It’s an afternoon of pure bliss that happens deep in the secluded heart of the waterways that part the majestic black and red mangroves of bucolic and sparsely populated Sugarloaf Key. The only sounds on this journey are the steady, reliable swoosh of the paddle as it dives into the water on both sides of your board propelling you along at a graceful, steady clip. Your friends for the day are a likeminded band of adventurers along with sting rays, barracuda, grouper, nurse sharks, jellyfish, and other creatures of the sea. There’s literally nothing standing between you and nature—not even a swimsuit. That’s because this is Nomadic SUP, a gay-owned tour operator in Key West whose handsome and strapping owner, Cody White, leads daily, clothing-optional standup paddleboard tours through the Mangroves. We took a tour with White and later sat down with him to talk about leading gay men and women on the perfect Key West adventure—sans clothing.
What is it you love about nature?
Cody White: I have always been an outdoors enthusiast. I grew up in New Hampshire in the mountains and one of the cool things is going out in nature and never knowing what you’re going to find—as long as it’s natural, it can be anything.
Where did your interest in standup paddleboarding come from?
The love for paddleboarding started in Lake Tahoe where Ryan, my partner and I met. We were doing odd jobs for the summer, which is a thing you do in a seasonal economy, and when we opted to hop on a paddleboard that somebody had, we noticed how cool it was looking down into the hundreds of crystal-clear feet of waters of Tahoe.
How’d you come to start leading tours?
That winter I went to visit my grandmother in upstate New York and hopped onto Google just to see what was going on for paddleboarding in the area and there was nothing. Pretty much from Upstate New York up in the Adirondacks to Manhattan all the way in the southern end there were very few if any businesses that had standup paddleboarding so I went back to Ryan in Lake Tahoe and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we try starting a business?’ We moved to New York with a couple of boards and as we got going in the summer we figured out how to get a business together and what kind of demand and interest people had. Really it was just introducing the area to standup paddleboarding and the more we did it the more we fell in love with it.
How did you both end up in Key West?
What brought us down to Key West was our 1973 Airstream. We bought an Airstream trailer in Upstate New York and as we got into the fall we knew that we didn’t want to be there in the winter since there’s no paddling, so we decided to drive as far south as we could. We didn’t know we’d end up in Key West, but we saw an event that a friend of ours, who had a paddleboard company, was hosting. So we drove down and stopped off with the idea that if we didn’t like it we could always turn around and drive back to Tahoe, but when we ended up in Key West, we went out for a full-moon sunset paddle and fell in love with the area.
What do you love about Key West?
Key West is a funky place, but really we love the water, it’s absolutely incredible. The island chains in their own right are beautiful and the ecosystem is protected and wonderful, but what kept us coming back was really the people—everybody is welcome.
How did you come to host clothing-optional or “natural” tours?
We first bought the airstream in New York, it was that first summer out and we were trying to figure out where we would put it so we asked the guy we were buying it from; he was an older gentleman who’d been in this small, conservative town for a long time, and he told us this one location that was perfect for us so that we could deliver paddleboards to multiple different lakes. He said, “Well there’s only one thing about it, it’s a nudist camp, a naturalist compound, and you’d be at a clothing-optional resort.” We both thought that was great. It was a family resort, there were trailers and cottages that were passed down from grandparents to kids, and it was a great community of really, really nice people and they were very supportive of our paddleboarding and of us in general [but] we could never do any clothing-optional paddleboarding up there because it’s too close to everybody.
When we came down to Florida we wouldn’t see people for hours, and we were just inclined [to be naked] because we’re naturalists so we paddleboarded naked and had a great time and we mentioned it to some friends and they said: “oh, my gosh that would be so much fun, we’d love to do it.” We said: “okay come out next time.” They came out, and we realized other people might want to do this so then we started offering it on the tour. It’s one of our most popular tours because most people haven’t tried standup paddleboarding and they certainly haven’t tried it naked. Once people get past the idea of, “oh, everybody’s going to see me naked,” everybody’s natural, everybody’s comfortable, it’s really a serene experience.
Have you found that people are shy at first, but come away wowed by the experience?
I would absolutely agree with that mainly because we have such a great return rate. We have so many customers who keep coming back and just relaxing. When the clothes come off it just takes a whole other level of posturing and masks off of us so that we can just relax and be there. We know that works for us, and we’ve seen some great changes in people—that true vacation experience that people can have. We’re just happy that we can be a part of that.
Who takes the tour?
A lot of people, if they want to be just with their partner or a couple friends, they know they can sign up for the private natural tour, otherwise I do have an open tour for up to seven people where it can be a mixed group of men and women. I let everybody know before the trip if it is a group of men coming out and a woman were to ask if she can come out, of course I would check with the customers first. But my main demographic for the natural tour is gay men and we do have some lesbian couples who will come out with us occasionally. I haven’t had any straight couples commit to it yet. They’ve signed up with potential intent, but said well maybe next time.
Are there instances where you have to explain the tour is G rated?
Yes. I have had a couple of cold calls from people seemingly looking for something that isn’t a natural tour, I’m not sure if they even knew what paddleboarding was. If they’re not in that G-rated mentality it’s pretty easy to explain to them that this isn’t the place for that. It’s really just about getting to another level of relaxation.
Are there folks who are shy about being on the paddleboard?
People are usually nervous. Over 95% of the people who have come out with me have never tried it before, and everybody has a good time. The great thing about paddleboarding for me is it’s all about the smile. If you’re smiling you’re doing it right. When we start out we go over safety and some pointers about how to do it and what to expect and then if you want to sit down and enjoy yourself then sit. You don’t have to stand if you don’t want to but most customers do. It’s intimidating to be naked in front of people and standup paddleboarding. The great thing is both of those things are really easy to do and once you do them there’s unbelievable satisfaction and accomplishment you get from it.
Do you have the best job in the world?
If you start calling it a job it’s not so much fun. I’ve never been able to identify with a traditional office job. That’s never worked very well ever since I was a little kid. I love athletics, I love exercise, I love to explore, I love the wild, I love the water. To be able to do that and come and realize I just worked and I came out with a smile on my face is incredible. There’s nothing like it.