YOLO isn’t just a lifestyle mantra, but also a great looking line of SUPs! Our good friend, Dustin Schouest, shares with us how he came across the YOLO lifestyle and how he’s now hooked with SUP angling on a YOLO board.
YOLO. Its a phrase used comonly by youth covered in swag, neck tattos, and criminal records to mean “You Only Live Once”. I used to only know it by the meaning of do as you will for you may be dead tomorrow. But, after that weekend in Grand Isle, YOLO took on a whole new meaning.
It all started a night after work. I was checking Facebook like most tech-addicted kids my age when I saw “it”. “It” was a call to arms of sorts, with the ringleader being my good friend and paddleboard expert Jared LeRoy. It was simple enough: a gathering of paddleboarders with the intent of teaching them how to fish from a YOLO board. Jared was an ambassador for the brand, with his wife Kalley who has the distinct honor of being the victor of the precious year’s Ride the Bull kayak fishing tournament. Kalley accomplished this feat while fishing from a YOLO board.
My previous experience with paddleboards came in 2013, when I spent a day fishing with Jared, Kalley, and her brother Phillip Wright. After an evening of fishing and battling the elements, we decided to spend the evening surfing in the waves of the Gulf. I learned quite quickly that my balance was on par with that of a drunk, peglegged pirate, coming close many times to killing myself in the surf. Charlie dont surf? More like Dustin don’t surf!
But this time, I had two more years of experience in kayaks. I had learned more about weight dispersion, balancing, primary and secondary stability. I was stronger, wiser, and much more prepared. It would prove to be a weekend worth its weight in gold.
Work had been bittersweet. I had been cleared from an injury endured from lifting, and I had been put in a new department. Six o’clock had taken an eternity to reach. But when that long hand reached up, begging the heavens for freedom, I rushed to my truck like a blue hedgehog. In minutes I was at my home grabbing my clothes, GoPro, rods and reels, and my trusty kayak, a Wilderness Systems Ride 115. She was a stable boat, with the new AirPro MAX seat to ensure the upmost comfort in my poor back. Many a fish had been landed from it, from my personal best bass to large redfish.
The sun was beginning to set while I drove down Highway One, taking in the sights along the Leeville Bridge. I took a second to reflect upon the concrete and steel beneath my wheels. Ten years ago, it didn’t exist. There was only pavement and rock that decade ago to lead fisherman and tourist to the Island, Grand Isle. And that one road was the only form of access to it.
Until August 29th, 2005. Hurricane Katrina.
The big bridge that had been the largest landmark in Leeville was destroyed by the storm, along with large chunks of the highway. But saddest of all was the land. The marsh and trees that occasionally dotted the landscape down Highway One were torn to shreds, with bays and large expanses of water now where there was once thick vegetation and the occasional little bayou.
This was a land of memories, both for me and for my ancestors. My family had fished, hunted, and lived off this land. And now….it was almost no more….
Port Forchon illuminated the distance, the glow of halogen lights and the hum of generators bringing to me a feeling of peace. The oilfield has been very kind to the state for a century, bringing employment to thousands in this area.
More winding, more scarred marsh, more open water. These reminders of how fragile our coast is guided me down to the welded metal fish and giant sign welcoming all souls to Grand Isle. Grand Isle, a prime example of the permanence of the Cajun life. A stretch of land roughly three miles long that has been wiped out, rebuilt, flooded, and has never stopped existing. A storm that slams the home of the world famous Tarpon Rodeo doesn’t dampen the faith and perseverance of the Cajun culture.
I crossed Caminada Pass and drove passed Bridgeside Marina. A year ago, Jared’s wife Kalley LeRoy won the biggest kayak fishing tournament in the world fishing from there on her YOLO board. I was soon scouring the right side of the road for the hour-there it was!
The camp was a hue of pinkish red, unclear in the darkness. Multiple trucks were parked underneath and around the front, leaving me just enough room to slide my Explorer and trailer into it. As I opened my door, I heard a very familiar tune. “Born on the Bayou” by Credence Clearwater Revival. The greatest band in American music history. I smiled wide. I had found my home. And my kind of people.
