Photos courtesy of Upper Tampa Bay Paddlesports

Google “SUP in Tampa, Florida,” and prepare for your screen to light up like a hot air balloon festival. Those little red marker-thingies indicating SUP shops and paddle outfitters pop up all over the map like decorations at a five-year-old's birthday party.

As with a popular adage in real estate, the reason is location, location, location.

Located on Tampa Bay along Florida's Gulf Coast, Tampa is blessed with countless beachfronts to launch a board. Throw in estuaries, slow-moving rivers, lakes and more—including 165 parks and beaches covering 2,286 acres within city limits, and 42 more in surrounding suburbs covering 70,000 acres—and all of a sudden a city known for Busch Gardens becomes a haven for standup paddleboards. The city even harbors Weedon Island Preserve, a 3,000-acre wildlife refuge with a well-marked four-mile water trail.

Predominant SUP Discipline: For flatwater touring, Tampa is hard to top. There’s ocean, river and lake touring options all within proximity, and while you may need to drive across the Panhandle to SUP surf, it’s only a two-hour drive to the Atlantic coast.

Local Scene: You can barely swing your paddle without hitting a paddling club or outfitter in the Tampa area, each hosting paddle outings, pot-lucks, parties and more. Case in point: Retailer and outfitter WhatSUP Paddlesports hosts free paddle socials every other Thursday throughout the summer in Hula Bay, with drinks and food afterward. “The sup community is thriving in the Tampa area with lots of places to paddle and explore, where we get to see tons of wildlife from the board like manatees, dolphins, rays but then get to enjoy a different scenery like paddling through Downtown Tampa,” says WhatSUP owner Tessa Blosser. “It’s also a great location for some amazing paddle events like Paddle4Autism and Paddle for Peace which are great ways for everyone to get on the water and enjoy paddleboarding.” Adds Good Vibes SUP owner Yen Loyola: "The sup vibe here is amazing. In the past it's been pretty scattered, but everyone is starting to come together more and more now. You see paddlers out all the time."

Best Seasons: Locals paddle year-round, but the water gets a little chilly from November through February.

TOP PLACES TO PADDLE

Little Manatee River: This 40-mile river east of Tampa Bay twists and turns before widening and becoming brackish near the bay, with great fishing and wildlife. Bonus: a designated 10-mile stretch that’s great for beginners.

Myakka River: To paddle with alligators, head to this 60-mile-long river. Hint: Get a permit from the ranger if you go farther south than State Road 72. Entrance to Myakka River State Park costs $6 per vehicle, and camping is $26 per night not including tax and reservation fees.

Withlacoochee/Rainbow Rivers: Gin-clear with temps in the mid-70s, the Rainbow River, which empties into the Withlacoochee River 6 miles from the springs, is made for sups—especially birdwatching boarders as it teems with kingfishers, kites, eagles and more.

Chassahowitzka River: The “Chaz” offers a splendid paddle through the Citrus County wilderness, surrounded by sawgrass and cypress trees. Bonus: warm water year-round and and freshwater springs for swimming.

Weedon Island Preserve: The 4-mile South Paddling Trail lets you sup in mangroves, and with crabs and shrimp in seagrass beds. Note: Check the tides to make sure they're high enough to paddle the whole trail.

TOP EVENTS/RACES

The Florida Cup: Coming up May 19, this paddle race is held on Madeira Beach and includes 7- and 3-mile courses as well as a 1-mile race for kids. It's one of the most popular SUP races in the state. Info available at paddleguru.com.

The Shark Bite Challenge & Paddlefest: Held in mid-April every year for the past 15 years, this event includes divisions for paddlesports ranging from SUP to outrigger canoes, regularly drawing more than 500 paddlers to Honeymoon Island State Park in nearby Dunedin, Florida. It's one of the country’s largest and most celebrated paddling festivals, offering a weekend of clinics, races, parties, fishing tournaments, games, demos, and family fun. Info available at sharkbitechallenge.com

PADDLING CLUBS

The Invictus Paddling Club – Tampa Dragon Boat & SUP Club offers group paddles outings and social gatherings, including the annual Gaparilla SUP Invasion held every Cinco del Mayo.

 Tampa Bay Paddling Club: The Tampa Bay Paddling Club is organized to get more paddlers from the Tampa Bay community on the water both for leisure and sport through the promotion or recreational and competitive paddling events.

PADDLING OUTFITTERS/SCHOOLS

Tampa Bay SUP: www.tampabaysup.com // (813) 784-5822

WhatSUP Paddlesports: www.whatsuppaddlesports.com // (813) 999-6414

Urban Kai: www.urbankai.com // (813) 598-1634

Good Vibes SUP: www,goodvibessup.com // (813)-786-2163

C-Ride SUP: www.c-ride.com; (813) 447-0600

Upper Tampa Bay Paddlesports: www.uppertampabaypaddlesports.com // (727) 643-9885

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