Plan a vacation around one of the fastest growing sports in the Sunshine State
With 1,197 miles of coastal waters, plus numerous rivers, lakes and an Intracoastal Waterway, Florida is a mecca for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) enthusiasts who want to hone their skills in various types of water. But even with so many options, outfitters are coming up with new ways to enjoy the sport. How about gliding the seas on a clear- bottom paddleboard, doing yoga moves on a board, yes, on the board, or engaging in a full workout while balancing? You can even join a group for Nightboarding—and don’t tell me you never heard of Nightboarding.
Day or night the waters around Key West are nature’s playground for both man and fish. Backcountry guided tours on a stand-up paddleboard offer a different perspective—and viewing—from that of a traditional kayak. Quietly glide along the edges of mangrove islands and spy into the prop roots of the red mangrove trees, which serve as rookeries to ibis, herons, pelican and their fledglings. For underwater viewing, rent one of the clear-bottom boards and observe fish in the sea grass below. The mangroves happen to be the perfect setting for a yoga session because the area is protected from wind and tides. Using breathing techniques and an om or two, you can work at improving your balance, gaining core strength and connecting with nature during a yoga SUP session offered by several area outfitters. Those up for an after-dark adventure can go Nightboarding with Ibis Bay Paddle Sports. The group sets out for the open ocean 20 minutes after sunset on paddleboards equipped with the NOCQUA 2000, a white LED light system that attaches to the board. The powerful LED lights shine into the crystal-clear water below, illuminating the ocean floor where at night you’ll see nocturnal creatures and activity you normally don’t see in the daytime. Lobsters, crabs, colorful sponges and tropical fish are among the sea life to keep an eye out for.
If you enjoy the sport but want a more urban experience, paddleboarding Miami’s Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay is a great way to sightsee. From a stand-up paddleboard, you can admire downtown Miami’s skyline of swooping steel and glass towers and the million-dollar manses that sprout up on the Intracoastal islands nestled between Miami Beach and the Miami mainland. You can even take in the slow-moving boat traffic, which usually includes sleek yachts and powerboats. At dusk, Miami Beach Paddleboard offers Neon Tours that depart from South Beach on boards outfitted with those dazzling purple, green and orange neon lights that not only scream SoBe, but actually allow you to see 5 feet underwater and 15 feet around the board. If you want to venture into Biscayne Bay, you can join TKS Miami on a tour and glide past the waterfront of Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, where industrialist James Deering’s historic 1922 mansion and boat dock are in clear view.
Paddleboarders hit the jackpot when they visit South Walton in Northwest Florida. Here you can choose from the Gulf of Mexico’s flat waters and a chance to see dolphins, the protected Choctawhatchee Bay, crystal-clear springs, flowing rivers and placid 6,000-year-old dune lakes that blend fresh water and saltwater. Does it get any better? In fact of all the Florida destinations, the beach communities skirting the panhandle and the Gulf may be among the best spots in the state for a SUP adventure. Several outfitters rent boards for the day and deliver them free of charge. A great spot for beginners to get out on a board is at the Watercolor Inn & Resort’s Boathouse, where the YOLO Board company rents the equipment. Here you can launch into protected waters to practice and then venture into the Western Lake. Yoga SUP and Run SUP, which involves a mile run followed by a paddle, are regularly scheduled events at the Boathouse.