A small group of paddle boarders glide down a mangrove trail in a couple feet of water. They watch a dolphin hunt on the horizon while keeping an eye on the curious manatee, the one that’s been following them like a puppy. Everyone is silent and looking in different directions, cruising at a casual pace, all lost in thought and experience yet all part of the group. However, at times they will talk and socialize. It’s so beautiful on the Indian River in Vero Beach, that it’s hard do anything other than silently glide on your paddle boards and soak it all in.
Why paddle board? It’s hard to explain until you’ve tried it. I have been into water sports for years; kayaked, surfed, scuba-dived, and did long-distance swimming just to name a few. I’ve had a couple of kayaks and resisted paddle boarding for years, but the moment I stood on a board I was hooked. There is something relaxing and comfortable about it, and the view while standing on the water is immensely better than sitting. A paddle board is so versatile; you can sit, kneel, or stand. It’s also much easier than most people think, and the workout is great too. While standing and paddling, you tend to use your entire body, not just your arms and shoulders. Your experience depends greatly on the equipment that you use and the location where you paddle.
Here in the Indian River County we have wonderful options for paddle sports. There are amazing beaches and an equally remarkable river not far from the beach. I have been exploring the Indian River County waterways for the past ten years. While there are plentiful launch sites and settings, I have come across a few tried-and-true favorites that I visit again and again.
Our first stop is Round Island. You really don’t even need to be on the water to enjoy this one. Round Island Park has trailer parking, a full boat launch, picnic and grilling areas, and restrooms. If you love wildlife, this is the spot for you. The park is home (almost) year round to manatee. Manatee are very curious animals and can be a little overly friendly here, so be sure to practice passive observation. You can observe the manatee from a walking bridge that leads to a nature observatory. Round Island is also home to a large variety of birds. If you head across the river (about a mile) from Round Island, there are several spoil islands that have wonderful beaches. The wildlife and island destinations make this a great paddle.
Next, we are off to the beach! My favorite place to paddle board at the beach is at Sexton Plaza, at the end of Beachland Boulevard. It’s a very clean beach with lots of shops nearby. If you come in the summer, the conditions are perfect with crystal-clear water and small waves. From this location, you can also take a quick paddle out to the S.S. Breconshire’s boiler, which sits on a natural reef. It’s usually marked by an American flag that looks like its floating, and is lovingly referred to as “the boiler flag”. The story behind the flag is fantastic and worth doing a little research. The reef is also a great spot to snorkel and see fish. You can finish your paddle with a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants or just hang out on the beach.
My favorite spot in the area, and our last stop is McWilliams Park. It is located north of the Barber Bridge on the island side and launches into the Indian River Lagoon. The great part about this area is there are a lot of paddle options. Heading north or south gives two very different experiences. North leads to several islands lined in mangroves, which also have some mangrove narrows to help keep you out of the wind and boat lanes. South takes you towards Farley Island (often called Memorial or Veterans Island). This island is dominated by a huge American flag. Both areas offer chances to see “River Dolphin” or estuary dolphin. They are a species of bottlenose dolphin that are believed to never leave the Indian River. I see them nearly every time I paddle here. We have even had them pass very close to the dock where we rent paddle boards at; that’s always a crowd favorite. The variety and dolphin make this my favorite paddle location.
You really can’t go wrong paddling in Indian River County. It really just depends on what you want to see and experience. It’s full of history (too much to list in this short blog), it’s lined with amazing beaches, dotted with waterfront restaurants and one of the most diverse water ways in the country. It’s home to 200+ dolphin and countless other species. While I’m partial to standup paddle boarding, no matter your vessel of choice these three locations guarantee a memorable adventure.
Paddles By The Sea