ENGLEWOOD -- We looked over the multitude of ski boats, jet boats and jet skis at the southern mouth of Ski Alley. Others were towing tubes and tearing up the azure water with wakes that would have made Kenny Powers proud. Drew and I looked at each other, looked at our kayak and paddle board and decided to turn back.
|We took Drew's kayak out for the first time.
As the day progressed, our peaceful mile-long paddle trip at Stump Pass Beach State Park in Englewood had become interrupted by the wakes of water skiers and jet skis. (Something we probably should have expected in a place referred to as “Ski Alley”). However, it was the first time we had been to the park, and the first time my boyfriend, Drew, had been kayaking at all.
For some people kayaking is simple. When I was just a kid, my Dad traded some electric work for an ocean kayak and homemade a dolly so it could easily be pulled down to the water. Then he taught me, my brother and the neighborhood kids the basics – how to paddle, back paddle, turn, and stop the kayak when it was in motion. After the short lesson, we were off.
So when I bought a kayak as a birthday present for Drew, I really didn’t feel the need to explain the mechanics for something that I perceived as so simple. However, with him being from Indianapolis, a city where the only outdoor activity available is drinking beer at a sports event, I probably should have taken the time to show him a thing or two.
We arrived at Stump Pass Beach Park around 1 p.m. on a Friday and had to wait for one of 40 parking places. Rangers were onsite, directing traffic so that cars couldn’t steal spots from one another only form a line in an orderly first-come-first serve fashion.
I couldn’t imagine trying to park back in the 1970s when parking spots were as rare as some of the endangered wildlife living in the beach habitat – there were only four spaces. The state has owned the 245-acre property, which consists of three islands and protected channels between them, since 1971, back then it was “unofficially” open to the public. The park, as it is today, was opened in August 2000. For $3, patrons gain access the parking lot, restroom facilities, showers, picnic pavilion and boardwalks.
|Drew sits on the beach at Stump Pass Beach Park and overlooks "Ski Alley."
We were lucky enough to get a spot right in front of the kayak launch. After putting in, we decided to travel upwind so the trip back would be nice and easy. I was on my paddleboard, and Drew on his Cobra Touring kayak, which we had purchased on Craigslist.
At first, paddling upwind was a little difficult in the 15 knot gusts, but after an hour or so, the wind dwindled and we were able to leisurely paddle south toward the mouth of the channel.
The park is beautiful. Nearly a mile of coastline remains untouched. We saw a mother osprey feeding her babies in a massive nest during our trip, but there are West Indian manatees, gopher tortoises, snowy egrets, least terns, and frigatebirds that also call the area home.
At the half way mark we passed a family fishing from shore and I had to stop myself from running over a man’s line. He chuckled when his children worried that he would hook me.
“That would be one big catch,” he joked.
After we finally reached the end of the channel where the party was happening, we turned around and came back, expecting the wind to guide us home. However, the current was going the opposite direction and on more than one occasion Drew drifted with the tides out into the middle of the channel, or impending doom, since boats on plane dominated the deep passage as they pulled tubes and water skiers behind them.
“Get out of the channel!” I yelled. “It’s dangerous! Back paddle, turn the kayak around! Do something!”
|We ended the day at Sharky's on The Pier at Venice Beach.
“I don’t know how!” he called back.
“Why didn’t I go over the basics?” I asked myself, but then a dolphin that surfaced within three feet of my paddleboard distracted me. “Life is beautiful,” I thought.
Then I remembered I had to go rescue my boyfriend who was drifting in the way of an oncoming ski boat. He finally was able to get his rowing under control and we were back on track again.
After we had paddled about half way back, I suddenly lost control of my board. No matter how hard I rowed, I couldn’t seem to make any headway. I got nervous, thinking I’d wandered into a mysterious pocket of current that would ultimately carry me out to sea.
But then I heard, “Wow Dad, you got a big one.”
He sure did.
The same family I’d passed on the way in actually hooked me. To the father’s disappointment, I informed him that he didn’t have a giant snook, but instead a paddle boarder. I unhooked myself and travelled on.
The day was almost over after we loaded up the kayaks and left Englewood Beach. We decided to travel over get cocktail Sharky’s on The Pier, a beachfront restaurant and tiki bar on Venice Beach.
On the way there, a landmark spoiled our jovial mood. We passed Venice Municipal Airport, the place where 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta and fellow terrorist Marwan al-Shehhi, who each piloted a hijacked jetliner into the World Trade Center, learned to fly. While Huffman Aviation, the flight school they attended, closed six months after the attacks, the airport itself was a solemn reminder of the tragic event.
It was very obviously snowbird season when we arrived at Sharky’s. Apparently everyone in the tri-county area had the same idea as we did. The hostess predicted a 90-minute wait.
“The sunset will be over,” we said, disappointed we couldn’t end our adventure on a romantic note.
But there was a loophole in the seating process. Any table with a black basket was first-come-first-serve. I circulated the dining deck like a vulture while Drew stood in line for drinks. We successfully obtained a table within minutes and watched as our day of kayaking finally came to an end. As the sun descended upon the Gulf of Mexico we couldn’t help feeling lucky. We felt lucky to be young and healthy but most of all, lucky to be in Florida.
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