Exploring the Florida Keys by Paddleboard
by Kealy McNeal
Sanibel Sea School introduced a new paddling opportunity for teens this summer, demonstrating just how much Florida has to offer for paddling enthusiasts. An ambitious group headed south in July to explore the Florida Keys via stand up paddleboard. Starting from Sanibel, we drove the eight campers down to the Key Largo, taking a detour into Big Cypress National Preserve along the way. Driving down the 26-mile gravel road into the heart of the preserve, we saw many alligators, wading birds, red-shouldered hawks and alligator gar hanging in or around the water along the road. When we arrived in the Keys, we were eager to set up camp and stretch our legs.
Key Largo welcomed us with summer weather - both the temperature and humidity level were over 90, with zero breeze. After pitching our tents, we all looked like we took a dip even though we never got in the water. The stale heat continued into the night, and our hammocks and tents acted as saunas. IT was a tough introduction to camp life, but things improved when the campers awoke to the smell of pancakes and eggs. Soon we were on the water, paddling in the Key Largo sound, gliding over clusters of upside-down jellies and sea grass beds. The heat of the sun started to take its toll on us, so we put on our snorkel masks and fins, and hopped off our boards for a look under the water. The campers explored the nooks and crannies of the mangroves surrounding the sound, spotting juvenile fish hiding in the roots and schools of grunts darting around them. After working up an appetite on the water, everyone prepared and then devoured our dinner of blackened shrimp and mahi mahi tacos that night.
The following days were filled with night paddles lit by glow sticks, volunteering at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, and snorkeling with reef fish. Ask any of the campers and they will tell you this trip challenged our paddling skills, perfected our camping skills, and created memories that will last forever!
Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the local paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.