I simply could not turn down the invitation to experience stand up paddleboarding for the first time. And it turns out, I could not have found a better host and instructor than East Coast Paddle. Besides the awesome opportunity to stand up paddleboard for the first time, this trip allowed me to revisit one of my favorite Central Florida beaches. New Smyrna Beach is a little quieter, and much less tacky, than some of the neighboring beaches. Though I thoroughly enjoy Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, their well known names make them highly visited and mostly very commercial. New Smyrna of course has its share of tacky gift shops and crowded spots, but it is much easier to find quieter, more authentic spaces.
After driving down I-4 East, we exited onto FL 44. This drive is somewhat unique in that the surrounding pine trees, fairgrounds, and cattle farms give no indication that the beach and the famous A1A are just a few miles away. Soon we crossed the south causeway bridge and the obligatory sigh that fills my chest anytime I cross an intercoastal waterway escaped my lips. We continued on A1A with the bustling beach to our left and lovely homes lining the intercoastal on our right. We nearly came to the dead end that leads to a gorgeous state park. Just before the road ends is Pompano Ave, home to JB’s Fish Camp and the meeting place for our tour with East Coast Paddle.
Our Florida stand up paddleboarding adventure began with a walk on the dock to meet Tim and Cheryl Baker, owners of East Coast Paddle. Two brown pelicans sat on the dock beside us and watched as introductions were made and we boarded the Bakers’ boat. A pair of manatees nibbled on vegetation right next to us as we left JB’s Fish Camp and made our way into the protected estuary.
Cheryl stood at the front of the boat as she shared her passion for this beautiful Florida coastline. She explained the history of the protected state park that came into existence because of the NASA space program. We shared in our sadness for the loss of the Space Shuttle program. It’s been a few years since the program ended, but anyone who lived in Central Florida during its amazing run still hasn’t healed completely now that it is over.
Tim captained the boat and took us upwind. He found a quiet spot near the shore, the boat slowed, and Cheryl tossed out the anchor. Once the anchor was taunt, Tim gave an in-depth paddleboarding lesson and unloaded the boards one by one. I made a joke, stating that whatever the record was for falling off the board the most I would be sure to break it today. Tim immediately explained that East Coast Paddle has their own factory where they build their own boards, which are custom made for stability.
One by one, we were lead to the front of the boat where Tim sat down next to us, laid the board on the water, and patiently explained how to mount the board. We started off on our knees, getting comfortable with the board, the water, and the paddle. Cheryl watched us and directed us to her. It was very systematic. Once we were comfortable, Cheryl instructed us on how to rise from our knees and stand on the board. Admittedly, I was nervous, envisioning that this would be the moment that I’d wobble and topple over into the salty sea water. By following Cheryl’s lead, there was no such splashdown and I stood proud on the paddleboard.
My stepson easily outshined us all. He took to the paddleboard with ease. Once we had all made it unto the water, Tim snapped a few pictures and slowly took the boat out into the water. Cheryl led us along the shore, checking our paddle techniques and patiently offering corrections as needed. The feeling of freedom washed over me. I felt connected to Florida’s beauty. Within moments our attention turned to a baby manatee making its way along the shore towards us. It gracefully moved toward me, a mere five feet away.
We paddled along the shore, among a multitude of manatees, rows of oyster beds, and a small sampling of stingrays. As a Native Floridian, my heart filled with pride. This is my home. We hugged the shore and paddled with the wind at our backs. Along the way, visitors to the state park waved and snapped pictures of our small paddleboarding group. It hit me that not only was I enjoying the scenery, I had become part of it. Our proud stature on the paddleboards as we glided atop the water added to the atmosphere.
After an hour and a half of paddling back to where our adventure began, I was sad that I now had to leave the most stable thing on which I have ever placed my feet. Not once did I fall over! Even, when I occasionally kneeled down onto the board to take a few sips from the bottled water that East Coast Paddle provided to us and give my arms a little rest, I did so with grace. East Coast Paddle’s boards are made with love and care right here in Florida. The quality and stability shows.
I am by no means athletic. The last time I canoed or kayaked I wasn’t old enough to drive. And yet, I found paddleboarding to be extremely easy and relaxing. I could not have asked for a better board and better hosts. Tim and Cheryl are friendly, patient, and dedicated. Their boards are high quality and made in the USA. Plus, our boat assisted tour included a ton of free HD photos taken by Tim and Cheryl.
Our tour began at 10am, giving us the opportunity to get New Smyrna Beach before it got too crowded. We ended around noon, the perfect time to grab lunch at JB’s Fish Camp or head out to one of the many other beachside restaurants and reminiscence on our adventure. If you are visiting Orlando or Central Florida, you must make some time to visit Florida’s natural beauty and the most fun way to do it is by paddleboarding. And if you are lucky enough to live here, you have no excuse! Book a tour or rent a board from East Coast Paddle so you can fall in love with Florida all over again.
There is no doubt in my mind that I will be reaching out to East Coast Paddle to head out onto the water with them again and bring along a few others to enjoy this Florida paddleboarding experience.
East Coast Paddle
859 Pompano Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169
Information and Booking
- Expedition paddleboarder ready to “make the turn” toward east coast (tcpalm.com)
- Recreational and Fitness Benefits of Paddleboarding (inflatablesup.wordpress.com)
- Jet Away to Jetty Park (thisfloridalife.com)