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 Paddling and Protecting Florida's Waterways Paddle Florida, ,

, Paddle Florida Paddling and Protecting Florida's Waterways

, Paddle Florida Paddling and Protecting Florida's Waterways

Paddle Florida . . . and go with the flow.
Paddle Florida, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation organized to support canoeing and kayaking in Florida. Events in each of Florida's five water management districts expose paddlers to Florida'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. Trips feature Florida's most scenic rivers, canoe trails and coastal environments, including the Florida Keys and the Suwannee, Wekiva, St. Johns, Ochlockonee, Peace, Withlacoochee and Rainbow Rivers.

Paddle Florida staff members scout trips in advance to ensure waterway conditions and shoreline camping sites maximize comfort and showcase nature's best view. Meal plans and gear shuttling eliminate the need to weigh boats down with food and camping equipment. Florida-based entertainment or educational programming is provided each evening by artists, musicians and naturalists local to the region. Partnerships with local outfitters provide paddlers with canoes, kayaks and other gear to rent as needed. With this level of support, paddlers of all ages and skill levels can see and experience 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
Sharon (Ruby) Bienert, Treasurer
Debra Akin, Board Member
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.

Robin Newcomer ~ May 2015

(04/28/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession?  I moved to Apollo Beach, Florida, in 2003 from Seattle with my husband, Paul. However, I grew up in the beach-cities area of Southern California (Redondo-Hermosa-Manhattan environs) and consider SoCal my "real" home. I have been fortunate to have had two careers: first as a reporter (10 years) and later an editor (another 10 years) for daily newspapers both in SoCal and in Washington state; in 1992 I decided to use my Master's degree in Mass Comm to teach journalism and English at Olympic College, a two-year community college in Bremerton, Washington. I retired from my tenured job once we moved to Florida but continue to teach English online as an adjunct for the college. When and how did you become interested in paddling?  I have always been drawn to and lived near water--I am a Pisces, after all--but once we moved from Southern California to Western Washington, I realized Puget Sound, at 40-50 degrees nearly year-round, was too cold to be IN, so I decided a kayak would put me ON the water. I wanted my three children to love the water, too, so it became a family affair to paddle around inlets and small bays close to home. However, we always rented kayaks (and in Puget Sound waters, spray skirts were never optional). Once Paul and I moved to Apollo Beach, we built a "party" dock with a floating dock beside it and researched the "best" kayak for paddling Tampa Bay and nearby rivers. As a result, we purchased two Wilderness Systems Cape Horn touring kayaks (15.5 feet). I have paddled "Yellow Bird" for more than a decade. She eventually will have a "sister yak" once I figure out the next best perfect boat. I am open to suggestions! Where is your favorite place to paddle?  There is such spontaneity in pushing off from my Apollo Beach dock, and I enjoy paddling to a nearby island where I can sit on the beach and/or look for shells, surrounded by sail and power boats, knowing I got there "on my own steam." I also enjoy majestic Tampa Bay sunrises amidst the nearby mangroves populated by heron and rosette spoonbills and watching the sun radiate fantastic splays of color as it dips below the horizon behind St. Petersburg. But, honestly, my favorite place is always the place I am paddling "right now." The Florida Keys Challenge brings me incomparable joy when I recall this year's paddling/camping adventures, and the recently completed Suwannee River Paddling Festival introduced me to a Florida I had never seen before--the Suwannee and Withlachoochee rivers are waters I want to return to. I am a new member to Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers, also an amazingly active group of paddlers, who are introducing me to new "favorite" places.  What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip?  I should probably say my first capsize in more than 20 years of kayaking when I tried to dodge a 2-by-4 hanging on a low branch on Suwannee River--but other than freaking out about possible lurking alligators, that really isn't true. It just means I am going to take a lot of flak from my Paddle Florida buddies/rescuers Roger Cayer, Bob Gordon, and Allison Underwood for a long, long, long time. My most interesting paddling adventures have taken place among friendly water-bound buddies. Once, while paddling on Tampa Bay, I noticed the water was roiling, and I stopped to observe. Suddenly, I heard a splash at my stern and turned just in time to see a manatee tail wave before it sunk. I quickly looked around and realized I was in a large group of manatee either coming or going from the nearby power plant where they gather in the winter but leave periodically during the day to eat nearby grasses. I lingered as adult and baby manatee popped their heads up for air all around me.  Another time, after the sudden passing of my brother Keith (who loved the water even more than I; he was a Pisces too), I found myself paddling with six or seven dolphin, all madly feeding on little fish. Some dolphin slowed to swim under my boat, lying on their sides, eyeballs on me. It was especially memorable because Keith loved to swim with dolphins and jokingly told people his grandmother was a dolphin. If ever Keith were to be reincarnated, I'm sure it would be as a dolphin, so whenever I have an encounter with one, I feel one with my brother. How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where?   I started 2015 with the Florida Keys Challenge in January but, because of family obligations, had to wait until April's Suwannee River Paddling Festival when I reunited with three "Keys Challenge" new-found friends.  I hope to end the year with another Paddle Florida trip--a more lengthy one; once I am paddling, I don't want it to end. What keeps you coming back?  The water, the invigorating and sometimes challenging paddles, the evening entertainment and education programs, and my fellow paddlers--those I now call friends and those who I haven't yet met. I also love an excuse to pitch my tent and sleep on the ground (my mother does not understand this).  Oh, and the food--how are we supposed to lose weight when the caterers offer such bountiful and delicious tables of food?! Most of all, what keeps me coming back: Bill, Jill, and Jan, who are so wonderfully welcoming and work so hard to keep Paddle Florida a premier group for those who love to paddle and who want to do their parts to help keep the waterways of Florida flowing for future generations. Can you describe a Paddle Florida trip highlight?  We launched from Knight's Key Campground on route to Bahia Honda State Park with 7-Mile Bridge marking the that's what seven miles on the water looks like--wow! What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip?  To coin a well-worn corporate slogan: Just Do It! I had wanted to do the Florida Keys Challenge for four years, and this year, I told myself was my year. I still was apprehensive: "Would my boat measure up?" "Could I paddle the long distances?" "Was I able to afford the cost?" "I don't know anyone--how will that work out?" I finally put those monkey-mind questions aside and signed up. It was the best gift I may ever give myself. The trip, as Paddle Florida organizers remind us, "is your own." Slow paddlers, fast paddlers, solo paddlers, paddlers with partners, plastic boat owners, Kevlar boat owners, composite boat owners....they are all there--and all are enjoying their own perfect paddling experiences. 

