For Islamorada’s Paul Beal, making a difference in the lives of America’s youth is no easy task. However, as the General Manager of the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, he performs this monumental feat every day. Ensuring more than 10,000 eager Boy Scouts learn to treasure the Florida Keys environment each year, he’s had to rely on plenty of skill and a little bit of luck to do his job. Dealing with surprise hurricanes, a fleet of cranky powerboats, and the Keys’ biggest summer camp, Paul’s life is a challenging adventure.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Sea Base is a magical place, and I’m just amazed at what we do, and how we do it.” Paul says. “Summer is the best time here, because there’s constant positive energy. Sailing, scuba, fishing—you name it we’ve got it.”
Offering 10 youth programs throughout the Florida Keys, Paul is essentially the CEO of a company dedicated to fun. Planning adventure programs that span from Key Largo to Key West, he organizes blue water sailing trips, scuba adventures to colorful area reefs, fantastic fishing programs and even primitive campouts that find scouts sleeping on uninhabited mangrove islands.
“It’s a privilege to have this responsibility, but in the end I come to work everyday and the kids are the ones that get to have the fun,” says Paul says in a humble tone. Then, with a smile his face slowly lights up and he adds “But I love coming to work everyday, and that’s the best part of the job!”
A dedicated expert in all of Sea Base’s programs, you can often find Paul striding down a dock, fishing pole in hand, or lending a hand to fix a broken dive boat. He takes an active role and does it simply to make sure his camp is running smooth. According to Paul, it’s one of the most important jobs a leader can do.
“I have no favorite program or adventure— I love them all,” Paul simply says. “Sea Base gives kids opportunities they don’t get anywhere else. No other program of any kind offers the variety and challenge of aquatic programs we give kids. Kids stay in scouting because they can come to places like this.”
A dedicated Boy Scout himself, Paul earned his Eagle Badge— the organization’s highest honor—when he was just 15. Always ready to do a daily good turn, he uses his expertly honed leadership skills to guide the younger scouts in his troop.
Originally from East Texas, Paul grew up in the small town of Greenville. Fascinated with camping and nature, he also found an early interest in music, and could even be spotted with his friends repairing old cars on a shoestring budget. One of his favorite memories is fixing up his old 1965 Impala drop-top.
“We always putzed with our cars thinking we were making them better and actually making them worse,” Paul says with a chuckle. “I’d love to have some of those old cars back!”
Graduating from high school and ready for more adventure, Paul entered the United States Army at age 19. As a helicopter crew chief he used his skills as a mechanic to service UH-1 Huey Helicopters and led an Army flight crew stationed in East Germany.
Leaving active duty in 1980, he returned to the states and earned his business degree at North Dakota State University. Here he developed the leadership and technical skills he’d need in the future— and learned far too many Ole and Lena Jokes*.
Journeying to Sea Base in 2005, Paul left his job as a Boy Scout corporate executive in Ft. Worth and moved to South Florida. Although a veteran outdoorsman and expert leader, Paul had spent much of his 26 year-long scouting career working in several small summer camps and teaching in an office. That said, when it came to unpredictable Keys environment, he didn’t know exactly what to expect. His introduction to the Florida Keys during the stormy 2005 summer was different than most.
“In four months we got slammed with four hurricanes,” Paul relates with a mixture of irritation and awe. “If the summer of 2006 had been like 2005, you might have seen me working a drive-in window somewhere!”
However, always upbeat, Paul quickly bounced back, learned never to trust Mother Nature, and developed a newfound respect for the Florida Keys. Relying on his expert staff and veteran employees like Steve Willis, Rich Belliveau, and Carol Chapman, Paul says both he and Sea Base couldn’t have succeeded without them.
Summing up his Sea Base camp philosophy, Paul says:“You’ve got to learn to hire good people and trust them to do their job, and trust that they have the best interest of the organization at heart. When you do that, you get what we have here, and that’s a crew that really cares.”
* Poking fun at Scandinavian people who eat lutefisk and go ice fishing, Ole and Lena jokes are a strange tradition in regions of Minnesota and North Dakota.