Exploring the Mangrove Islands

Fred Howard Park is a favorite of mine to paddleboard from.  There are a lot of different areas to explore depending on which direction you decide to go in.  Last weekend we decided to take off straight out and up towards a bunch of mangrove islands that we couldn’t see from where we were but knew where there thanks to Google maps.

We basically paddled from the dinosaur’s hand to right over his head.

Mangrove islands are a lot of fun to paddle around because they are full of birds, schools of fish, and usually quite a few rays as well.

The one thing they don’t often have is a place to stop and walk around.  Mangroves tend to make a place a bit unfriendly to walk.  Those are basically sharp sticks growing up all over the open ground.  Even if it wasn’t horrible karma to go through there breaking everything, ouch.  Beautiful though.

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As a result I was kind of excited (like a 5 year old is kind of excited to see a bunny) when I saw this:

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Those are real, actual not mangrove trees towering over the mangroves.  Definitely worth investigating. We paddled almost all the way around the island before finding a small beach. And some fellow paddlers.

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There was a nice sized clearing of sand and even a patio table and old grill someone had brought in.  Of course there was also the mandatory ‘people have partied here and left their shit behind’ trash but it seems that is everywhere, regardless of how remote a place may seem.  There was even a used-to-be-nice huge tent tangled in the trees.  I get the feeling that wasn’t put there on purpose.

The people we ran into were pretty cool and said there’s another island close by that someone had actually built a bar on.  Sounds like a place we’ll have to find!

 

 

Reload – 1 on 1 Firearms Instruction

When I was in my teens and early twenties I used to go target shooting with friends out in the desert.  We shot pop cans off rocks and that sort of thing. The gun was always handed to me loaded and then handed back after I was done.The only mention I remember about safety was to keep the butt of the rifle snug against your shoulder so you didn’t end up with a huge bruise from the recoil.

Recently my younger son  and I have toyed with the idea of going to a range and shooting (no deserts or wide open spaces in Florida!) but to be honest I was a little nervous about the idea as neither of us has a clue and so made the parental call that we would, but we both had to take a basic class first. And then we just sort of talked about it on random occasions for about a year.

Recently a new range opened in Tarpon Springs, Reload Quality Indoor Shooting Range so we decided to check it out.The place already has a ton of reviews, most of them outstanding.

They only offer a couple of types if classes right now because they are so new. One is the 1 on 1 firearms instruction which sounded perfect so we went ahead and signed up. I’ve never been to a gun range so I had no idea what to expect, except it would probably be loud.

Walking into ReLoad was kind of like walking into a big name running store.  It’s huge, clean, and full of aisles of things that you probably know all about if you’re into that kind of thing, but are otherwise interesting and totally worth looking at even if you know you don’t need any of this stuff.  They even have a big section of conceal carry purses.  I didn’t even know that was a thing. Wine purses on the other hand…

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Anyways we signed the wavers on line and since we were a little early we sat at one of the the tables by the food place.  Yes, they have food.  It isn’t completely set up yet but the guy there said will be basically an extension of Shlomo’s Gourmet Subs and Deli in there. They’ll even have falafel sandwiches.  Who would have thought the time would come when I could go target shooting and have a great vegetarian meal under the same roof? I was already impressed before the class even started.

So the class starts in the training room with the instructor telling you the basic safety things to know, how to hold the gun, and answering any questions you have.  This part was fairly short and sweet, but there was no rushing and you had plenty of time to ask questions and make sure you understood how to hold the gun and such.  Which was actually a bit more step by step than I expected.

And you know what?  The one thing I thought I knew was wrong, because that place is quiet as can be.

Then on to the range.

Not quite so quiet, but still completely not intimidating. We did all jump at the first shot, but then it was just fun.  The instructor, Marci (I think), was amazing and stood next to us while we took turns shooting giving us tips and telling us how to do each step (I can totally load, and ReLoad a gun now) without once making myself or my son feel like we knew as little as we knew.  That’s pretty dang close to magic when you’re instructing a 14 year old.  Just saying.

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So anyways, if you are near Tarpon Springs and have an interest in learning to shoot but are maybe a little intimidated, this is the place to go.  Check out their 1 on 1 classes, I really think they are a great idea for anyone new to the sport.  Is shooting a sport?  Maybe, my arms did get tired by the end of the night so…

 

 

 

 

 

Paddleboarding… with Sharks (Finally!)

I’ve been paddleboarding for a few years now, and I’ve seen lots of really cool things. Dolphins, sting rays, more kinds of crabs then I care to count, about a billion kinds of fish and all kinds of other interesting creatures.

The one thing I have never seen while paddleboarding was a shark. But it seems I’ve finally found the secret. I was told if I go to  Fred Howard Park in time to be on the water at sunrise the chances of seeing sharks, specifically hammerhead sharks, would be pretty good.  So the last couple of Saturdays that’s exactly where I’ve been. And success!

The last two Saturday mornings the water has been perfect.  Smooth as glass. Between the height you get from standing on the board and the fact that there is no chop to hide any movement it’s the best chance for seeing anything that’s out there.

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Almost as soon as we were on the water I saw a dolphin swimming around who went surprisingly close to shore which was pretty cool.  Of course it may have been better if we had actually been closer to the shore. Only manatees can beat dolphins for the cool factor. And that’s just because manatees will come right up to you on occasion.

Not very long after that we saw what I at first thought was a bunch of dolphins playing.  The water was splashing like crazy and the occasional grey body and fin could be spotted from where we were paddling. I saw one fin separate from the rest in our direction though, and it was very steady, not moving up and down like a dolphin’s tends to do. The shape of the fin also was telling – this was not a dolphin. Which lead me to the conclusion that neither were the other animals splashing around because the single shark kept circling back to them.

I have to admit that as much as I’ve been wanting to see a shark  I had absolutely no desire to paddle closer to them. I don’t know if they were doing the ‘feeding frenzy’ thing,  playing (do sharks play?) or something entirely different but regardless of what they were doing, no.  I stayed were I was and considered myself brave for doing so.  Brave and three year old excited, it was pretty neat in my humble opinion.

The one bad thing to come from this? I realized just how bad my little point and click camera is.  I tried taking video of them, but the few seconds I was actually pointed in the right direction all you could see was that something was really churning up the water.  So I am now on the hunt for a waterproof camera with a lot of zoom and a viewer that I can see even in the sun.  Because next time I want to be ready!

I also saw a couple of big turtles which I would have loved to get a decent picture of. I’m actually pretty OK with the simple fact that I get to see things like that, but it would be fun to share the pictures if I had them. Here’s a few that I did take.

Paddleboarding 8_22_15Any other paddleboarders or kayakers out there?  What sort of things have you seen when out on the water? Do you ever feel like no one is ever going to believe what you saw if you don’t get a picture of it?  I don’t know why but I always kind of think that. Of course I also think if I go out with a really good camera I won’t see as many animals. Superstitious much? Why yes.