Suwannee River Paddling Festival Suwannee River Wilderness Trail St. Johns River Florida Keys Challenge Ochlockonee River Lucky Mud Band on the Ochlockonee Ocklockonee Bay Great Calusa Blueway Manatees off the St. Johns River Florida Keys Challenge Wekiva River

Paddle Florida: Inspiring. Meaningful. Adventure. Paddle Florida, ,

, Paddle Florida: Inspiring. Meaningful. Adventure.

, Paddle Florida: Inspiring. Meaningful. Adventure.

Paddle Florida:
Inspiring. Meaningful. Adventure.
Paddle Florida, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation organized to support canoeing and kayaking in Florida.  Multi-day paddling/camping adventures in each of Florida's five water management districts showcase the state's natural beauty and rich cultural heritage while promoting water conservation, wildlife preservation, springs restoration, and waterways protection.  Paddle Florida also seeks to promote Florida as an international destination for nature-based tourism. 

Our 2015-16 paddling season:

Paddle Florida staff members scout trips in advance to ensure waterway conditions and shoreline campsites are safe, comfortable, and showcase nature's best view.  Meal plans and gear shuttling eliminate the need to weigh down boats with food and camping equipment.  Florida-based entertainment and educational programming is provided each evening by regional artists, musicians, authors, and naturalists.  Partnerships with local outfitters provide paddlers with canoes, kayaks, and other paddling gear to rent as needed. With this level of support, paddlers of all ages and skill levels can explore and enjoy the REAL Florida! 

Archived Happy Paddler newsletters:

Paddle Florida, Inc. a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation
P.O. Box 5953, Gainesville, FL 32627
1710 SW 35th Place, Unit C
Gainesville, FL 32608

Board of Directors:
Nickie Kortus, President
Jill Lingard, Vice President
Robert Hutchinson, Secretary
Debra Akin, Treasurer
Lars Andersen, Board Member

Tax return & 990 documents:

Refund policy:
Due to the financial outlay and costs incurred by Paddle Florida during event planning, any force majeure, which includes but is not limited to water levels, inclement weather and any other Acts of God not mentioned herein, shall not result in the refund of any fees paid to Paddle Florida. Absolutely no fees will be refunded after 15 days before the event begins. Any fees refunded by Paddle Florida will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Sandy Theissen ~ September 2015

