Kiting With Dolphins And Stand Up Paddleboarding With Manatees – 2 Weeks On Florida’s NE Coast

Thilde and I were ready for vacation in early October until her car got hit in Syracuse. After months of hell fighting with the insurance company, we finally got a settlement and got her RAV4 fixed and hit the road. By the time we were able to leave it was December so we decided to drive down to Florida since Thilde had never been there and we knew it would be warm. We ended up having one of my best trips yet and found lots of great spots to SUP, hike, bike and kite at. It was a trip to remember and gave me a new appreciation for our southern flat land state.

We were able to drive the sprinter for miles on the beach which made the kiting really nice.
We were able to drive the Sprinter for miles on the beach which made the kiting really nice. The sand control was a nightmare.

The first night driving south I woke up in the morning and it was only 22 degrees. Driving down the coast it stayed incredibly cold all the way till we hit Florida. We ended up taking 81 down to 77 which was a much better southern route than trying to go through DC. Although it takes about 30 minutes longer to go that way, there is a lot less traffic than 95 and there is always massive delays around DC unless you are driving in the middle of the night. The 81 path was also far more scenic and ends up dumping you back at I95 right around Savannah.

We started out at Tomoka State park which had hot showers and some nice paddleboarding along the barrier islands. I particularly like the narrow channels as that was where many of the larger herons and cranes seemed to congregate.

I spent the next day kiting at ‘Ormond by the Sea’ which had a very nice parking area on the North side of town. We spent the entire 2 weeks stealth camping wherever we could and we had an amazing breakfast at a tiny diner across the street. They served up a mean blue crab eggs Benedict which was probably a few thousand calories apiece. The kiting was insane with 8-12 foot break. I tried riding in the waves but was on my 15-meter speed 3 and kept getting my ass kicked. After a few minutes, I ended up riding out past the break for about 5 hours and had a great time. The waves were great, but my equipment is much more suited for flat water and lighter winds. We headed over to the south side of Ponce inlet which had a large break wall which made for much flatter riding.

Thilde showing off some very nice bark in the way that only she can.

We spent the day looking around Daytona Beach which boasts one of the largest homeless population in the US. Thilde wanted to look into possibly shooting some film but frankly it was so depressing that we quickly left for the much more upbeat New Symrna Beach. For $10 they let you drive your car along a 5 mile stretch of beach and we found the North end of the beach to be quite pleasant to bike and to kite at.

There were large groups of dolphins feeding on the fish that flowed freely out of the inlet. They seemed remarkably unfazed by my kiting and I was able to get within about 10 feet of them without having them run away. It was amazing to watch them breach the surface and to be so close to these amazing mammals in the wild. The waves were insanely large, but the break wall absorbed most of it. I rode my smaller kites for several days and was able to crank upwind and jump till I was so sore I couldn’t walk. The waves were so large (over 10′) that they crashed over the break wall and made swell on the other side while the spray would go everywhere and blow downwind into my path. It was pretty surreal.

It was a jungle at every state park we went to.
It was a tropical paradise at every state park we went to. No problem finding a hot shower either.

We spent several days gorging ourselves on Lobster Bisque from the Heavenly Cafe and then later the Lobster Pizza which was by a far margin the best Pizza I had ever eaten. It cost about $25 but you get $5 off if you sign up for their email promo list. There was literally a whole lobster on the pizza and then they also give you a little cup of Lobster Bisque to dip your thin crust pizza in. It was heavenly.

We drove down to Kissamee which also has a large homeless population, but Thilde was too fatigued to photograph. We spent the morning walking along the lakefront park then headed to the Manatee Springs reserve where the water was crystal clear and there were over 100 manatees for our viewing pleasure. They allow you to launch your SUP or rent a canoe and paddle right up to place where they were chilling out. Thilde had never seen a manatee and she felt like they were very spiritual peaceful creatures. I was inclined to agree, it is easy to understand why they get so much conservation attention as they are incredibly cute and look like giant floating alien creatures.

Across from the main river and down a bit we found a small inlet that was barely 15 feet wide. We paddle boarded down this inlet for a very long ways and it was very magical. The swamp with the cypress trees and their knees made me feel very much like I was in some kind of Lord Of The Rings swamp. There were giant hedges of leaves that looked like creatures that had been magically frozen in place and covered with leaves. It was completely surreal.

We spent hours cycling on the beaches of Florida.

The last night we spent in New Symrna someone stole my wetsuit & Thilde’s swimsuit off the windshield of the sprinter. At first we were flabbergasted that someone would take a ratty wetsuit that had been used as an adult male diaper for so many years, then I was kind of sad that someone was so desperate that they felt the need to take my wetsuit. We ended up driving home with a strange feeling of uneasiness that anyone would do such a strange thing.

Florida’s State parks were some of the best in the country, we never felt unwelcome or harassed even though we were clearly vagrants. The beaches were amazing and the restaurants we visited were all exceptionally tasty. Although the drive was long, it was well worth the trip for a little bit of sun to help us through the long Ithaca winter.

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