Gigi Frye ~ April 2015

(03/31/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession? I am a native North Carolinian relocating to Charleston, South Carolina. My background for 20+ years was in Information Technology, of which I spent 14 years as a software support engineer with a large software firm. Since 2013, I’ve been self-employed as a licensed massage therapist and will soon be adding yoga teaching to my service offerings.   When and how did you become interested in paddling? My first kayaking experience was in 2000 in the Outer Banks of NC.  After that experience, I bought a kayak kit and built my own wooden kayak but never used it! At the time, I didn’t know how to find community and I didn’t want to paddle by myself. It wasn’t until 2009 that I tried kayaking again after being inspired by kayakers paddling among the spider lilies on the Catawba River as I watched in envy from the bank. A week later, I bought a kayak and have been paddling ever since. In 2009, I found community when I started kayaking. I found a community of friends and a community with Nature. It helped transform me. I didn’t become a saint by any means, but I found a sense of belonging for the first time. Kayaking and the sea are an essential part of my soul. The Peace of Wild Things When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. — Wendell Berry   Where is your favorite place to paddle? My love is coastal paddling, whether it be through marshes or open water. The Charleston, SC area has many wonderful places to paddle and a strong sea kayaking community. That’s probably my overall favorite area but there are many others, too.  Lake Jocassee, which straddles North Carolina and South Carolina, is a beautiful inland lake surrounded by picturesque mountains, with some awesome waterfalls, unexpectedly great hidden beaches and cool, clean, clear, soft water.  The Outer Banks of NC has some very cool kayaking routes out to islands, such as Shackleford Banks, where wild horses roam and the Cape Lookout lighthouse can be toured. The Florida Keys are amazing! I had my first trip there this year and hope to make it a regular destination.   What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? In 2011, I did a 60-mile solo paddle from New Bern, NC to Harkers Island, NC via the Neuse River, Newport Sound, and the Intracoastal Waterway. The overall trip was a bit spiritual to me as I faced some challenging paddling conditions (in which I wondered why the heck I was out there by myself), as well as no showering, for four days. Although, there were many highlights of that trip, I’ll share one that is not really about the paddling. The last day of the trip, after having gotten stuck in plough mud in a marsh during low tide, I arrived well past my expected return time at the Harker’s Island Visitor Center where my car was parked.  After landing at the dock, I gathered a few bags from the day hatch and headed towards my car.  Opening the dry box in which I kept the car key, my heart skipped a beat when there was no key there.  At the beginning of the paddle, I made a conscious decision to keep the car key in the dry box along with the flare gun. Now, I worried the key had fallen out of the dry box during one of the stops to change the GPS batteries.  By this time, the iPhone battery was dead so I had no way of calling anyone and there were no rangers at the closed visitor center.  Suppressing panic, I scanned the horizon and spotted a woman near the beach.  Generally, I am hesitant to ask anyone for assistance (although I’m always hoping someone will offer it, lol), especially not strangers.  However, in this situation, there was no choice but to be humble and reach out. As I approached the woman, I introduced myself and explained the situation.  The woman, named Kathy, graciously agreed to drive me to the area where a dock I had stopped at earlier might be located. Finding the dock from the street was not as simple as it sounded and we ended up engaging a couple of other people to help.  After finally identifying the correct dock, I had to ask another resident, Matt, to give me a ride in his boat to it because, strangely, it was not accessible from the bank at high tide.  After getting to the dock, the key was not there. When I walked back into Matt’s front yard, Kathy was still there but now there were also four other people whom I had never met.  One called out to me, “Hey Gigi! Did you find your key?”   In this escapade, I was meeting half of Harkers Island and the other half was getting to know me by reputation, it seemed. By now, Kathy had to leave so a gentleman named Chad agreed to drive me back to the visitor center. Chad, with an open beer in one hand, headed to the fridge in his garage and grabbed another beer for the ride, which was about two miles – roundtrip – for him. Ya gotta have sustenance, I guess. Eventually, I found my key after unloading all my gear from the kayak and going through all the dry bags. It turned out to be in the toiletry bag….yes, there’s no logic in that and I have no idea how it got there. :) But, getting to spend that unexpected time with the residents of Harkers Island was definitely a highlight.  