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Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival opens Thursday

By Staff | Oct 29, 2011

The sixth annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival – one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s top 20 events for 2011 – will take place Nov. 3 through Nov. 6 with the majority of the events at island A of Sanibel Island.

Betsy Clayton, waterways coordinator, said organizers have added a lot of things this year.

“It is the first time we have had a consolidated spot where people can go several days in a row … kind of a festival atmosphere,” she said.

That central location is Sanibel Causeway A.

Ninety percent of the festival’s activities will be held there, according to Brian Houston, race director, who added island A is pretty close to the Calusa Blueway paddling trail.

The site provides ample parking and a nice beach area for the demos and classes.

Activities will include the instructional classes to be offered by certified paddling and kayak instructors and demonstrations for those interested in learning about the latest and greatest kayaks available on the market.

Another new feature will be speakers addressing different stand up paddling topics. The speakers will talk about how to fish, how to buy your first board, along with providing demos on the boards, Clayton said.

The festival will kick off with a free photo reception event on Nov. 2 at Rutenberg Park in Fort Myers at 6:30 p.m. The photo session will provide a little emphasis on how to take nature pictures from the kayak.

“It is a free event people can do without getting wet or going to the causeway,” she said.

For the first time since the festival’s inception, it has a signature sponsor – Canoe and Kayak Magazine.

Clayton said they have the opportunity to offer more to those who attend because of their signature sponsor.

For example, this is the first year they are offering $8 day passes or $60 for an inclusive pass for the entire festival. Those who purchase a four-day pass will also receive a one year subscription to the magazine.

“That way it will make it streamline for people,” Clayton said about the passes.

This year, a trolley to the causeway will be offered so people can avoid paying the $6 toll for Sanibel. The trolley service is included in the admission fee. The trolley will pick up at Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel, Tanger Outlets and Port Sanibel Marina. The trolley will run from 8:30 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Adventures and Paradise will be offering the trolley services for the festival.

There will also be kayak parking on Island A.

“It’s a ‘green’ festival, you may as well have a ‘green’ way to get there,” Clayton said.

Canoe and Kayak Magazine also is sponsoring a Friday night film festival, which Clayton said they have never tried before.

Kayak and canoe races are also a part of the program, again thanks to Canoe and Kayak Magazine.

There will be two races – the Calusa Classic on Nov. 5 and the Calusa Dash on Nov. 6.

The Calusa Classic is a 10-mile race, which will include the OC-6 outrigger teams with 40-foot Hawaiian style canoes, surf skies and ocean racing kayaks, Houston said. Registration for the Calusa Classic will be held from 7:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. on Nov. 5.

“There are going to be prizes and awards according to age division and class,” he said, which will amount to $3,500 for the two-day competition.

Cash prizes for the Calusa Classic include $500 for the fastest OC-6 mixed team of men and women who compete in the 40-foot Hawaiian canoe. Five hundred dollars will also be given to the fastest single paddler across the finish line and Estero River Outfitters will present $500 to the fastest woman paddler.

The second race, a 4-mile race around the causeway islands, will be held on Nov. 6 for stand up paddle boards and kayaks under 18 feet. Registration for the Calusa Dash will begin at 7:30 a.m.

Houston said a $500 award will be given to the fastest paddler across the line.

Although they are gaining more registrations daily, Houston said he expects to be slammed during that Saturday and Sunday morning.

“It will be a great celebration of paddling,” he said.

A kayak fishing tournament, along with other activities, also will be held on Nov. 5 at Matlacha Park on Pine Island.

Last year, the festival attracted people from 21 states and four countries. Clayton said the appeal has broadened, which has brought more attention to the festival.

“I think we are hitting our stride,” she said.

There are 75 volunteers who are helping in making the kayak festival possible this year.

For a complete listing of the activities visit www.CalusaBluewayPaddlingFestival.com .