by Josh Collins:

For those that don’t know, the Everglades Challenge is coming up fast in March, and it’s not too late to join the Florida WaterTribe and make it happen. You have until the end of January to Register, and then all month in Feb to get your stuff together for a week of paddling or sailing in the sun. Watertribe small vessel expeditions are wind and human power only with multiple boat classes from Hobies, Tris, Skiffs, Dinghys, kayaks, and now even SUPs!

My friend Scott Baste (Aka Conquistador) and Big Joe Frehas (Aka Puma) gave me a call to join them on A 4 day paddle through unquestionably the hardest part of the course, the Florida Everglades. Scott owns Paddle the Florida Keys and I love their slogan, “Paddle yourself to a better place.” That’s just what we did last week.

We met and launched from Chokoloskee which is Checkpoint 2 for the Everglades Challenge. By this point in the EC its at least Day 4, and you have covered more than 200 miles since leaving Tampa Bay. There was lots of open water opportunity, but know the decision to take the Wilderness Waterway 125 miles through the Everglades, and including a little pass called “Nightmare”, or to brave the wind and surf again on the outside in Florida Bay. This is really where the Challenge begins, and it’s not for everyone.

These are the kind of decision making skills you’ll need to make it to Key Largo. One adage always rings true during the 7-8 day long event, “Don’t sail (paddle) the weather.” Good judgement is paramount, and as Chief, the Watertribe’s fearless leader and creator for the past 20 years would say, “This event is dangerous and can kill you.”

Every year there are Coast Guard Rescues, and this is usually due to poor judgement in leaving the beach at a bad time. It does also happen that the weather changes quick, and you should be able to survive it all or you shouldn’t be out there, and especially not on a SUP. It can be very hot, to very cold and very windy, or very calm all in the same 24 hour period. The sea is relentless, and this is not a race with orange slices and bananas waiting around the corner at an aid station. There is no outside support allowed.

What’s waiting in Key Largo is a nice little party on Saturday, and a since of accomplishing something few people would dare. There is a kinship in the Watertribe of people who like to checkout of the rat race, and check in to a piece of adventure that reeks of LIFE! The rest of the year may be spent reminiscing, but more likely prepping for the next EC. For Tonia and I this has become an annual pilgrimage. She drops me off on a Friday/Saturday in Tampa, and then scuttles down to Largo to wait with Charlie and Margaritas on the beach at The Pelican Key Largo Cottages on Florida Bay, USA.

If you are looking forward to the next big adventure on a SUP, then this style expedition race may be right up your alley. Here’s the place to register!

—Josh Collins

PS:

Only 4 paddlers have completed the Challenge over the past 18 years.  This was prior to their even being a SUP class.  We competed as (kayaks).
  • Shane Perrin 2013
  • Justin Schaay 2014 (SUP fastest time of 4 Days, 20 hours, 21 min.)
  • Josh Collins 2017
  • Scott Baste 2018

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