When I lived in Fort Pierce on the East Coast of Florida I was spoiled for wind, waves, and free beach parking. Being next to a jetty-protected inlet on a sparsely populated barrier island I almost always had good, uncrowded ocean sailing options. And if the wind was straight offshore, I could find onshore flatwater conditions in the lagoon West of the island.
Moving to New England I worried that I’d be giving up my paradise. Luckily when I traded away Florida’s warm water I got in return Nahant’s frequent strong winds and incredibly perfect wavebreak. I learned how to stand-up paddleboard and how to wavesail frontside in absolute playground conditions, sliding along smooth wave faces unbroken for hundreds of meters.
Now back in Florida but on the West Coast, which is the lesser coast for wind and the unequivocally WRONG coast for rideable waves, I’ve been challenged to find my groove again. In Nahant I’d often turn to SUP when the wind was down, but here on the Gulf the waves are more dependent on local winds, so if it’s not windy enough to sail it's probably not wavy enough to SUP. Another thing that makes it tough to SUP the Florida Gulf Coast is how the waves tend to break on a short, steep, sandbar just offshore of the beach. They shape up enough to catch only a moment before crunching into one foot of water, and then they vanish where the water gets deep again inshore of the bar. The sandbar is better than a steep beachbreak, but not by much.
One of the things I’ve heard Floridians talk about is a special circumstance when the winds are light but there’s a long-period swell from a storm in the Gulf. I got to see that when we had a long period swell a few days after Hurricane Isaac. Unforunately, the Bonita Beach break was still bad, with anticlimactic closeouts on the sandbar. I decided I needed to look a little harder for a spot with a shoreline geometry that wouldn’t butcher the waves.
Dog Beach on the south end of Lover’s Key seemed to have some potential, with a flatwater lagoon that opened through a pass into the Gulf. It worked really well as a beginner windsurfing spot for Rhonda, but it would be awkward to get in and out through the pass on a shortboard, and it’s not a place I’d like to break down.
Today I tried a NEW spot that I think is going to become my standby. It’s Delnor Wiggins State Park, on the north end of Naples. There’s a pass there, too, but you launch right onto the ocean side of the pass as opposed to in a lagoon like at Dog Beach.
When I got to Wiggins the wind was mostly onshore and hovering around the barely-shortboardable range (see iWindsurf data).
I rigged a 6.8 and put it on my Angulo SUP. That was fun, and a good way to get a feel for where the waves were breaking. The sandbar was definitely more spread out and less steep than at Bonita Beach, making for more rideable waves. There were also some Gorge-effect waves happening where the ocean met the tidal outflow from the mangrove-lined pass. It seemed like there might be enough power to shortboard, at least with the boost from the tidal flow, so I switched from the SUP to an Exocet Cross 106. Turned out to be an awesome session. :)