A large trailer converted into a Prometheus of cooking, grilling, and frying assortments was the first thing to greet me, followed by a tall, bronze man with long hair and tribal style tattoos. He shook my hand, greeted me, and told me where Jared was. I was struck by the demeanor. Very calm, very chill, almost an ode to the style and carefree attitudes of surfers in California.
Just like the song, I came around the bend of the house and found a gaggle of men and women, in different states of inebriation, all talking and joking around. Jared seemed to be the ring leader, with Phillip teasing and playing around his sister. I greeted them all and gave Jared and Kalley big hugs. I was told supper was being cooked, and I just needed to bust a fat chill and wait. I nodded, presented my bottle of Captain Morgan’s Black Magic spiced rum, and began to let the liquor do the thinking.
Randy’s skill at the grill were unparalleled. The food and conversation were amazing, with talk of YOLO Boards, surfing in destinations from Costa Rica to Vietnam, and of course tomorrow’s adventure. Jared and I answered any questions on fishing, and any time someone asked about the island or the mainland, I was happy to provide anecdotes, stores, and my own twisted jokes.
The party winded down. Erin Sullivan, a worker for Muddy Water Paddle Company, guided me to my room for the night. Her own demeanor was beyond carefree; it was relaxed and ready. Not a tinge of competitiveness or nervousness. Very different than many I have met in the kayak fishing world. closed my eyes upon the top bunk, and waited for the sounds of the crashing surf outside and the cicadas playing their waltz to lull me into the void.
Guitar riffs and the dark melody of The Black Angels’ “Bad Vibrations” roused me from a slumber. The mattress had given my aching back a reprieve, and had me ready for the daunting task waiting us.
The plan Jared had laid out was to use the east south-east wind to push us from the new public launch by the game warden station all the way down the island. The float would take a few hours, and we would fish the entire way towards Bridgeside. Along the way we would have access to the artificial reef put in place for speckled trout and sheepshead, marshy islands perfect for redfish and flounder, and rock jetties that specks usually love to ambush from.
Coffee and eggs were the my sense’s wakeup call as Dee Holcombe was cooking and preparing life-giving caffeine. We exchanged hellos and I headed outside to feel the ocean breeze and see the lights of far off oil rigs. Along the coast two trawlers were catching their bounty of shrimp. With the May season of shrimping in swing, I had a good feeling lots of bait would be moving.
I hopped downstairs to see Jared preparing rods and reels innumerable. We talked about the game plan and waited for Kalley. Once she arrived on scene, the two of them grabbed rods, followed by Reid Nelson. Reid was a college student and a surfer residing in Daulphin Island, Alabama. We walked over the levee, looking at the small waves lapping at the sand. Kalley, with her youthful energy, ran straight to the waters edge and began casting her Rapala Skitterwalk, her husband following with me and him teaching Reid the finer points of using a topwater plug.
The lovebirds were being cute together, taking turns fishing and taking pictures. Jared made a cast into the surf, passed the first set of sandbars, and we saw it. Fins like darts, followed by a huge splash pushing the plug towards the shore. We both looked at each other: shark. Then just as fast he ripped the lure from the water and threw the plug back in, hoping to illicit another strike from the beast.
The sun rose, giving us the most beautiful curtain draw to the day we could ask for. Dolphins played along the coast, pods and pods of them. We reeled in the plugs and walked back to the camp to prepare everything.
Everyone awoke, grabbed their gear, their trucks, and began the drive down towards Ludwig Lane. The drive took us through a residential area, over a small levee, and onto the sand beside the Wildlife and Fisheries building. We all parked, and began laying boards and kayaks on the ground.
