SUP in the Mangroves.  Photo credit: Liz Sandburg.

What's Up with SUP? Paddleboarding in Sarasota

Sarasota’s abundant beaches, coves, bays, and creeks, are the perfect place to hop on a stand up paddleboard (SUP). Meander silently and slowly, like an ocean-dwelling ninja, so the fish don’t dart, the birds don’t fly, and the sea mammals come say hi.

Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP for short, is one of the more popular water sports in Sarasota. There is minimal equipment needed and anyone can do it. The sport involves standing on a surfboard-like piece and using a paddle (like a kayak or canoe) to propel yourself through the water. The result is a satisfying adventure through the sea where the paddler gets up close and personal with the nature around them. Paddleboards can venture into tight and shallow waters where other boats may not enter. Moving through the waves, the motions are nearly silent, unlike motor boats or jet skis. You’re meandering silently and slowly, like an ocean-dwelling ninja, so the fish don’t dart, the birds don’t fly, and the sea mammals come say hi.

The key to a successful SUP is balance. You’ll engage your core and find your Zen (more on that later). My 5-year-old daughter can do it, as can my 64-year-old mother. Novices may want to try on their knees first to establish a rhythm, and places with fewer waves and boats sure make the SUP life easier. Due to Sarasota’s abundant beaches, coves, bays, and creeks, the perfect place to hop on board awaits for any paddler to pursue.

Phillippi Creek

This six-mile long stretch of water begins at the Gulf and heads inward, giving a backyard peek of the behind-the-scenes Sarasota. Manatees and otters love it here due to the low boat traffic. And, for that reason, it’s a great place to SUP. No waves and minimal currents make Phillippi Creek a great beginner’s course, as well as anyone who wants to do some birding or fishing from atop their board. Enter at Pinecraft Park and head southward or at the Phillippi Estate Park and head north to avoid the most boat traffic. For a fun jaunt, dismount at Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar for a few refreshments mid-trek.

Mangrove Tunnels

The mangrove tunnels on South Lido provide a labyrinth of overhanging tunnels for paddleboarders to navigate. Duck under the branches, watch crabs scurry by, maybe get lost once or twice. The paths are narrow so novice paddlers can grab hold of the mangroves if they need steadying or redirecting. And there are so many routes to take, there’s room for everyone and each time out is a new adventure. Many SUP rental companies, such as Kayaking SRQ load their boards here, so it’s a great place if you don’t have your own board (yet).

Turtle Beach

Hopping aboard a SUP and cruising the slow waves of the Gulf of Mexico, gliding along with the fish, rays, dolphins, and birds enjoying their lives in the waters is a novel feature of SUP. Looking down from your stance, the crystal-clear waters serve as a window into the world below you. Load up from Turtle Beach (just south of the Siesta Key Public Beach) and, once you’re on the salty sea, venture past Point of Rocks and to Siesta Beach. The walk from the parking lot to the water’s edge is shorter at Turtle Beach than Siesta and there are fewer sand castles to dodge. You may hit a wave or two on the Gulf, but that’s why you’re in a bathing suit. Cool off and hop back on, refreshed and ready to explore some more.

North Shell Road on Siesta Key

Another Siesta option is North Shell Road. You can pull up close to the water’s edge and hop in with few spectators to witness your potentially-less-than-graceful mount. Venture through the quiet waters of Big Sarasota Pass for a quieter angle of these stunning waters.

Alligator Creek

Alligator Creek in Venice is a natural paradise, ever changing. As you paddle, the flora and fauna changes and you witness various layers of true Florida. All aboard at the South Venice Beach Ferry and Boat Ramp – if you don’t have your own, SUP Englewood can hook you up.

Bird Key Park

At the end of the Ringling Bridge closer to St. Armand’s (away from downtown Sarasota) lies Bird Key Park. There is not much to it – a small area to let the dog run, wade in to catch some dinner, or load up your boat. Or, in this case, your SUP. From this entry, you can navigate the perimeter waters of Sarasota Bay while dodging the boat traffic that traverses under the bridge. These waters abound with grassflats, which opens the doors to spotting dolphins, manatees, fish, rays, diving birds, or even a shark.

City Island Park

Across the Bay from Bird Key Park is City Island Park. To access it, head toward Mote Marine on Ken Thompson Parkway and keep going. At that dead end is City Island Park. Panoramic views of Sarasota Bay present the question - which way to go first? There is no wrong answer.

Overlook Park

Overlook Park on Longboat Key gives paddlers prime access to one of Sarasota’s secret spots – the Cove – where boats and friends gather to swim, laugh, and enjoy life. The shallow, quiet waters extending from Overlook Park serve as a safe haven for the SUP crew. Many paddleboarding tours begin at this destination. Keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, mullet, and conch, all of which I’ve spotted in this magical hidden oasis.

Nora Patterson Bay Island Park

The great thing about loading up on Nora Patterson Bay Island Park isn’t only the ease and convenience, it’s the options. You can head south and explore Robert’s Bay or head north towards Sarasota Bay. Edwards Islands, Fishery Point, and various inlets await your exploration.

Tours and Rentals

Tours are nice if you don’t know where you’re going, what you’re doing, or what you’re seeing. You don’t need to worry about where to go, how to get there, or the hauling or cleaning of your equipment. If you see something and want to know more, a local expert has the answer for you. Rent a board and a paddle and have an adventure on your own. Most paddleboard rental companies will bring the board directly to your launching location to make it a breeze.