Local Scene: Southwest Florida

Florida is paddle deep in the SUP explosion, especially its southwest Gulf region. With warm water year-round (it might dip down into the 60s in the dead of, ahem, winter) and more of it than actual land, southwest Florida seems designed for SUP fishing, racing, touring and, occasionally, surfing. Ecologically, this corner of the Sunshine State is blessed with nothing short of everything—rivers galore, expansive bays and plenty of beaches and barrier islands. — Chad Gillis

Touring
There’s nothing quite like winding through mangrove tunnels. The tree canopy wraps around you and tidal current and sharp turns always make for interesting, often humbling paddling. Island hopping along the relatively undeveloped coast is another favorite. With bountiful rivers, hundreds of bays and lagoons and countless miles of sandy beaches, SUP touring opportunities never end. If you have time and the right tide, start on the Estero River, cruise downriver to Estero Bay (an estuary prized for fishing and wildlife) and then shoot out Big Carlos Pass to the Gulf. Hang a right at Fort Myers Beach and grab a beer at the Lani Kai. SUP fishing is also gaining local ground. A 35-inch snook can pull a fisherman 200 yards on an 11-foot cruiser. For new paddlers, plenty of protected rivers and pristine canals abound. Lee County recently opened a nice facility at Bunche Beach, located on the bayside of a large lagoon surrounded by Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Find deeper creeks and protected waters near the county parking area off John Morris Road.

Surfing
With SUP boards, surfing has actually become a practical pursuit in this unusually flat Gulf region. If you stick to shortboards here, you’ll be chasing fronts and traveling to the East Coast. A lot. A handful of winter storms and hurricane systems provide solid waves. During the winter, Arctic winds that blast across the Midwest and into the South eventually cross the Gulf of Mexico. There’s plenty of fetch to develop a nice swell. The shallow bottom tends to suck the power out of the larger offshore swells, but the reformed waves still pack a punch. The Gulf also wakes up with fat hurricanes churning offshore, and larger systems produce epic (at least to us) conditions. The real struggle is to keep the gusty onshore winds from blowing you out of the lineup. Sometimes we’ll get lucky with leftover swell in the knee- to waist-high range with little to no wind. Hickory Pass south of Fort Myers Beach is a prime pick. A few SUP guys, a couple longboarders and the rare shortboard grom is about as busy as it gets. A nice rock jetty on the island’s north end typically produces a left that can make for long rides into the pass. Sanibel Island/Captiva is home to likely the most consistent break in the region, known simply as Tween Water. Check Swellinfo.com for quick reference, though wave size is typically overstated. Try Gulfster.com for a more accurate look at west Florida surfing conditions.

After Hours
Try Fort Myers Beach for the classic Florida spring break experience. The island is littered with bars, live music, lenient hotel managers, good seafood restaurants and picturesque swimming and lounging beaches. Fort Myers Pier is the place to watch the sun set over the Gulf after a few rum-runners. Local seafood? Fisherman’s Wharf or Doc Ford’s Fort Myers Beach Rum Bar & Grill do it right. Feel like going big on the town? Lani Kai Island Resort is the place to get your drink on.

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