Breathtaking Blast: Free Diving
Learning to hold your breath is the cornerstone of free diving, where you dive sans equipment like a snorkel or scuba gear. In the short film Rebirth, French free diving champion Guillaume Néry reflects on the positive benefits of breath-holding. “When we stop breathing, whether it’s for 10 seconds or 7 minutes, we stop thinking and get in harmony with ourselves,” he says. “It’s a feeling of rebirth.”
At Florida Freedivers in North Palm Beach, first-level students learn to suspend their breathing safely and correctly. “We have a technique designed to lower your heart rate, saturate your bloodstream with oxygen, and remove CO2,” says training director Matt Pasa. “We usually get a two- to three-minute breath hold from people just starting out.” Once students have mastered skills like kicking in a pool, they practice diving with a rope in open water approximately two miles from shore. There are many free diving sites around Palm Beach and Martin counties—including Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, where many species of oceanic fish gather to spawn, and Cato’s Bridge in Tequesta, an area that attracts vibrant sea life ranging from arrow crabs to giant French angelfish.
Adrenaline Rush: Cable Wakeboarding
Before the introduction of overhead cable ski systems, you needed access to a motorboat to wakeboard. Thanks to national cable parks like Shark Wake Park 561 in West Palm Beach, the extreme water sport is easily accessible to the masses. Sprawled across the northwestern end of Okeeheelee Park, the nearly 34-acre water park owned by Greg Norman Jr. is home to two high-tech cable-towing systems with ropes that pull riders around a lake and features ramps and rails for practicing jumps and stunts. Those new to wakeboarding are encouraged to learn to kneelboard first, which is a similar tow sport where riders kneel on a board instead of stand. Once you’ve successfully completed the course on a kneelboard, you will be taught wakeboarding essentials like dock starting, making turns, and navigating between buoys. Private and group lessons are available for every ability, as well as personalized coaching for sharpening your skills or learning new tricks.
Team Play: Dragon Boat Racing
Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, the adrenaline-fueled sport of dragon boat racing is carried out in large, ceremonial canoes carrying a steersperson and 20 oarsmen paddling in sync with a drum. The team that completes the distance in the shortest time takes home the title, prizes, and most importantly, bragging rights. Will Murphy, who captains the Blazing Paddles (pictured here), a coed team with bases in Tequesta and Hollywood, says the sport is very accessiable because races are typically held in sheltered water and cover short, 500-meter distances. Prior experience is not necessary to join the team. “Most of our teammates came to us with no paddling background,” says Murphy.
“Motivation and being coachable are what’s important.” Training sessions are held at several locations across South Florida, including Tanah Keeta Scout Reservation in Jupiter on Sundays. Following an orientation, new members learn commands and paddling techniques on land before participating in boat drills along the Loxahatchee River.
Explorer’s Delight: Cave Diving
The ultimate thrill seeker’s sport, cave diving provides passage to some of the most inaccessible sites on Earth—and Florida ranks high on a short list of cave diving havens. Nestled along the Santa Fe River about two hours north of Orlando, Ginnie Springs has been dubbed the world’s top freshwater dive. The site’s Devil’s Spring System comprises three springs including Devil Spring, with 30,000-feet of complex passages. About an hour south of there is the state’s largest freshwater cavern, the Blue Grotto in Williston. A guided rope system leads divers to a 50-foot demarcation; more advanced divers can go to depths of 100 feet. Make a pit stop at the air bell, a submerged chamber with compressed air that allows divers to talk or take a breather—and be sure to wave hello to the grotto’s resident turtle, Virgil. Also in Williston is Devil’s Den, an ancient spring that dates back to 75,000 B.C., where remains of prehistoric man and extinct animals have been discovered. In Volusia County, Blue Spring State Park features a maze of cave passages stretching beneath a first-magnitude spring and manatee refuge. And Peacock Springs in Live Oaks is ideal for divers with stamina; it boasts one of the longest underwater cave systems in the country and nearly 33,000 feet of surveyed passages sheltering American eel and other aquatic life. Keep in mind that cave diving can be dangerous and requires certification to go beyond designated novice areas.
High-Flying Fun: Kitesurfing
Harnessing the wind with a large, steerable kite connected to your waist while your feet are strapped to a board is the art of kitesurfing (or kiteboarding). When wind speeds and water conditions are favorable, kiters can travel at incredibly fast gaits, soar high in the air, and execute flips, spins, and other stunts. The sport also serves as a high-intensity workout, increasing endorphins and releasing stress. When Jupiter resident Damien LeRoy first learned to kitesurf in 1998, the extreme sport was in its infancy. “I had to figure it out on my own because it was dangerous and no one knew how to teach it back then,” recalls LeRoy (pictured here). “You had to learn by trial and error, which for me was more error than trial.” Ultimately, his dedication paid off, and he went on to win top titles including Kite Slalom World Champion and Red Bull King of the Air. His talents have even been splashed across the silver screen: In the opening scene of Baywatch starring Dwayne Johnson, LeRoy nailed a kiting stunt that had landed the previous stuntman in the hospital. In his spare time, the 42-year-old enjoys performing big air tricks at Juno Kite Beach and creating videos with colleague Gwen Le Tutour for their 20,000-plus YouTube subscribers (more about that on page 48). Lessons to master fundamentals like launching and landing a kite and determining wind direction are offered locally at New Wave Kiteboarding in Stuart and Jupiter Kiteboarding.
