Adam Zolot was having a miserable year.
The former adventure guide turned tech executive was out of a job and not finding any work. To clear his mind amid the pandemic, he started driving almost every day from his Dogpatch apartment to Pier 52, where he would launch his 12-foot standup paddleboard into the Bay.
“Most days I was out there, I was by myself,” Zolot told me in an interview this week. “I started to become really connected to the water and the environment.”
The daily ritual became a “My Octopus Teacher” experience of sorts. “I became intimately aware of the tides and the currents and the routes and the obstacles underwater,” he said.
But something even more magical was about to happen for Zolot—the opening of Crane Cove Park in September, which had been in the works for over a decade and was located directly across the street from his apartment.
One of the park’s main features is a sandy beach area, ideal for launching a kayak or standup paddleboard, and soon, Zolot started to imagine all the people it would attract. But he also worried about “the newbs” that might try to access the water from Crane Cove Park without experience paddling in the area. “It can be treacherous,” he said.
So Zolot started a club on Facebook to share general information about paddleboarding and offer equipment recommendations. He published maps that laid out routes near Crane Cove, began teaching lessons on the weekends, and even harnessed a webcam on his balcony so that people could get a real-time sense of the conditions. The club started with dozens of people, then grew to hundreds. Today, the Dogpatch Paddle Club has over 800 members.
“In a sense, we’re turning this area into a beach culture from that tiny little beach,” he said.
But Zolot’s ambitions for the mini-movement he helped create haven’t stopped at the club. Earlier this month, he put together Spring Break camps for kids ages 8-14, teaching them proper paddleboard technique and fundamentals about tides and currents. On the final day, the camp hosted a “paddle Olympics,” which Zolot described as a “very loose, non-competitive competition.”
The camps were a hit amongst kids (who hadn’t had a chance to be around other kids for the past year) and parents (who needed a break themselves). Zolot and his team of mostly neighborhood teenagers are running the camps again this summer and already, spots are sold out.
Today, the commercial side of Zolot’s project is called Dogpatch Paddle and it includes the camps, as well as a storefront across from Crane Cove Park that serves as a home base for running equipment rentals, lessons, and fitness classes (think Yoga, but on a paddleboard). Also, because there weren't any options nearby, Zolot recently started carrying picnic snacks and drinks, running a mini-bodega among his growing collection of watercraft.
Zolot said securing small business licenses and permits through the city hasn’t been too difficult. He even called San Francisco’s process of starting a business “fairly streamlined”— a stark difference to the horror stories others have told. Still, he said, the fact that he’s launched multiple ventures in San Francisco over the years, from a meatball-centric food truck to an on-demand apparel printing company, gave him an upper hand when it came to knowing all the filing requirements.
“I just don’t find it that complicated,” he said.
Ultimately, Zolot has his sights set on the roughly 8,000 square foot structure within Crane Cove Park, known as Building 49. That’s where he envisions opening a full-fledged aquatic center and club, where members can have unlimited access to gear, including paddleboards and kayaks, as well as on-site fitness facilities, showers, and lockers. The model, Zolot said, would be similar to Dogpatch Boulders.
And it’s not just a pipedream. He’s partnered with architects and developers to draw up his plans for Building 49, and proposals to the city’s Port Commission are due in June. Zolot should know by the end of the summer if Dogpatch Paddle is chosen to run Building 49.
It’s been a journey for Zolot, not just over the past year, but as a longtime Dogpatch resident. He saw the neighborhood start to transform during the first dot com boom in the late 90s, only to “fall off the map” again after the crash. But recently, with all the new hospitals and the Chase Center being built, Zolot said “the second life of the Dogpatch has actually delivered.”
“The people who have been here, we have a survivor’s mentality together,” he said. “I see them on the beach or the lawn [down at Crane Cove Park] all the time and we nod at each other like, ‘How great is this?’”
“We also really welcome newcomers,” Zolot said. “It’s a good time for the Dogpatch.”
Dogpatch Paddle is located at 560 18th, right across from Crane Cove Park. Check out their website for more information about rentals, lessons, or classes. You can also email them directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
And with that, onto some news…
🤔 The San Francisco Unified School District is looking to hire an outside consultant to assist in its reopening efforts. The news comes almost one year after the school board rejected the idea of hiring outside help. (Chronicle)
👀 Tony Gemignani (of Tony’s Pizza) is opening a new Italian bakery this weekend in North Beach with a bagel shop inside called, “Dago Bagels.” Gemignani said the ethnic slur was yelled at him during a recent altercation outside one of his restaurants. He hopes using the name and telling his story will be “educational.” (Chronicle)
🍯 KQED Arts & Culture writer Rae Alexandra outlines the growing backlash against San Francisco artist, fnnch. (KQED)
🍿 The Castro Theater is set to start showing movies again in June. The Balboa Theater will be back in May. (Broke-Ass Stuart)
And finally… Photos leaked on Wednesday of the Boat Tram back on city streets.
Burrito Justice @burritojusticeOMFG IT’S BOAT BOI https://t.co/46z5bH2vW8
“got vaxxed now i’m getting out and seeing my bus frens again!!” the Boat Tram said. “it is important to get exercise,, i have big stuff coming up!!”
But seriously, why didn’t we think of this sooner? Public transportation with no roof or windows could have been the perfect solution during a pandemic.
It seems the city only has one of these historic cars though, and typically, it says it only runs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays along the Embarcadero. I reached out to the Mayor’s Office to see if the Boat Tram’s service would expand as the city started to reopen, but so far, no reply.
That’s all for today! Thanks so much for reading y’all and I really appreciate you spreading the word about The SF Minute. We are so close to reaching our first 1,000 readers! If you have a paddleboarding friend or two, maybe give today’s edition a share 😊 .
See you tomorrow! - Nick B.