I’ll never understand people who move to Florida and choose to live someplace like The Villages or Tallahassee. If you want to be warm and landlocked, move to Arizona. It has mountains and canyons and low humidity. Florida, thanks to its geographical design, has more coastline than any other state in the continental United States (only Alaska has more), and because of that it’s a prime spot for watersports. Let’s face it: If you live in Southwest Florida, you moved here because you want to experience life on/near/adjacent to the water. You want to wade in it, you want to fish in it, and/or you want to float across it. And I’m onboard. (See what I did there? Onboard. Yep, a pro.) Whether it be standup paddleboarding, jet skiing or lounging on an 8-foot-tall pink flamingo floatie, I demand that you get yourself to some water ASAP. It’s time to start living.
But what water-related activity speaks to you? Read on and learn what might be in your wheelhouse by taking lessons, doing demos or renting.
Let’s start small and build, shall we? I’ll trust that you are fully capable of buying something as insane as the giant pink flamingo float on your own. My only advice is that you keep your eyes open for someone racing toward you in a speedboat. Then again, you could also conceivably get wiped out by someone on a skimboard.
A skimboard is one of those things you see people gliding on along the water’s edge at beaches all over the area. Skimboarders walk along the sand carrying what looks like a surf board that was left in the dryer too long, before throwing it down a few feet in front of them and running and jumping on the now-skimming board. Get it? Skimboarding. Granted, they tend to be out of favor with people who are old enough to have jobs, but if you’re in reasonable health and want to feel like a kid again, Old Naples Surf Shop not only sells a wide variety (from Zap and Exile); it also offers lessons. Trust me, it’s an art form. Even people who are pretty good at it don’t usually look like they’re any good at it. Just registering for the lesson would make you the coolest person reading this magazine. And if you call now, you might get into it enough to want to take part in the Old Naples Surf Shop’s annual Skim Jam on Oct. 21. oldnaplessurfshop.com
Now I know what you’re going to say. “I’m a grownup. What have you got for me?” Well, first, I’d like to say you’ve disappointed me. But I recognize that surfing is universally recognized as a cooler way to go. When I moved here, a friend gave me a foam-top starter surfboard and I looked unbelievably cool driving around with it in my car with the top down. Unfortunately, that’s the most action surfboards tend to get down here. When I called Sharda Spahr, owner of Old Naples Surf Shop, about surfing lessons (they also sell some very cool surfboards from the likes of R&D Surf and Sam Barker), I discovered the only time you’ll get any waves worth riding in Southwest Florida is when a hurricane is in the neighborhood. And at that point I tend to be wholly consumed by the fine print of my homeowner’s insurance. Regardless, if you rent, it might be the sport for you.
But one of the most popular boards in operation today is the standup paddleboard (SUP). Like a surfboard with a glandular problem, SUPs offer users the chance to get on the water with minimal skill. In fact, standing up is the most difficult part of the equation. I bought one that came with a pad and seatback so it can double as a sit-down paddleboard. And if you think that’s impressive, know that you can now purchase SUPs that have handlebars and pedals built into them. Hobie Mirage Eclipse SUPs combine the tranquility of standing with the motion of a StairMaster all while propelling you through the waves not with a paddle, but via a pedal propulsion mechanism. From a distance it looks like you’re walking on water. And a lot of people find that very attractive. They retail for around $2,600, so they won’t break the bank.
Of course, if you’re like me and find sitting down to be the best course of action, kayaking might be more your thing. And if you think that paddling is also too taxing, there are several companies that make a kayak just for you. For example, Hobie also makes kayaks that utilize the same pedal system found on their SUP. You just sit back and let your feet do the work. Meanwhile, Native Watercraft features mechanics more reminiscent of a stationary bicycle, which in turn spins a propeller located below. In both cases, you can actually move at a pretty good clip. The only downside is that you need to be in at least a foot of water in order to avoid running aground. For the SUPs and kayaks, it’s hard to find more knowledgeable people than those at Estero River Outfitters in Estero. Best of all, you can demo many of the items before purchasing them. esteroriveroutfitters.com
But let’s say you’re more adventurous than you’ve been letting on. Perhaps you fancy yourself a bit like Sir Richard Branson. You need to try kitesurfing, via kiteboard. Multitasking at its finest, it requires you to surf and fly a kite at the same time, filled with the knowledge that the Gulf of Mexico is a prime habitat of hammerhead sharks. Or you could try your hands and feet on a windsurfing board. Windsurfing is surfing and sailing at the same time. What could be easier? Well, everything we’ve already mentioned. However, Roy Massey of Ace Performer in Fort Myers has been teaching windsurfing for 35 years—and kiteboarding for 17 years. His shop sells everything you need to get up and moving. Both are major adrenaline rushes and make you feel like you’re on spring break every day. (Though drinking beer through a funnel isn’t part of the training regime.) aceperformer.com
What’s that? You say that kiteboarding is fine and all, but you want something with a little more kick? Impressive. Personally, I think you’re getting a little cocky, but you know you better than I know you, so how about you take some jet board or jetpack lessons from the people at Skyhigh Jetpacks in North Fort Myers? You’ve probably seen the cool kids do this off the side of a yacht in Ibiza or on a YouTube video, and it’s safe to say that it’s the most fun you can have with water jets strapped to your body. Skyhigh not only gives lessons (from $100 per 30 minutes) but also sells the equipment, in case you feel like shooting across Naples Bay like the Silver Surfer. skyhighjetpacks.com
However, when it comes to living it up on the water, nothing says “I got this” more than hopping aboard an 86-foot Sunseeker yacht replete with half of the items I just mentioned and more—such as Seabobs, which are personal watercraft that are a combination Jet Ski and sled that propels you through the water like you’re Aquaman; and Brownie Third Lungs, which let you dive without cumbersome scuba tanks. You could basically forget everything I’ve written in the previous 1,000 words and just charter this yacht from Naples Nantucket Yacht Charters and try all the toys aboard as an extra perk. The best part about this particular company is that unlike many charter services, which require you to book the yachts for a minimum of seven days, Naples Nantucket Yacht Charters lets you book their yachts for as little as four hours (a cool $5,500 includes fuel and crew for up to 12 guests). That means you could experience yacht living with a full crew for something as short as a sunset cruise or a shelling trip. Their boats start as small as 40 feet and climb all the way to 165 feet (although the largest boats are located elsewhere, due to our rather shallow seabed). It’s a great way to see if you enjoy the yachting life. It turns out I do. naplesnantucketyachtcharters.com
You can’t do this in The Villages.