Is success measured by staying dry or falling into refreshing Lake Virginia?
Hard to say. In a “friendly first-timers” paddleboarding trip put on by Paddleboard Orlando, most paddleboarders end up wet. But no one cares. No one laughs at you. No one’s counting.
The purpose of the trip is manifold: experience the natural beauty of Central Florida, burn some calories, learn a new sport and have fun.
“There’s lots of history, and the homes are gorgeous,” Ned Johnson, owner and president of Paddleboard Orlando, said of the Winter Park Chain of Lakes.
“There’s water you can see through.”
Stand-up paddleboarding, which takes place on a thicker and wider version of a surfboard, offers a special vantage point.
“If you’re sitting in a kayak or canoe, you never see any of the wildlife on shore because you’re sitting down,” said Chuck Congden, owner and head instructor of Central Florida Paddleboarding.
That includes otter, deer, birds, maybe even wild monkeys, said Congden, who takes many of his guests on paddleboarding trips on the Wekiva River north of Orlando.
“A lot of the tourists we get have no idea there’s a river like that here,” Congden said. “The waterways here are, for the most part, very pristine. With paddleboarding, you get to go out and explore the natural waterways of Florida. It’s something that’s not so scripted.”
Speaking of unscripted, maintaining or losing one’s balance on the paddleboard keeps the trips interesting. Besides, it’s hot outside and the water is cool.
Almost anybody can paddleboard, regardless of age or fitness level, but you must know how to swim.
“You hear them say to each other, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” Congden said.
Beginner tours take you on lakes and rivers with less current, making it easier to paddle your way around. First-timer sessions usually start with a basic tutorial on paddling. Guides paddle along with you to make sure you are standing correctly and holding the paddle the right way -- and not getting swept off course by the current.
Barefoot is best, quips Johnson who, along with his nephew and co-owner, David “Booboo” Rose, creates a party-like atmosphere on the Paddleboard Orlando trips.
Swimsuits aren’t a requirement, but do expect whatever clothes you’re wearing to get wet, even if you don’t fall in. Sunglasses not on a cord are not recommended.
Even on a short trip out, guides stop to rest weary arms and legs. Hot-shot paddleboarders show off by doing handstands on their boards. Swimming and games sometime take place.
Beginner paddleboarders tend to be a mix of locals and tourists.
“It was easier than I thought,” said Seth Schwartz, who was visiting Central Florida from Augusta, Ga.
DeBary resident Steve Mccanna, 59, said he was impressed with how organized and well-manned the Paddleboard Orlando trips are.
“That was great,” Mccanna said. “I enjoyed it. I liked the exercise. Once you got a hang of it, you could relax a little.”
You don’t have to be a first-timer to take a beginner tour. Several folks are repeat students, back with different friends for new fun.
Intermediate and advanced tours in the Central Florida area include a sunset trip on Lake Shipp in Winter Haven, a bioluminescence trip in Titusville, a manatee-sighting trip in Crystal River, sunrise paddleboarding on Silver Springs River, and dolphin-sighting tours in New Smyrna Beach.
Many of the paddleboarding companies provide a life-vest-equipped board, paddle and guides.
Paddleboarders can expect to pay $35 to $60 per person, depending on the length of the trip. Some have standing trips on the weekends but accept special weekday appointments. In the summers, many Saturday morning rides are filled to capacity, with guests eager to enjoy the outdoors in a different way.
“I love the freedom, that you’re in charge of your own ship,” Johnson said. “I like to show how easy it is to feel like that.”
IF YOU GO…
A few of the paddleboarding companies in the Central Florida area:
· Central Florida Paddleboarding, www.centralfloridapaddleboarding.com, 321-578-0457
· Paddleboard Orlando, www.paddleboardorlando, 407-782-5080
· Paddleboard Winter Haven, www.paddleboardwinterhaven.com, 863-289-9502