Only Along the Gulfshore

Ms. Adventure: Would This Be Stand-up Comedy?

Ms. Adventure: Would This Be Stand-up Comedy?

BY July 27, 2015



For a near-native who grew up on an island along the Gulfshore, I’m not a big fan of saltwater—in fact, I avoid it altogether. When it comes to the pool—and especially the Jacuzzi—I’m delighted to slip in for a relaxing soak. But get me near local waters where actual sea creatures reside, and I’m happy as a clam to lounge on the safety of the beach with a margarita in my hand.

So, when the challenge of paddleboarding was presented to me, I looked at it as less of an adventure and more as a death-defying act of insanity.

Like many water-fearing adults who were impressionable youngsters in the ’70s, I blame Jaws. As a kid, living on Estero Island, I was pretty much convinced it might truly be possible for a shark to swim through the drains and somehow end up in the pool at our family’s beachfront condo. After all, sharks are cunning like that.

But, it wasn’t just sharks—there was the time I was playing in the sand and noticed a squishy, ugly, alien-like creature lying on the beach. My mother explained that it was a jellyfish and that if you were stung by one you could be paralyzed. Of course, now that I’m an adult and can Google, I know that temporary paralysis is a very rare side effect of being stung by a jellyfish. But mothers are excellent at scaring the bejesus out of 9-year-olds.

As a teen, when all my friends were playing hooky to go to the beach, I nearly overcame my fear of the water. I mean, if cute Scott Baio-lookalike Jeff Spencer from homeroom was getting in the water, surely so could I. That is until I spotted my first stingray, with a wingspan that made me think it was an underwater pterodactyl, and I performed a very swift stingray shuffle back up to the beach, sat alone and pouted. This is Southwest Florida—a fear of sea creatures has been putting a damper on my social life for far too long.

I have some girlfriends who love to paddleboard and they’ve invited me along several times. They tell me it’s excellent for balance, it’s great for your core, it’s a fun workout, and we can reconnect with nature. I’ve explained I have no sense of balance, I’m not athletic and I’m terrified of nature. Still, they tell me I’m missing out on a great time. My paddleboard-loving friend Melinda suggested Adventure Sea Wildlife & Kayak Tours, located at the marina at ’Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa. She had heard that Sanibel native and owner Capt. John Houston was an excellent guide and instructor. She felt certain that, despite my myriad phobias, after a lesson with Capt. John I’d be out on the water, balancing and paddling like a pro with her and the rest of the girls—finally hobnobbing on our sparkling waters without a care in the world.

Of course, soon after I scheduled my lesson with John, there was a hysteria-inducing news story that a man on Fort Myers Beach had been the victim of flesh-eating bacteria—granted, he’d been walking in the water with an open cut on his foot, but still. Now I had flesh-eating bacteria to add to my list of irrational fears.

In fact, that’s exactly what I told Capt. John on a recent Sunday morning at ’Tween Waters when I showed up for my lesson in calm, peaceful Wulfert Channel. I started with the flesh-eating bacteria. John looked at me like I was nuts. Apparently, he hadn’t seen the news—or ever heard of anyone contracting flesh-eating bacteria around these parts. Apparently, it’s about as rare as being paralyzed by a jellyfish. Capt. John, who is athletic and in his mid-30s, had a very Zen-like vibe that was calming. He assured me I was not going to be eaten by a shark, be stung by a jellyfish or die while paddleboarding. He seemed trustworthy. I believed him. When I suggested I wear a protective helmet and a life jacket for the lesson, he just told me, gently, to chill out.

Mercifully, Capt. John took the lesson very slowly and had the patience of a saint. Since he’s been doing this most of his life, I got the impression I wasn’t the only overly nervous middle-aged lady with a saltwater phobia he’d contended with before. He brought along his cute, seaworthy first mate, Dawn Bailey, who scooped up little living creatures from the water, like starfish and whelks, as we paddled along but stopped when she realized they made me yelp in fear.

Believe it or not, I fell only the very first time I attempted to stand upright on my paddleboard. But then I took it slower—first to my knees, then my hands and knees, and then, shakily, gradually and completely nongracefully, I managed to make it up on my feet. I’m convinced I looked like prehistoric man standing upright for the first time. Once up, that’s when every muscle in your body you had no idea you had becomes fully engaged. Your lower back, your inner thighs, and especially the muscles in your ankles, feet and even toes—because they’ve got a huge responsibility to keep you on the board. They’re important, but so is your brain. For instance, if your instructor happily points out an enormous docile manatee hanging out just a few feet away, you should not imagine the manatee swimming under your board, knocking you over, forgetting it’s a vegetarian and taking a bite out of you. Instead, you should just look straight ahead and take deep, calming breaths. After a while, as Capt. John took us through Roosevelt Channel, pointed out native birds and even entertained us by doing a full-on headstand on his board, I started to relax. I even challenged him to a race, which he gallantly let me win. We paddled around for two hours and, as a bonus, burned about 1,500 calories—which I immediately replaced with a big, celebratory margarita back at the resort.

Another adventure under my belt, a new skill learned and a few fears conquered. I don’t know if I’ll ever be standing on my head on a paddleboard, but stay tuned.


Related Images: