Stand Up and Paddle the Banana River

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SoBe Surf is a secret Cocoa Beach hideaway that you’d never find if you weren’t looking for it. I, indeed, was looking for it. Ready for my 8 a.m. stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) lesson, I strolled around to the back of the charming resort and found curly-haired instructor Girard and his sidekick Ian — both award-winning paddleboarders — and Kona, the lovable half-dalmation, half-terrier.

After a few quick tips, I hopped onto the sturdy SUP, which was about 12 feet long and extremely stable, and popped up to my feet. With my long, angled paddle in hand, we took off on the Banana River Bay. (Note: Girard also teaches SUP surf lessons, which is more on the extreme side.)

The morning sun reflected off the calm waters as we meandered along. Five minutes later we were welcomed by a pod of about a dozen dolphins. That, let me tell you, is a sight that never gets old. Better yet, we were the only ones out on the water. Peaceful was an understatement. This was serene to the nth degree and the perfect way to grab a hold of nature with all my might.

Needless to say, I was digging the laid-back vibe. So was Kona the content canine at the helm of Girard’s board. As we skimmed across the water, we spotted waterfront mansion after waterfront mansion, including one owned by pro surfer Kelly Slater. We ventured on to the Lobster Shanty, a riverside restaurant where droves of catfish can often be found.

Finally, we spotted a cluster of manatees mating. Yep, it was just like watching the Discovery Channel, only with the chance that the massive, easygoing sea cows could nearly knock you off your board. By now, my stomach was growling so we stopped for a snack of bananas and apples while Kona hopped back and forth from Girard’s board over to mine.

But the best was still ahead. On the trek back, or should I say, the grand finale, we must have spooked a manatee because it took off swimming like a dolphin on steroids. Apparently they aren’t always the lumbering animals I thought them to be.

I picked up the pace on the way back. The faster I went, the more I enjoyed it. And the nature overload only continued. We floated by a massive flock of pelicans, a roosting osprey and a small stingray. Beneath us: a school of snook. Above us: Air Force cadets parachuted toward the water, apparently practicing rescue dives. Talk about sights to see.

With that said, this zen-like sport, which hails from ancient Hawaiian kings, is exploding in the sunshine state. After my 3-mile paddling extravaganza today, I can see what all the fuss is about and why Matthew McConaughey swears by it. In other words, what are you waiting for? For the love of Lobster Shanty’s, hit the water.

If you go: Take your camera! Girard will hold on to it for you. Oh, and if you’ve got polarized sunglasses, wear ‘em! You can see the the swarms of fish surrounding you better that way. Call in advance for a lesson. And, if you want to make a weekend out of it, rent a room at Girard’s resort.

SoBe Surf

3592 S. Atlantic Ave.

Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

321-926-6571

www.sobesurf.com