(08/10/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession?  I was born in Washington, DC.  Since my Dad was in the Navy, we traveled extensively, and I lived in various cities in Europe, US west and east coasts, Bermuda, and finally Florida.  I’ve had a 25+ year career with the State of Florida as a Computer and Information Systems Manager, providing all aspects of support for network systems and personal computers for my team scattered throughout the state.   When and how did you become interested in paddling? I’ve enjoyed paddling for more decades than I like to admit, mostly in canoes.  Once I discovered kayaks about 10 years ago, I’ve only gone back to the single paddle once or twice, although I suppose some of the new lightweight canoes would be enjoyable. I started out with the typical recreational kayak, renting them for day trips from local outfitters on the Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and at Cedar Key, Florida.  After figuring out that I really liked paddling, I started purchasing…and I guess you can’t have too many kayaks, can you?  My paddling these days is mostly a mix of touring where I can enjoy the serenity and beauty of nature, and fitness days.  I’ve begun to take an interest in events in other states too, like the South Dakota Kayak Challenge.   Where is your favorite place to paddle? We have so many wonderful locations here in Florida, it’s difficult to choose.  I guess I would have to select the islands of the Gulf coast and in the Cedar Key area.  There are almost always dolphins to be seen.  After a nice day on the water, you can return to the quaint charm of Cedar Key and its great restaurants for the evening.    What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? That would have to be my “Elvis adventure!”  My neighbor and long-time paddling buddy Phil and I were on our first trip to Alexander Springs on a very warm November morning.   After several miles, that beautiful spring run begins to get “thready” and you have sections of very narrow waterways under canopied forest. The wildlife was great.  We saw many different birds, a raccoon, and the gators were numerous.  After heading down a dark and narrow thread of maybe 30 feet across, we heard a voice crying out “Elvis!  Elvis!”  The call became louder as we continued to paddle along and we joked that maybe we would soon be hearing the strumming of banjos.  Suddenly, two camouflaged and very tired looking hunters popped out of the palmettos along the bank.  “Mister, we’ve been tracking our dog all night.   He swam across this water to that little island where he’s been baying for hours.  He was taught not to swim in the water, but he got caught up chasin’ a deer.  Now he’s afraid to come back across, and we’ve been watching that gator up there a bit swim back and forth watching him.  Think y’all can get him back over here?”  Phil pointed and volunteered that maybe I could as my WS Tarpon had a large rear deck.  I paddled over to the bank and tried to get the dog to step onto my boat.  He would come close, but wasn’t having any of it.  I was able to pet him a couple times, but he wouldn’t climb in the boat.  Maybe a treat would entice him?  I reached into my lunch cooler and brought out a can of expensive imported tuna in olive oil.  He became curious.  I put a little on my hand and he licked it.  Slowly he came closer until he was eating out of the can, at which point I grabbed his collar and dragged him into my rear deck.  Now the hard part: restraining a large struggling hound dog who wanted out of the boat, keeping an eye on a gator who wanted a meal of its own, paddling with only one spare hand!  As Phil paddled back and forth to keep the gator at bay, I flailed my way to the bank where one of the men reached out and snatched up Elvis by the collar.  Safe at last, Elvis was happy to be back with his owner and his owner was even happier that Elvis still had his expensive tracking collar.  Oh yeah, Elvis got to finish off the tuna.   How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where?  I guess six or seven.  I’ve done the Suwannee numerous times, which sometimes includes a day on the northern Withlacoochee and sometimes the Ichetucknee; the southern Withlacoochee with the beautiful Rainbow River and the Gulf; and the great Florida Keys.  Every trip is different every time.  You can experience different water levels in the rivers, calm waters in the Atlantic, or some choppy conditions, but it’s all about the experience and adventure.   What keeps you coming back?  I asked myself that after about the third trip or so!  First off, you meet some interesting people from all over the country, and then you also catch up with some of the other “regulars” who have done a lot of trips too – some paddlers have done them for years and years.  It’s great to sit around and swap stories and adventures after the day’s paddle is done, and learn of other paddling places to travel to that you might never have considered.  The fact that all of your gear is transported for you and your delicious meals are catered really adds a nice touch.  Sure it’s fun to do a trip where you pack your own food and gear, but for a trip of more than a couple of days you really have to eat light.  On a Paddle Florida trip the food is plentiful and good!   Can you describe a Paddle Florida trip highlight? At first I used to try to complete the day’s segment quickly.  On the water early, see the sights along the way, out and set up camp - just like many folks tour when they take a road trip.  Later, I realized that I come on these trips to paddle and soak up the experience and the local environment.  On my last Suwannee trip, I stopped at every spring as usual, but this time I got out and swam in them.  Getting wet and exploring the springs is just a wonderful experience that you can’t re-create at an amusement park.  Some folks even bring fishing gear along for fun.   What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? If you’ve never done one, don’t wait anymore!  No expensive or fancy lightweight gear is required.  You’ll meet fellow paddlers from all kinds of different experience levels, and you will find fellowship among them.  With the exception of the Florida Keys trip, you’ll be going downriver so paddling is hardly needed most of the time.  Bring a folding camp chair to enjoy relaxing in camp, listening to evening entertainers and speakers, and later for around the campfire.  Oh, and don’t forget your camera!  

