One Tank Trip: Paddleboarding with manatees and SUP Weeki

Taylor Katz reports

- It's a peaceful place where exciting things happen. Along the crystal clear waters of the Weeki Wachee River, people are getting an up close look at Florida manatees in their natural habitat.

Some people kayak; others go by canoe, but the people of SUP Weeki, they paddleboard.

"We love the sport...Paddleboarding is a new, fun thing,” said Jerry Napp, co-owner of SUP Weeki. “It's a very good fitness activity and so, people really enjoy it."

People enjoy it, because Jerry and his wife, Pam make sure they can. Together, the couple got certified to become paddleboard instructors, and now they rent out boards, teach their guests how to use them, and then guide them along the river to see the sights and sounds of Weeki Wachee Springs.

And while it's a physical activity, it's one Pam says most anyone can handle.

"Honestly, I have had every physical ability level. And that means from people who do no exercise, to people who are super athletes and who exercise all the time,” she said. “It's easier than you think, and sometimes I have some people who are the least active or the least athletic, [who are] actually the most agile."

We fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and after a couple of practice paddles of our own, we hit the water and headed up the canal.

We had the chance to see all sorts of wild life -- from seabirds like ibis and egrets, to otters and different kinds of fish -- but after a video of manatees went viral out of Weeki Wachee earlier this year, we hoped we’d spot a few of those.

And sure enough, we did: A mother and her baby, resting peacefully and enjoying some fresh sea greens, just feet away from us.

Jerry says their viral video has spiked business, allowing SUP Weeki to share their special spot with locals almost daily, but the manatees don’t always make an appearance.

“I would say as many as half of the tours that we do, people do see them. And we have lots of pictures chronicling this, but it's about half the time, year-round.”

Whether you’re lucky enough to spot them or not, it’s a trip worth making. It's adventurous; it's serene, and for Pam, it's her passion.

"I can encourage people, you know, teach them. And then to see them really enjoy it… It's wonderful. We really love it."

Click here for more information on tours with SUP Weeki.

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