I got the Ride unstrapped, but, as I went to life, I felt the pop in my wrist. The same pop I felt when I injured my wrist. The kayak was becoming too heavy for my healing body to lift. Thankfully, Erin helped me get my boat to the edge of the water. I continued helping others get their boards and gear in order. A young man in a Hobie asked me a few questions about deploying the Mirage Drive, and I gave him a very quick run down on the layout and abilities of the Outback.
By seven thirty we were beginning to hit the water. Most everyone drove their trucks to Wakeside so that we could get them after the paddle, but, I decided to leave my truck there because I wanted to help answer questions and give tips to anyone who had stayed behind. Dee and Mandi Lamana asked me to show them the basic knots they might need during the day, and I was happy to teach them.
Jared and company arrived back, quickly got their boards in the water, and we were underway! Immediately to our north were diving birds, dozens of them. Our leader pointed, and let out a yell “Fish under the birds!” I was already heading for them as his paddle hit the water. Under the diving gulls were more dolphins feeding, blowing large breaths of air and hitting their flukes on the surface.
Troy Archer and Kalley were not far from me, fishing under the gulls as well. We watched as the dolphins swam close to us, almost close enough to see their eyes as they broke the surface. I looked over at the SUP anglers, noticing just how free they were. Compared to them, I felt claustrophobic. Trapped by the sides of my kayak.
The action was nonexistent. Jared, Erin, and a few others were fishing by the rock jetties, catching trout like crazy. While they slayed the specks, the rest of us decided to go toward the islands due north of the launch. I casted my cork and Gulp shrimp rig toward a point, and watched the red float go under. But, it quickly resurfaced when the small speckled trout threw the hook. Another cast, another tug, another dink trout, and another missed fish. I laughed it off and began to paddle off to let Troy fish the point.
Kalley got her paddle into a skinny pond, the champion angler casting in and out of points and tranases for redfish. All the while my reel kept backlashing, causing me frustration. As I was dealing with the reel issues, Phillip came up to me and guided me toward the rocks where Jared and company were still laying waste to the specks. After getting there and fishing for a little while, we all agreed to start heading further down the island. Phillip came up to me again while I was dealing with more reel issues, and told me about an area good for flounder.
As he was talking I casted my cork off of another point and immediately saw it go under the water. I jerked back, only to see my line come back at me with a curly pig tail; it had come undone due to a bad knot. Thankfully the redfish (I must assume to save my ego) spit the hook and I was able to paddle up to and get my rig back.
I cursed my funny yet crappy luck as I floated toward the start of the artificial reef. Many of the paddle boarders were lurking around the chicken wire reef, looking to catch sheepshead and specks. I watched as Donny Bodreaux hooked into a nice bull red, which began pulling him and his YOLO Board toward the reef. Jared jumped off his own board, got into the water, and stopped the board from coming in contact with the barely exposed reef. Donny’s fish would end up being the biggest redfish of the day.
I paddled into deeper water, and began hunting speckled trout. I hooked into one, bringing it boat side. It was small, just barely legal, but, it was food for the evening. I came in again to the reef, watching as one of the boarders caught sheepshead after sheepshead, interrupted only when Kalley hooked and released a small rat red. But the joy was over as soon as it started when his rod snapped. Luckily, he did manage to land the sheepshead even with the broken tip.
I had an idea at that time. With my reel malfunctioning, I decided to ask if I could borrow his Shimano spinning reel and put it on my baitcasting rod. Stupid I know, but, desperate times call for desperate measures. I re-rigged, paddled back to my speckled trout spot, and began fishing again.
The hit felt like a freight train, with a tug as strong as a small jack. I couldn’t help but let out a Cajun laugh as I fought the fish. Was it a big red? A small jack?
….or was it a big gafftop? The cork reappeared, and under it was the slimy blue body of a large sailcat. The biggest I had ever hooked. I let out more cries of excitement. Some might hate these smelly, slimy, dangerous fish. But, as any Cajun from “down da bayou” will tell you, gafftop catfish are very good eating. I used my FishGrip on her, and hoisted her up to look at my catch. Into the fish bag she went.