Ken & Nyla Campbell ~ August 2015

(07/28/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession? We have lived in Lakeland, FL for many years.  We are both retired (Ken for 6 years, Nyla for 7 years). Ken was a registered professional civil engineer and Nyla was a certified planner (AICP) who worked for the City of Lakeland for her last 13 years before retirement.   When and how did you become interested in paddling?  Ken took up whitewater paddling 25 years ago by taking canoe classes from the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. That led to kayaking in Florida. Ken introduced Nyla to kayaking 18 years ago by arranging for an introductory class at Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park.   Where is your favorite place to paddle?  We greatly enjoy paddling in the 10,000 Islands (on the west side of Everglades National Park). A number of years ago, we paddled the 100-mile Wilderness Waterway over six days from Everglades City to Flamingo at the south end of Everglades NP.   What’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you on a paddling trip?   The most memorable time was when we were camping on Lulu Key (just outside Everglades National Park) with about 30 other people when the wonderful host of the group had a stroke. He lived on the island all winter and liked to have folks stop by. We were all sitting around the campfire and he (Mike Ward) was reading out loud from one of his favorite books. It was about 9PM when the stroke occurred.   One of the fellows in our group was a Naples police officer. He called 911. That led to a helicopter over flight to see if we were real. The police then dispatched a boat from Marco Island that promptly ran aground (we found out later). So, around midnight, we carried Mike out into deep water where a large boat, from Everglades City, had anchored to take him to the hospital.   That evening was memorable, but also reminded us about being prepared for emergencies.   How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where?  We have only been on two Paddle Florida trips (Withlacoochee River in 2014 and the Keys trip in 2015) because we have been traveling a lot (biking and hiking) and Ken has had some bad luck with injuries/illness (eight major surgeries in the last six years).   What keeps you coming back?  We plan to do more trips with Paddle Florida. Right now, the Keys trip in January and the Calusa in February look likely for us before we start training for cycling Montana to Alaska in the summer. We enjoy paddling, the great staff, and being around so many people with a really upbeat and “can do” attitude.   Can you describe a particular Paddle Florida trip highlight?   Last February we were bicycling for several days and, coincidentally, camped at Rainbow Springs the same day the Paddle Florida Withlacoochee group arrived. We were warmly welcomed by Paddle Florida staff as being part of the family and invited to share dinner and breakfast with the group. That was a great way to deal with a memorably cold, wet evening.   What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? Know your skill and fitness limitations. With that knowledge, in-trip adjustments can be made if necessary to facilitate safety and ensure a good time is attainable every day.

Roger Cayer ~ July 2015

(06/29/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession?  I am from the Northeast. Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. I was an Ob-Gyn for 38 years. The last eight years of my career were spent working for the Choctaw Nation Indian Healthcare System as Director of their Women's Health Center in Talihina, Oklahoma, way too far from the ocean! I have been retired for three wonderful years and my wife Ellen and I are living on Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia. When and how did you become interested in paddling?  I had done some paddling in Maine and on Lake George, New York in the past but because of work obligations never really took it seriously. Now that I am retired and living on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia I had no excuses! I am on my third kayak in one and one half years. I have taken basic and advanced paddling classes with Savannah Canoe and Kayak. No Eskimo roll yet, but I am getting really close! Where is your favorite place to paddle?  My favorite place to paddle is in Wassaw Sound off the coast of Georgia. There are many day trip options there ranging from six miles r/t to Raccoon Key to 13 miles r/t to Ossabaw Island. What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip?   The most interesting and also most frightening thing that ever happened to me was hitting a bottlenose dolphin with my paddle and having him/her blow some slimy air on me. He/she was feeding along the bank of Delegal Creek and I was paddling close to the right bank. The water is murky there because of the very high tidal fluctuations and we were both surprised by the contact.   How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where?   I have been on two Paddle Florida trips. My first was The Keys Challenge this past January with my Montana daughter, Emily. The second was the Suwannee River Paddling Festival in April 2015. Both were amazing as far as the people I met and the quality of the organization. The nighttime entertainment was world class.   What keeps you coming back?  I will keep going to PF trips in the future because these trips are well organized by caring people and the value received far surpasses what we pay for the trip. And you meet all types of people from all walks of life--all with the same passion--PADDLING! And the food is outstanding and plentiful. I am planning to redo the Keys Challenge in January and will do the Calusa Blue Water Trail in March and of course the Suwannee River Paddling Festival in April next year. These trips are addicting!   Can you describe a Paddle Florida trip highlight?  My best highlight from a trip came on the PF Keys Challenge. Emily, with limited kayak experience, and I were on the final leg of the trip off of Smather Beach, Key West.  The water was roiling, the wind was howling and we had to deal with clapotis.  Emily asked me if I was scared. I lied and answered "no,” yelling above the howling wind, "keep a paddle in the water and you will be fine!"  I was somewhat worried because these were not beginner conditions. She made it just fine while believing my white lie; I really was a bit nervous. Once we landed safely she confessed that she had shed a few "tears of fear.”  It was a precious moment!   What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip?  Do your homework. Get some lessons on rescue and self-rescue.  Get some basic paddling skills. These are not really guided trips. They are supported trips.  This is YOUR trip and PF is there to assist you and not baby sit you. Pick a group of like-minded and similarly skilled paddlers and stick together and watch over each other. You will make lifelong friends and be much safer than a solo paddler. Be ready to have the time of your life and to make everlasting memories. Be ready to exceed your limitations especially on something as challenging as the 7-day Keys trip.

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