Electrified Ride: Efoiling
Imagine a board sport that requires neither wind nor waves—one that, instead of gliding over water, you levitate above it. Welcome to eFoiling, the electrified version of hydrofoiling. While these two activities share similar components, eFoiling incorporates a battery pack, motor, and wing built into the hydrofoil so that waves become unnecessary. It also means the water sport is ideal on calm seas and lakes. Jupiter resident Steven Reep (pictured here) first spotted an eFoil while fishing with a friend near Guanabanas in early 2021. “There were two guys playing around on their [eFoils], and I asked if I could try one out,” he says. “After eating a lot of salt water, I fell in love with it.” A year later,
he launched Jupiter’s Spot and now teaches others to love the sport too, holding lessons at both the Jupiter Pointe Marina and private residences. Once students are comfortable eFoiling, Reep spins them around the Jupiter Lighthouse or up to Tequesta, where dolphin sightings are common. In Stuart, Next Level Watersports offers two-hour eFoil lessons on Hutchinson Island as well as personalized packages for groups of up to 18 people who want to dedicate a day to eFoiling, tubing, and wakeboarding.
History Tour: Wreck Diving
Encrusted in colorful coral and providing a haven for a variety of fish species, shipwrecks grant a rare opportunity to witness the past frozen in time. Named after the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet that was nearly obliterated by a hurricane between Sebastian and Fort Pierce, the Treasure Coast now serves as a wreck diving mecca. For an easy shore-to-ship dive, head to Hutchinson Island, where the Urca De Lima rests 200 yards off Pepper Park Beach in 15-foot depths. A vessel that sailed with the 1715 Treasure Fleet, she became Florida’s first underwater archaeological preserve in 1987 (her anchor and cannons are on display at Fort Pierce City Hall). Next try the Corridor Wreck Trek. Located just north of the Palm Beach Inlet, this underwater site showcases five sequential wrecks including the Mizpah, a 185-foot, Greek luxury liner. If you don’t mind a short road trip, head up to Pensacola, where you’ll find the world’s largest artificial reef moored 22 miles offshore. Sunk in 2004 as part of a naval program to recycle decommissioned ships for marine benefits, the USS Oriskany, an 888-foot U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, still possesses her radar and navigation equipment. Or head south to the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, which features nine shipwrecks including the Eagle, a 287-foot freighter that attracts bull sharks and elusive sawfish. Before signing up for a dive, be sure to check the experience requirements. Local charters like Stuart Scuba and Scuba Works in Jupiter require nitrox certification and advanced diver certification.
Winging It: Wing Foiling
Avid winger Gwen Le Tutour and champion kitesurfer Damien LeRoy are the duo behind a mega-popular YouTube channel that offers educational videos on wing foiling and other water sports. Currently, youtube.com/damienleroyyoutube boasts more than 21,000 subscribers. “It’s probably the biggest YouTube channel in the wing foiling industry,” says Le Tutour (pictured here). “When we started, winging was exploding, and a lot of people were trying to learn the sport. But because it was so new, there weren’t many resources.” The Jensen Beach resident has even passed on his passion to his sister-in-law Kelly Adams, owner of Bunkhouse Coffee Bar in Jensen Beach. A combination of prone foiling and windsurfing, wing foiling (or “winging”) uses a handheld, inflatable wing to create enough momentum to push a foil board with a separate wing beneath it. Once it reaches a certain number of knots, the foil’s wing elevates the board above the water. Compared to some water sports, winging is relatively simple to become proficient at and mixes in a low-impact workout that strengthens your buns and back. Another advantage is you can sail in light winds and when waves are soft. Le Tutour says Jupiter’s beaches are great for winging, but warns: “It’s the ocean, so you’re going to get some waves.” He suggests Stuart Causeway Park for beginners as the water is calmer. Jupiter Kiteboarding and Next Level Watersports offer winging lessons in Jupiter and Stuart, which include equipment, incidentals, and boat and Jet Ski support.
Nighttime Encounters: Blackwater Drift Diving
Ever wonder what creatures swim up from the ocean floor at night to feed? You’ll certainly find out on a blackwater drift dive! Lucky for you, the Gulf Stream, a northward-pushing current running 40 to 50 miles wide off the coast of South Florida, is home to some of the best blackwater diving in the world. Pura Vida Divers in Singer Island offers this unique experience, which is essentially scuba diving at night in epipelagic environments. In the company of a divemaster, participants drift above 800-foot depths with an illuminated rig that serves as a visual reference. LED lights and glow sticks attached to the floating apparatus cut through the darkness and attract all forms of curious and rarely seen aquatic life including octopus larvae, fluorescent eels, and squid (pictured at right). Back on the boat, divers can share their experiences and identify the spectacular underwater wildlife they witnessed in a “creature ID book.” Because of the dive’s complexity, PADI Advanced Open Water or Night Diver certification is required.
Pet Appeal: SUP With Your Pup
From crushing calories to diminishing stress, stand-up paddleboarding provides a low-impact workout with body and brain-nourishing benefits. SUPing is even more fun when Fido is planted at your feet—like Hobe Sound resident Kim Shae Barnes and her dog Ella, pictured here on the Indian River near Sewall’s Point. Rent a board and paddle around on your own or sign up for lessons with a seasoned pro. Salty Dog Paddle, a volunteer-staffed surf and SUP nonprofit that aids injured dogs and marine life, offers board rentals and private eco-excursions around Jupiter Island. Certified instructors with canine-handling training conduct lessons that launch from Coral Cove and the Harbourside Place Marina. Before entering the water, all dogs receive balance training and are fitted with canine life jackets with coiled leashes attached to the paddleboard. Samantha Dishman, Salty Dog Paddle’s national development director, recommends renting a paddleboard before the lesson and having your pup practice sitting and lying on it at home to get used to the board. Salty Dog also offers kayaking lessons with your furry friend and rents doggy surfboards too.