Wekiva Island, one of Central Florida’s most beautiful natural reserves, where paddlers can enjoy paddling on tranquil waters, fed by a natural spring. It is exactly why stand up paddling was invented. On Wekiva Island, paddlers can explore the lush surroundings, whilst spotting nature below and around the water. TotalSUP talks to Ned Johnson, owner of Paddleboard Orlando, while he enjoys his home spot from his Red Paddle Co quiver. Read on and you will be immersed in Floridian nature, and ready to book a ticket to Wekiva Island!
Hi Ned, Introduce yourself to our readers!
I’m Ned Johnson, born under the sign of water, I have loved all things H2O for as long as I can remember. My first memory was a raft that floated on milk jugs, but not to well or to long. In my friskier days, I competed for about 20 years nationally and internationally in wakeboard amateur divisions. In 2009 I transitioned from kayak racing and longboard surfing to all things SUP. 6 months later, in 2010 I quit my 19-year corporate job and opened (Florida) Orlando’s first full-time Paddleboard business, Paddleboard Orlando
Since then Paddleboard Orlando has put 10 of 1000’s of folks on SUPs in the form of rentals, tours, board sales and out-of-the-country adventure SUP trips. We have multiple seasonal tours and locations but today we are focusing on our favorite spot, Wekiva Island, it’s unique setting allows it to be run year round as a do-it-yourself rental adventure or on a guided tour with a certified SUP instructor.
Can you describe your SUP quiver to us?
Our quiver has to be extra durable to handle the rigors of a wild and scenic Spring-run rental concession. For these reasons, we use Red paddle Co. In the Ride series, we use the 10’6 and 10’8 for daily rentals. We also have the 11’3 sport with a short river fin set up available too . This is my personal favorite board as well, I paddle with groups 4/5 times a week on guided tours using a 2021 Red 11’3 Sport. For me, the best boards to use are definitely Red Paddle Co. Beginners really like the Ride series and folks with a bit of experience tend to prefer the Sport model.
What is your favorite spot in the area?
The location, Wekiva Island, is a canoe / kayak river outpost, grandfathered in on a federally protected wild and scenic river. One of only 2 such rivers in Florida. My relation to Wekiva Island is that I run the Paddleboard rental concession on site. I also do group tours there twice a week and corporate groups / sports teams.
Can you describe the paddling scene in Orlando?
Orlando has a large paddling community, there are several on meetup.com and facebook. As mentioned there are regularly scheduled paddle tours at Wekiva Island that the local community regularly attends with their own boards. Rentals for your own adventure on the Wekiva spring run are available on-site at Wekiva island for use on the Wekiva river. Here the water is flowing from a first magnitude spring about 2 miles upriver. So the water is crystal clear, if you look down into the water you are likely to see fish and fish schools, including catfish, bass, brim, mullet, tilapia, bow fish, gar, etc. Look down long enough and you are sure to float over a turtle or 2 as well!
There are 3 different species on the Wekiva, including the man hole cover sized softshell turtle. Looking around instead of down you may see any critter native to Florida. We regularly see otters and deer, if we are lucky sometimes bears and wild boars and bob cats. The spring run we paddle is narrow and not to deep so if we see a gator they are usually on the small side and hanging out on a log. As the gators grow they move further away downriver from the narrow spring to the bigger, deeper more plentiful waters downstream. Looking up you are likely to see cormorants drying their wings on an overhead tree branch. Cranes and herons, kingfishers and kites, hawks and eagles and turkeys; are just some of the birds that call Wekiva home.
What is it that you enjoy about Wekiva?
There are several routes available: heading upstream towards rock springs, turn right at the conjunction of Wekiva and rock springs and venture upstream till you run out of steam. Another option is going downriver past Wekiva island, there are inviting sandbars and old growth islands as the river widens. The most preferred route is upriver from Wekiva island to the state park. Once you arrive at the state park, about 1.5 miles upriver, tie off your Red paddle co board and go ashore. If you are feeling froggy, there is an amazing natural swimming hole built around the spring head. On our tours, a PBO instructor will teach you how to “ shoot the crack “.
Essentially swimming through a crack and getting pushed out by the spring flow. Safe but scary the first few times! After your state park swim, hike or chill, load back on your board and ride the gentle current 1.5 twisty miles back to the start at Wekiva island!
Super fun SUP route, I classify it world-class due to its uniqueness, jungle-like setting, amazing water quality, and how dynamic the river can be day-to-day. Top it off that it’s what I call a “paddle destination” ie you are paddling somewhere to do something. And that thing is to see and maybe swim the amazing spring head that produces the Wekiva River. To recap, wild and scenic setting, crystal clear shallow water, no motorboats allowed, wind and sun protected and shaded. Coupled with amazing calming scenery all around as you paddle through an oxygen factory of lush jungle-looking tree canopies…
It’s literally a paddleboard paradise! And if your travels take you through Orlando Florida it is well worth a visit to this local secret SUP spot! Located in Longwood Florida, Wekiva Island is a whole world away but only 30-45 minutes away from the major attractions/hotels and Orlando international airport. Next time you are in Central Florida book yourself a Red Paddle Co Tour at Wekiva Island!
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