I'm not exaggerating when I say hundreds...
Let me start this off with a little story...
I lived in Sarasota, Florida two years ago. At first I didn't know any paddle boarders and I didn't know where all the good places to go paddle boarding were, so I tried joining a Meetup group for kayakers in the area.
The first activity I saw as part of that Meetup group was paddling in Myakka River State Park. The description talked about how there were tons of alligators lining the banks of the river so they wanted to make sure that all of the paddlers coming on the trip were aware that they would have to be confident enough in their kayak that they could paddle the distance without stopping.
I messaged the Meetup Trip Leader and told them that I was a confident stand up paddle boarder and asked if I could come. I assume he probably laughed when he read it because I was not invited.
Fast forward to February 2th, 2018. I was officially back to living in Sarasota.
My boyfriend, Brad, and I made plans to paddle board with "Florida Brad", Brad Ward, who is a professional competitive stand up paddle boarder. I was excited for the Bradventure ahead. However, the activity that was proposed was stand up paddle boarding to The Deep Hole in Myakka River State Park.
The Deep Hole is a 140 foot sink hole that is home to literally hundreds of alligators. Only 30 people are permitted to visit the sink hole each day (accessed either by hiking trail or water.) It is the basically the boss-level of all the levels of gator-encounters in Myakka River State Park.
I agreed to go on the adventure because I knew I wanted the chance to paddle in the park, but mostly I agreed to go because I didn't want to be the only one of the group that was too scared.
Before you judge me as a stupid risk-taker and alligator attack enabler, hear me out...
I was trying to figure out whether I was justified in agreeing to go paddle boarding in the sink hole. Some options that ran through my head as I made my decision were that I was doing it because I was...
The night before we went on the trip I stayed up late googling people's trip reports, alligator attack statistics, and gauging the real risks that we might encounter... and contemplated writing my own will.
I'm happy to report that after my research, I concluded that it was not such a stupid idea to stand up paddle board in Myakka River State Park. People kayak that area all the time, there are campsites lining the banks of the river, a hiking trail that leads throughout the park, and the rangers make sure that you are out of the park by sunset to avoid any unnecessary trouble.
We woke up early and stopped at the visitor's center to grab our permits. We were able to snag one of the last Gator Hole permits of the day! We drove up the road a little bit further and launched our paddle boards by the bridge.
The first ten minutes of our paddle went like this:
Me: Pumping up my Hala Board
Old couple that were hiking the park: "Are you stand up paddle boarding?! You know there are gators here, right? Like, a lot of them."
Me: "Yup! Wait... There's gators here?!? ;D "
[All three of us launched our boards on the water and started paddling toward a bank that was lined with four gators, all of which scrambled into the water as soon as they saw us. There was a group of people overlooking the scene from the bridge above]
Middle-aged woman screaming from her perch on the bridge above: "OHHH MY $%#*! THE GATORS ARE GOING RIGHT FOR THEM!! And they're on PADDLE BOARDS!!!"
Spoiler alert--we were fine. The gators disappeared into the water and we paddled away, unscathed.
And this experience taught me that this is what I have manifested in my life. I absolutely f****ing love it.
I have surrounded myself with friends that don't let false perceptions, laziness, or fear get in the way of truly living.
I thought I was being the wimp for being reluctant to join on the paddle based on fear of being attacked, but I realized that the majority of people would have just said, "No," in the first place and missed out on experiencing the park, nature, and the amazing animals.
We need to say, "Yes," to adventure! And I am really happy that I did.
Let's be real though.
There were a lot of gators. Like a lot, a lot. And I realized that stand up paddle boarding the park was the absolute best way for me to understand that paddling around alligators is not a death-wish after all. The majority of the alligators got spooked extremely easily and dove off the banks into the bottom of the river before I could even get a picture of them. The gators did not want anything to do with us, which was perfect. If you respect the alligators, then they will respect you. Or as trip leader, Brad Ward, said, "You shouldn't be afraid of alligators.. not unless you're a fish."
The first thirty minutes were the most unnerving. After we saw the 20th gator, the edge started to wear off and it became a relaxing experience; until we reached The Deep Hole! Words cannot describe our experience as well as a video...
Here's a clip that Brad Ward put together of our trip, complete with some drone-footage of a wild hog and all of the gators lining the banks!
Trip Report Details:
Admission is $6 per vehicle. Permits for the Deep Hole are first come, first served at the Visitor Center. There are only 30 permits granted each day and the Deep Hole can be accessed via hiking or paddling.
Check out our put-in and our route details on my Strava page here.
All in all, we paddled about 8.7 miles in four hours. The most strenuous part of paddling was through the shallow lake right before we reached the Deep Hole. It was a pain to paddle through the shallow part because we couldn't dig our paddles deep enough to get a good bite, our fins were dragging in the mud, and the wind was blowing pretty hard at our side. It was do-able though.
We had to push it hard on the way back because we were supposed to check out at the ranger station before 5:00 PM. We did not account for the fact that we would be paddling against the current of the river on the way back, so we took longer than we anticipated.
My advice for anyone planning on doing this trip is: