Discover paddling at the Great Calusa Blueway Festival
Sanibel Island is surrounded by some of the world’s best paddling waterways.
On Nov. 1-3, the Eighth Annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival will celebrate these local waters and offer kayakers of varying levels the chance to learn about paddling, kayaking, and canoeing at a family-friendly festival along the Sanibel Island Causeway.
The festival features demonstrations on equipment, how-to tutorials, fishing tournaments, relay races, live music, and refreshments.
Betsy Clayton, Lee County Communications Director, said the event is designed for those who’ve always wanted to try paddling but never did, or didn’t want to invest in expensive equipment until they learned the fundamentals.
“It’s kind of one-stop shopping for trying it, thinking about it, or buying it,” said Clayton. “There is also an educational component related to the environment, a speakers tent where you can sit and hear great speakers about wildlife and how-to’s on paddling.”
Admission to the festival is $5 for adults and free for children younger than 12, and offers classes like Self Rescues Kayaking, SUP Safety, Draws and Braces Kayaking, Basic Paddling Strokes Kayaking, and even Beach Yoga.
Special presentations and book signings are scheduled at night, including Islander columnist Charles Sobczak who wrote “Living Sanibel,” and Bill and Mary Burnham, travel writers and guides who wrote “Paddling the Florida Keys.” The nightly events are from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Residence Inn Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel for $20 per person. Tickets can be purchased at floridasee.org.
A new addition this year is a free Doggie Paddle Race where dogs and owners compete on paddle boards. Leashed dogs are permitted on the causeway islands. As in previous years, there will be relay races with paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes at noon on Nov. 3. Race competitors must pay $5 for one, two, or three member teams.
Raffle tickets are available for the festival’s grand prize drawing on Nov. 3, a five-day trip for two aboard the outrigger catamaran Mirage valued at more than $3,500, presented by Kayak Voyagers. Other sponsors will also raffle prizes during the festival.
Proceeds from the Great Calusa Blueway benefit CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) and the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, the 190-mile trail along Lee County waters. Each year, the staff at CROW assists 4,000 sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife patients, and fundraising events such as the paddling festival and CROW’s Taste of the Islands, on Nov. 10 at The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, help with their operations.
“We really appreciate our partnership with CROW,” said Clayton.
The Great Calusa Blueway has grown in popularity each year and organizers are estimating that 1,200 people will attend over the weekend. Clayton said it shouldn’t impact traffic on the Sanibel Causeway because the site has ample parking spaces and the Lee County Sheriff’s Department will be assisting volunteers in moving cars.
“We’ve been doing it on this site for several years and we’ve never had a traffic problem,” said Clayton.
Visitors and kayak-enthusiasts from all over the world attend the festival, scheduled for the first week of November to kick-off the paddling season and seasonal residents who are returning to the area. A majority of visitors are from Florida, said Clayton, while the rest are from 20 different states, Canada, and Europe. Paddling clubs from as far north as North Carolina even make the trip.
The Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce will post a mobile visitors center at the festival to distribute information about island attractions and local businesses. Ric Base, chamber president, said it’s a great event for engaging with tourists and residents.
“The Chamber took part in this event last year. We gave out information about the islands and the businesses that might be of interest to them and, of course, we encourage them to explore Sanibel and Captiva,” he said. “The Great Calusa Blueway has become a part of the ongoing Chamber bus schedule. We’re looking forward to the November 1-3 event on the Sanibel causeway.”
Festival organizers are also partnering with the Periwinkle Park & Campground at 1119 Periwinkle Way to offer special rates for guests. Other lodging partners are in Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, and Pine Island and are listed online.
For more information, visit calusabluewaypaddlingfestival.com or on Facebook as “The Great Calusa Blueway.”