Lisa Almeida: Boating Is In Her DNA

By Glenn Hannigan

Lisa Almeida was raised in a passionate boating family and proudly carries on the tradition.

Lisa Almeida at the helmLisa with her "first mate" Matey, a 2-year-old Golden Retriever rescue. "She loves the boat and never misses a chance to go out. She especially loves to run and chase her ball on a sand bar." (Photo: 20/Twenty Creative)

Before making any major life decisions — choosing a college, accepting a job, or buying a home — Lisa Almeida seeks to answer one question above all: Where is the nearest boat ramp? If the answer is anything other than, "just a few minutes away," there is no point in going to question two.

The lifelong Floridian doesn't wrestle with her priorities. Virtually everything in her life has some connection to water and boating, from her business to her social network to her charitable work. In fact, Almeida recently encouraged a Jacksonville-area church to hold a Sunday worship service on the water. When her sister, Allison, got married 20 years ago, Lisa hosted the bachelorette party on her boat. Before the end of the celebration, the only three women in the group who had never skied had successfully conquered the task. Almeida wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, if the party had stretched on a bit longer, no doubt all the women at the bachelorette party would know how to anchor a boat, maneuver in tight quarters, and twist the ends of a rope into various knots.

Almeida's passion for boating is at the core of her identity. In 2015, "Lisa The Boatanista" became a licensed U.S. trademark. "It is no exaggeration to say that boating is in my DNA," Almeida said. "I grew up on the water. In fact, I spent almost as much time on boats growing up as I did on dry land."

Almeida is the offspring of two of the nation's top competitors from water skiing's glory days of the 1950s and '60s. Charlie and Lora Almeida performed at Cypress Gardens, mastering the most challenging stunts and tricks of the day. When Lisa was born in 1958, her parents knew they couldn't maintain their competitive edge if they spent too much time landlocked.

"My parents strapped my baby carrier into the bow of the boat and went to work," Almeida said. "My mother told me, 'Well, we just couldn't quit practicing!' I guess it paid off. I still have the 1962 Water Ski Magazine with an article featuring my mother, who had set a world record for tricks."

Before long, young Lisa had not only mastered the intricate details of operating a powerboat but also learned to comfortably guide a trailer down a narrow boat ramp, set an anchor, and expertly tie off at the dock. She also became an accomplished water skier in her own right. "There was never a question of whether I could do it," she said. "It was only a matter of how long it would take me to master a new task. I grew up believing women were fully capable of driving a boat and handling a trailer."

When setting off for college, she chose Flagler College. Many schools have business programs, but "Flagler is close to the water. That was mandatory." After graduating, Almeida set her sails on a successful business career. She earned numerous awards as a marketing executive at BellSouth. She was also tagged with an unusual label.

"They called me, 'Have Boat Will Travel'," Almeida remembers. "I didn't go anywhere without a boat." For years, while navigating her BellSouth territory, Almeida would drag her 19-foot Wellcraft across the east and west coasts of Florida. It didn't matter if it happened to be a workday or the weekend. Every day was a boating day. On wet or chilly days, when other boaters hunkered down on shore, Almeida would grab her wet suit and set out for open water.

"Unless I saw trees being blown sideways, I was going to be out on the boat," she said. Eventually, Almeida purchased a waterfront home in Jacksonville, equipped with two boatlifts. And why not? Doesn't every woman need two boats?

"Some days you want to go skiing or tubing, and other times you might want to relax with friends or raft out for the weekend," Almeida explained. To meet her needs, a 32-foot Monterey rests on one of her lifts, a few feet from her 22-foot Sea Ray Sundeck.

But as often as Almeida was able to enjoy her favorite recreation, she found that balancing work and boating was often an exercise in frustration. Why waste so many sunny Florida afternoons stuck on a conference call? In 2007, she retired from BellSouth, thinking her work days were over. The best was yet to come.

Lisa Almeida driving her 20-foot Larson Bowrider with friends aboardLisa with childhood friend (and author) Glenn, his son Drew, and daughter Rebecca aboard Fancy Girl, Lisa's 20-foot Larson Bowrider, en route to a friend's house for dinner.

In 2009, an unexpected opportunity arose. Almeida was offered the chance to help save the struggling Freedom Boat Club affiliate in Jacksonville. She quickly turned around the failing franchise, then purchased it with her business partner, Kevin Seelig. Since then the business has thrived, growing from four boats and 40 members to more than 60 boats and 600 members at three locations.

The melding of her career and passion for boating has resulted in the emergence of Almeida's alter ego: Lisa The Boatanista. Thriving in the male-dominated marine industry, The Boatanista has become increasingly familiar to people in northeast Florida through regular appearances on local television and radio news programs. She has become a trusted go-to source for all issues involved with boating.

Almeida is quick to point out her new career is more a matter of lifestyle than business. And Lisa The Boatanista is as much a reflection of her life as it is a marketing tool.

"I am grateful to be able to share my passion for boating with others," Almeida said. "I have taught countless people to ski and slalom. And I especially love the opportunity to teach women how to confidently operate a boat. "There is nothing more joyful in life."

In truth, The Boatanista can't help herself. It's in her DNA. 

Glenn Hannigan, a journalist and former sports editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, lives in Holly Springs, Georgia. He and his wife, Candi, enjoy swimming, skiing, and viewing sunsets on Allatoona Lake from the comfort of their 23-foot tri-toon.

— Published: April/May 2018

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