Building a Tribe of Paddlers

The author leading a group paddle. 

The author leading a group paddle. 

Do you speak paddling? Do you want to? Paddling is not an exclusive language, but a language of connection – to each other and to the planet. It is the language of Ocean Tribe Paddlers.

What is Ocean Tribe Paddlers? The complicated version of our mission is this: to assist the paddling community of Southwest Florida to better explore, enjoy and understand the ocean, and to be engaged stewards of our marine environments. All of that just means we want a bunch of people who love the ocean and love to paddle to hang out on and off the water. Simple.

How are we going to reach those people? For now, it means we are going to shout at the top of our lungs from every possible place we can (metaphorically, digitally, and, well, literally) inviting people who love to paddle, who want to paddle and people who are, perhaps, bound to someone who does. What do we do once everyone shows up? What thousands, millions of people have done for centuries: paddle and eat. Sometimes these two things may be separate, sometimes not.

My name is Walter Cheatham. Sanibel Sea School brought me into the fold a little over a month ago to help further the paddling programs they have already established. Ocean Tribe Paddlers falls, thankfully, under my umbrella. Why? (This is my favorite question.) Because I love people, and because I love water, and I love to paddle across it. Years ago, I worked with the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in Auburn, Alabama. There were many high-fallutin’ descriptions of what we did, but ultimately, we paddled and counted fish.

We would arrive at the river just before dawn, the sun sleepily peering over the hills, coffee not yet consumed. We had pounds and pounds of equipment to transfer from vehicles to river vessels. This was, at times, a muddy and exhausting enterprise. However, once loaded and on the water, the slogging was worth it. In Southwest Florida we appreciate, nay, celebrate our sunsets. On those rivers, we reveled in the sunrise. Purples, oranges and reds would mix with the foggy river bottom in an early morning stew of color. It felt more like a dream than reality. And all I could think, as I floated silently down the river, was how much more fun this would be with friends.

To the Ocean Tribe Paddlers, I hope to bring this spirit of community. As an educator, I hope to cultivate an atmosphere of open learning. Whether you are brand new to paddle sports or you are a veteran paddler, Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a place to learn and to teach. Over the course of the next year, we are going to build a group who loves to congregate on the water in human powered vessels to delight in all our marine environments have to offer. We will gather and speak paddling. We will be an Ocean Tribe. 

Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit or follow us on Facebook to learn more.