fun on the water

With such an abundance of great ways to get on the water, how will you decide? The First Coast is fortunate to have highly qualified, accessible and independent recreational guides to help the novice to the expert have fun on Florida Waters. Whether you want to challenge yourself or just relax, here are some great places to get started.

Self-Propelled

All Wet Sports All Wet Sports - Group PaddleAll Wet Sports is located next to the Beach Blvd. Boat Ramp, right smack in the middle of Jacksonville. Owner Andy Fraden says that All Wet Sports is unique, “because of this magnificent creek…Big Pottsburg Creek will show you herons and egrets, horned owls, turtles and even the occasional Manatee!” Besides kayak rentals, All Wet Sports is a full service retail store offering the gear you need for water sports. If you are looking to try Stand Up Paddleboarding, it is easy to learn on the calm Pottsburg Creek.
At All Wet Sports, “we love to tell kayakers to go down this little hidden stream just south of the creek put-in. The waterway is surrounded by wetlands, grasses and birds hidden from the nearby main roads. Trees tower over the creek offering shade and cover. This is a great place to bring a picnic lunch and just watch.” Visit Pottsburg Creek yourself for rentals or lessons at www.allwetsports.net.

Backyard Explorations Local water sports champion Ty Miller has taken his talents to a new level, offering guided tours along hidden and less well known waterways. Backyard Explorations offers private lessons, SUP excursions, family outings, group tours, coaching, corporate team building events, and SUP surf or fishing lessons. If you are looking for a new way to get fit and enjoy the Northeast Florida waterways, Backyard Explorations will take you from the beaches to the freshwater streams, and even into the cool crisp spring waters. Visit www.backyardexplorations.com to learn more about the hidden places to SUP in Northeast Florida!

Black Creek Outfitters Black Creek Outfitters is a full service outfitter store that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, knowledgeable staff, customer service, and quality gear. Staffing the store with people that have hiked the Appalachian Trail, camped in Yosemite or gone rock climbing in some of the most difficult terrains, Black Creek knows what gear you need. The staff also wants to make sure you purchase the right gear for you and are fully satisfied with your purchase. Skinner Lake behind the store allows people to try out Hobie Fishing Kayaks, touring kayaks, or SUP boards. Black Creek has also been hosting SUP Yoga on the lake. Black Creek has been in business for 30 years and has a long history of giving back to the community. In fact, they donate 1% of kayak and paddling accessories sales to St. Johns Riverkeeper. Visit their website to learn more about events, tours and hikes, charitable pint nights in the store, or the gear you need for your next big trip at www.blackcreekoutfitters.com.

First Coast Outfitters The outfitters on the First Coast all have their niche, and First Coast Outfitters has certainly found theirs. This company, started by outdoor enthusiast Joe Crespi, takes groups to the best kayaking spots we have to offer, providing a guided voyage for any age or level of experience. With trips like Dutton Island, Lofton Creek, Downtown Jacksonville, Washington Oaks Gardens, or the Jacksonville Zoo, you can experience everything this city has to offer via kayak. To enhance support to the paddling community here in Jacksonville, Crespi began the only officially timed professional kayak race on the river in Jacksonville, the River City Challenge. The race is part of a larger annual music and environmental festival called River City Eco Fest. To get on the water soon visit www.firstcoastoutfitters.com.

Kayak Amelia For 18 years, Ray and Jody Hetchka of Kayak Amelia have been giving folks a behind the scenes peek into the lives and inter-relationships of salt-marsh flora and fauna in the Talbot Islands State Parks and the Timucuan Preserve. Hetchka says what he loves about this part of the river “is the Bahamian blue water of Fort George Island.” Kayak Amelia offers guided paddles, self-guided tours, SUP lessons, and all kinds of fun activities, including summer camps and educational talks. “On the ocean end, paddlers enjoy the salty mist off the waves while access to Simpson Creek on the other side of the island makes this an easy and accessible paddling location.”
Hetchka says his favorite part about working as an outfitter is “being on, in and around the water and sharing the insights we’ve gained about the people and critters who live here. It never gets old and there’s new information being uncovered all the time!” Kayak Amelia offers several tours a year where all of the proceeds are donated to local land and water preservation organizations. To tour the estuary where the St. Johns meets the ocean and where the life in our river begins, visit www.kayakamelia.com. You deserve a good paddling!

Boating

For those of you looking for speed that isn’t self-powered, there are chartered tour boats that will take you exploring on different parts of our watershed.

20120428TIP1DM4A_8206.CR2Amelia Island Charter Cruises offers private wildlife, nature, and birding tours, sightseeing and sunset dinner trips, plus family fishing and inshore fishing charters.
Visit www.ameliaislandcharters.com to sign up.

Jax Water Tours, based out of St. Augustine, has a Dolphin Safari tour featuring wetlands, coastal marshes, birds, dolphins, manatees, and other wildlife. The Sunset BYOB Cruise allows adults to relax on the water with a breeze that beats any patio bar. Visit www.jaxwatertours.com for a full list of tour offerings.

Foxy Lady Cruises The Foxy Lady cruises are an entirely different experience on the water. Offering a luxurious, air-conditioned dining room, two bar service areas, and a line-up of options, this is the “foxiest” way to get on the water. Dinner Cruises, Lunch, Sightseeing, Cocktail Cruises, and Margarita Madness specials make this tour different from others in the area.

While self-propelled or motor boating are great ways to experience many of our waterways, diving right in may be the best way to enjoy our magical Florida springs. Ichetucknee Springs offers tube rentals and shuttles running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Ginnie Springs is fun all year round, with tube rentals and camping in nearby High Springs, Florida. However you decide to do it, get on the water this summer and find something new!

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.
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