Further and further I paddled and drifted, with many of my compatriots already waiting for us all at Wakeside. Randy, it is rumored, had blasted us all out of the water chasing mermaids. Whether he found any or not, he did not say. I met up again with Mandi as she reeled in a small hardhead catfish. Sadly, her and one or two others would end up skunking out on keepers for the day. Her man Phillip paddled to her, and together we started making our way toward the rally point.
Bob Marley, smiles, and cheers met all the hungry, tired, and sunburnt paddlers as we reached the safety of the sand. Boards got loaded, fish were shown off, and Kalley showed her youth by chasing crabs with a net for bait. With all of our stuff loaded, I hopped in Randy’s truck and we all caravanned back to the camp. We set the fish out on a board, and everyone gathered around for a photo. One that encompassed the bond we shared all day. One that would lead the way for my journey into the YOLO lifestyle.
One of the other anglers brought me back to my truck, and I came back to Erin, Dee, and Troy grabbing boards. I thought for a moment… would they mind if I tried this paddle boarding thing out? It seemed so much more free and easy than using my heavy kayak. I asked them, and instead of being told “No!”, I was greeted by smiles, enthusiastic chatter, and a promise to be a paddle boarding pro by days end. I gulped hard.
“Well… what could possibly go wrong?!”
The board I was selected to use was one of the YOLO Fisher boards. It was actually longer and wider than my Ride, but, the weight of it shocked me! At only 35 pounds, it felt like I was holding a very large feather, even with my injured wrist. With minimal effort I was able to put the board under my arm and walk up the levee towards the beach. The only awkward thing was the paddle. I may be short, but, I am not used to using a single bladed paddle that is six feet long. Troy told me “You want the paddle a little taller than you are.” I nodded and began my walk towards the water.
We laid the boards on the water, Erin and Randy setting their boards in beside me. Randy gave me quick instructions. “Wade out a bit, then just jump on the board. Get on your knees in the center. Don’t get on your feet until you are ready.” The chop was daunting, with him and Dee telling me that it wasn’t the best weather for me to learn in. But I wouldn’t be daunted.
About knee deep I got onto the board, got to my knees, and started paddling into the waves. The stability was shocking to me. It felt just like my kayak! I felt no risk of falling in on my knees. I shouted out a challenge to the waves, thrilled at how well I was doing. Once we got passed the breakers, I took the next step and stood up. Finding my SUP legs was tricky, but, soon, I was standing up no problem.
Phillip joined us, and decided to truly demonstrate the stability of the YOLO Boards by doing a backflip into the water. We all hooted and hollered as he did it three more times. As a joke, Phillip slowly swam over to me and uttered the words “Hey Dustin how do you like being dry?” I knew what was coming; he flipped the board over and sent me spilling into the drink.
All of us were laughing as I shook my hair, climbing back on the Fisher. For the next hour I paddled around, got into the breakers, and surfed the foam all the way to the beach. Troy watched me paddle back out to the breakers for the umpteenth time and remarked “You’re a natural!” My self confidence was so high I felt like I was on cloud nine.
As the chill of the night began to set in, we tired, soaked paddlers grabbed our boards and paddles and walked back to the camp. The fish had been cleaned and was being prepared for the fryer. I watched as everyone got comfy, grabbing beers and snacks to prepare for the feast that was coming.
Sadly, I had very important things to do the next morning. With deep regret, I shook hands and gave hugs to all of my new friends. My life was forever changed by the fun I had with this group. I felt that I needed to stop caring about things I couldn’t control anymore. I needed to just let things be, and enjoy what makes me happy. I only live once. YOLO. I was going to embrace this YOLO life, and let my life be ruled only by whatever would make me happy.
About the Author
Dustin Schouest is a veteran angler from the small disappearing village of Pointe Aux Chenes, La. When not fishing, Dustin is usually found tying flies, editing video, or writing about his adventures from kayak (and soon paddleboard). He is a member of the Hook1 Fishing Team as well as a member of Team Filthy Anglers.