by Mike Hammond
For many local paddlers, Calusa Palooza marks the beginning of paddle racing season in Florida. Three years ago, this race was created by the College of Life Foundation with three goals in mind: Raise money to get under-serviced youth out on the water; promote Koreshan State Park; and have fun.
One of the best things about this race is that anyone can participate. All of the short course (four miles) and most of the long course (eight miles) are on the Estero River. This is a slow-moving body of water that is protected from the wind. I have been in several races where wind is a major factor and can frustrate newbies, as well as experienced paddlers. That is not likely to happen on the calm waters of the Estero River.
Also, all craft are welcome. SUPs seem to make up the majority of vessels, but kayaks, canoes, OC-1s and surf-skis have all participated. (Note: Estero River Outfitters supplies the vessels.) Not comfortable standing on an SUP? That’s fine, paddle a kayak or get a friend to join you in a canoe for a tandem race. The idea is to get out and have fun.
Nobody demonstrates the “just have fun” attitude better than the kids. The Calusa Kids’ Race is a free quarter-mile race. While it is labeled as “twelve and under,” we have run an additional race to accommodate teens who just wanted to give it a try. “Participation” medals are not handed out, but there are so many classes (age, gender, vessel type) that all kids have earned the opportunity to hear their name called, to stand on the podium, and to receive a medal. If a child is too nervous to paddle by themselves, a parent may paddle with them tandem.
After the race, paddlers are given lunch, win door prizes, receive awards and just relax in the park. Koreshan State Park is a great place to camp if you choose to make a weekend out of it.
This year Calusa Palooza (April 7, 2018) will have the extra excitement of being filmed for an episode of “Facing Waves,” which will air on the Fox Sunsports and Outside channels.
Whether you are an experienced competitive paddler or someone looking for their first race, Calusa Palooza is a great race for a great cause. For more information or to register for Calusa Palooza, go to https://paddleguru.com/races/CalusaPalooza2018.
For more information about Calusa Blueway Paddling Trails, events, and launch sites, please visit https://www.facebook.com/TheGreatCalusaBlueway/ . Mike Hammond is based in Fort Myers, FL and is a staff member at Lee County Parks & Recreation. He is the Calusa Blueway coordinator for Lee County.