Later on, I wrote a blog about the experience and summarized it like this: The serenity of the solitude, the awesome power of the wind and water, the kindness and generosity of the wonderful Harkers Island and New Bern residents, made this a special, memorable experience.  I would do it, again.  A part of me says I wouldn’t do it solo, again.  But, on another level, I know there is something to be gained from this experience other than an increased confidence about paddling in rough water conditions. What that may be is still unfolding. An hour or so after writing the previous paragraph, in a sublime, serendipitous unveiling of an answer, I came across this quote from author Paul Theroux: It’s only when you’re alone that you realize where you are. You have nothing to fall back on except your own resources. You need to find your way…You need to be on your own so that you can meet people as you are, and as they are.   Describe the ACA certification(s) you’re working on and why. A couple of years ago, I received ACA certification as a Coastal Kayak Tour Guide. During that training as well as on many of the Charleston area paddles, I’ve been inspired by the expertise and skills of the instructors as they help other paddlers. My next training is ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayak Instructor scheduled later this year. It is a personal challenge to improve as a paddler myself with another goal of being able to work with other paddlers to help them improve their skill sets and to gain confidence. It’s a way to share this sport which has given so much to me.   How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where? So far, I’ve taken two trips with Paddle Florida, the 2010 Suwannee River trip and the 2015 Florida Keys Challenge. I look forward to repeating the Keys paddle as well as joining other Paddle Florida destinations as time and budget allow.   What keeps you coming back? I’ve met some really wonderful people on the trips I’ve taken.  Bill and Jan are both awesome and make the trips a lot of fun. There are a number of “regulars” such as Paul, Scott, and Mim, who made me feel like a part of a tribe on both the 2010 and 2015 trips so the opportunity for community and the camaraderie is appealing. Florida’s natural beauty, fellow paddlers, the food, and the music all converge to create a soul satisfying experience.   Can you describe a Paddle Florida trip highlight? At one of the beach lunch stops, buying a fresh coconut from Tony the coconut man and getting three sips of coconut water for $3. Luckily, back at camp, my friend Scott took up the challenge to crack it open so we could snack on the delicious coconut meat. It was like being on Survivor except having access to a catered dinner and entertainment by Bing Futch afterwards! The sheer beauty of the open water in the Keys and the stunning sunsets were also a highlight, as was getting tricked by a friend into taking a swig of Fireball whiskey in a taxi in Key West. The gamut of experiences and highlights can be very broad on a Paddle Florida trip.   What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? Pack lightly. Wear your skirt on open water paddles such as the Keys. Know that you have the freedom to make the trip your own, but you also have the opportunity to be an important spoke in a communal wheel. Don't overestimate your skills, but also don't be afraid to try new things and push your limits. Empty your cup so it can be filled with the beauty of Florida's landscape, waterscape and wildlife, with the knowledge of local history shared by local guides and experts, and with the many layers of perspectives offered by fellow paddlers.

Frank Konciewicz ~ March 2015

(02/27/2015) Where are you from?  Your profession?  I am a retired Project Engineer/ Project Manager from Birmingham Alabama. Where is your favorite place to paddle?  My kayaking phase began in 2008 with an article appearing in the Birmingham News regarding the Paddle Florida's inaugural Suwannee River trip.  Since then I have enjoyed about a dozen Paddle Florida trips.  I would have a difficult time selecting a favorite.  I liked the beauty of the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe Rivers, the wildlife on the Peace River, and the thrill of paddling island to island in the Keys.  What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to you on a paddling trip?   The fantastic lightning display from inside my tent during last years Ochlocknee paddle. What keeps you coming back?  I enjoy our trips because of the beauty of the rivers and getting back each trip with the friends I have made over the past seven years.  Paddle Florida trips are well planned and  can be enjoyed by people of varying skill and experience levels

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