A trip to the Florida Keys this summer means a terrific choice of sea-based experiences for nature lovers, adventurers, and those seeking saltwater serenity. That’s because you can explore the waters surrounding the islands at your own pace, according to your own energy level.
For example, consider paddleboarding. Along with other “unplugged” watersports activities (think kayaking or snorkeling), the relatively simple and straightforward pastime of paddleboarding appeals to people from can’t-sit-still teens to seniors looking for new ways to stay active.
Paddleboarding experiences offer mind and body relaxation, and a peaceful way to enjoy a Keys sunset. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Getting “on board” is easy, because board sales and rentals are offered by watersports and outdoor outfitters throughout the Keys — and they’re also among the amenities at a number of resorts.
The warm, clear, calm waters (typical of summer months in the Keys) allow for easy exploration of the intriguing natural environment. And whether you set a competitive or lazy pace, there’s something really satisfying about gliding through the water under your own power.
Some outdoor adventure companies have added a twist to standup paddling or paddleboarding — by offering paddleboard yoga classes that combine mind and body relaxation with exercise and Keys eco-enjoyment. Beginners through experienced yoga practitioners can participate (and it’s wonderfully fun!).
Classes are generally divided between paddling time, spotting sea life and wading birds, and yoga practice. Participants usually paddle out to the calm backcountry waters and then begin yoga while connecting with nature in a tranquil mangrove setting.
Like mat yoga, the experience is designed to still the mind and increase flexibility and strength through chanting, breathwork and seated and standing postures — all using the anchored paddleboard as a “mat.”
For those ready to take the sport to the next level, the Keys are home to some notable paddling events. Enthusiasts are challenged to circumnavigate the continental United States’ southernmost island (yes, the entire island!) during the 12-mile Key West Paddle Classic, taking place this year in late September. And each July, the Hemingway 5k Sunset Run/Walk and Paddleboard Race tasks competitors with paddling a 3-mile ocean course.
An eager snorkeler plunges into the Keys’ saltwater world. (Photo by Amy Higgs)
Fishing fans too can enjoy an unplugged on-the-water experience by casting off for a kayak fishing excursion. Kayaking around the spectacular mangrove islands of the Keys has become a favorite recreation for many people — but intrepid anglers have found kayak fishing is a great way to sneak up on skittish bonefish on the flats, or wary redfish and snook under the mangroves.
Of course kayak rentals are available throughout the Keys, and it’s also possible to book guided kayak fishing trips.
Featuring vivid coral reefs teeming with exotic sea creatures, the Florida Keys attract countless snorkel and scuba aficionados each year who can’t wait to get into the water and explore — even as first-timers. And snorkeling is the perfect family activity, allowing everyone to immerse themselves in close, calm observation of the inhabitants of one of the world’s most diverse, complex and beautiful ecosystems.
Spectacular shallow reefs, located in water that’s often only 10 to 15 feet deep, are just a short boat ride from the islands. Professional snorkel charters provide (and rent) equipment along with simple instruction. Add a T-shirt and sun block to protect exposed backs, waists and legs, and you’re ready to go.
In fact, whether paddleboarding or kayak fishing or snorkeling, you only need one basic ingredient to have a memorable outdoor experience in the Florida Keys this summer: saltwater!