From a distance, stand-up paddleboarding looks blissful and calming—just a casual drift atop the waves. But it’s not as easy as it looks. Paddleboarding can make for a tough workout, a full-body exercise that engages your abs, back, shoulders and arms. What makes the exercise component worth it is the chance to explore some of Sarasota’s most dazzling habitats with unrivaled intimacy.
New to the activity? Hook up with SUP Sarasota (SUP is slang for stand-up paddleboarding), which offers beginners’ lessons and tours around Sarasota Bay, from the urban coastline downtown to the boating hangout Overlook Park or through the breathtaking Lido Key mangrove tunnels. If you already know what you’re doing, go ahead and just book a rental with SUP, then paddle out on your own.
If you can gather at least six friends together, consider booking a night cruise with Sarasota Paddleboard Company. Owner and guide Bob McFarland outfits the underside of his boards with bright LED lights that illuminate the mangroves, oysters, sponges and jellyfish that populate the bay. The experience can range from gentle and romantic to rowdy and loud, depending on which friends you invite along.
Sarasota Bay does make for an ideal SUP exploration, but for an extreme close-up experience with a very different waterscape, pop up to Bradenton’s Robinson Preserve. The 487-acre property is mostly salt marsh, with narrow waterways that cut through from Palma Sola Bay in the south to Tampa Bay and the Manatee River in the north. Don’t miss the northern leg of the tour, which offers wide-open views of the Sunshine Skyway.
If you’re looking to explore here, book a trip through Surfer Bus, a brown bus loaded down with kayaks and paddleboards that frequently parks on a bayside stretch of Manatee Avenue. Owner Shawn Duytschaver will get you all set up with a self-guided trip and do everything but paddle for you. That part is still up to you.