The seventh-annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival scheduled for Nov. 1-4 on and near the Sanibel Causeway offers events and attractions for kayakers of all levels.
Avid paddlers looking to network with enthusiasts, occasional kayakers who want to learn more, local residents looking to try out a kayak or SUP for the first time, and parents and kids interested in paddling together in a family-friendly race.
Event organizers aim to make it easier and more convenient for Southwest Floridians to participate, with one location for evening events and a second location for daytime activities. Nightly events begin at 6 p.m. Nov. 1-3 at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel, 20371 Summerlin Road, Fort Myers. Daytime festivities span from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 2-3 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 4 on Causeway Island A.
Admission options make it easier to attend this year. A daytime, single-admission rate of $5 per person (kids under 12 are free); one rate for single admission to one of three evening events ($15); or a $75 four-day, all-inclusive pass complete with lagniappes.
Proceeds benefit CROW (the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) on Sanibel and the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, the 190-mile trail along Lee County waters featuring mangrove forests, more than 300 species of birds and sugar-sand beaches.
For the evening events, parking is free at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel. For the daytime events on Sanibel Causeway Island A, festival-goers have two options. This year, people can drive to the causeway and park for free; the $6 toll to enter the causeway is not waived. Or, attendees can park for free at Tanger Factory Outlets and take a complimentary trolley to and from the causeway. The trolley runs constantly 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 2-3 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 4.
The festival's grand prize for its annual raffle is presented by O-Sea-D Aquatic Adventures: an Ascente touring kayak valued at more than $3,000. The winning ticket will be drawn at the CROW evening reception Nov. 3.
A new event, the CaluSUP Fun Race for canoeists, kayakers and SUPers, pair up with pals for a relay competition at the Causeway on Nov. 4, the final day of the event. The event kicks off with a captain's meeting at 11:15 a.m. Festival attendees can watch it all as the race course is just off the beach.
Following this race, festival-goers can watch the start of the first-ever Coast to Coast Expedition Challenge, a 240-mile self-sustained human-powered race featuring small non-motorized sailboats and paddlecraft. Racers take off from the Causeway and complete the race seven days later in Miami.
The festival is sponsored by Fort Myers Toyota and CROW and hosted by Lee County Parks & Recreation. The event features paddling equipment demos, speakers, on-water demonstrations, children's activities, a photo contest, fishing tournament, film festival, relay race, live music, hearty local restaurant fare and more.
A complete program of scheduled events is available online at www.CalusaBluewayPaddlingFestival.com.