natural beauty of the Florida Keys, have even gotten engaged or tied the knot on one of Paulson's private kayak excursions. Families too find themselves captivated by Reelax Charters' adventures, and Paulson keeps books and literature on hand for children to use in identifying Keys wildlife.
"I love my job, and when I'm not working I'm out exploring new areas by kayak," Paulson said. "The best part (of my job) is ending the day with a hug from a customer because we've had so much fun together it's almost like we've become best friends."
During her leisure hours, Paulson often finds herself kayaking, fishing with her husband and entertaining other fishermen's wives. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and their yellow Labrador puppy, Clark.
Like a true Paulson, Clark loves the water. While he's still only a pup, he probably will be seen exploring the Lower Keys backcountry by kayak sometime soon.
Paulson enjoys time off fishing with her husband, Bobby, a flats-fishing guide.
Backcountry trips with Paulson mean kicking back and taking life easy.
Bobby, Andrea and puppy Clark on the water.