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There is no doubt that the best ways to experience the wonders of Jax is via the water. From swimming, surfing and wakeboarding to SUP yoga and sunset sails, there’s no better way to beat the heat than getting wet.
By Megan Eileen McDonough
These water sports represent classic Jacksonville fun under the Florida sun, and will keep you cool all year long.
They call it the River City, but Jacksonville is home to some of the best beaches and surf spots in Florida, so grab a board and get out there. Experienced surfers will find the biggest swells during the fall and spring seasons, while summers are the best time for beginners to learn the basics. Saltwater Cowgirls caters to females 7 to 17 years of age but anyone can sign up for a private lesson. For rentals, swing by Jax Beach Surf Shop, where you can rent by the hour or day.
The Jacksonville Beach pier has excellent surfing conditions year-round, making it a popular spot to catch a wave. Another go-to spot for advanced surfers is The Poles, located inside Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Keep your eyes peeled peeled for dolphins, as they're never far from view.
Need some adrenaline in your life? Speed along the Atlantic on a jet ski and feel the rush as you carve up the water with wind whipping through your hair. Rentals usually last two hours, giving you plenty of time to get in a serious run. Thrill seekers will also get a rush from wakeboarding. The sport blends snowboarding and skateboarding with surfing, where the rider’s legs are planted on a board while holding onto a cable attached to a speedboat or a jet ski.
Waterplay USA is a really good resource for all things watersports, including wakeboarding rentals, as well as Nice Wake All Wet Sports, a premier wakeboard, wakeskate and wakesurf shop.
One of Florida's top boating destinations, there's nothing but smooth sailing in Jacksonville. For one, Jacksonville is the gateway to the St. Johns River, which is Florida's major interior waterway. As such, world-class marinas, like the one at Ortega Landing, are top-notch sailing spots. Ever wanted to steer the boat yourself? Companies like Southern Sailing offer lessons on the St. Johns River as opposed to the Atlantic Ocean, but the same skills learned still apply to both.
Hop on the St. Johns River Taxi at Friendship Park along the Southbank and cruise to the Northbank; you can even bypass traffic during Jags games by taking the taxi across the river to Met Park, which runs up to three hours after the game. The company also offers a range of sunset tours, eco tours and trips to the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. Or charter the taxi for private groups and events. Now and Zen Sailing Charters offers day sails on the St. Johns River, too. Either sail under Buckman Bridge or head farther south toward Green Cove Springs and Doctors Lake.
Cruising the waters sans a wipeout is easy on the St. Johns River. Kayak Amelia offers eco-friendly kayaking classes and challenging stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) yoga. SUP might look easy from afar, but it most definitely warrants a full-body workout. Take the SUP intro class if you're new to the sport or just want to brush up on the basics. For the full fitness experience, opt for the Paddleboard High Intensity Training class; otherwise, take in the view on the classic SUP Eco Tour.
Ready to find your Zen? Choose between a Kayak Yoga class and a Meditation Paddle and instantly feel at peace in the water. Adventure Kayak Florida has a tour for every interest, whether it’s their full moon paddle, half-day tour, or one of their overnight adventures. Beginners are recommended to start at Hanna Park, which spans 60 acres of freshwater and also a prime bird spotting locale. Navigate the lake in a single or double-seat kayak, or a canoe for the entire family.
Fishing is in season no matter the time of year, and when inshore fishing is at its peak, there’s no better fish to catch and eat. There are plenty of lookout spots along the vast stretch of the St. Johns River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the inlets.
In particular, the Mayport Jetties are where you’ll reel in big saltwater fish. Rent a Sportfishing Charter for the day and let Capt. Dave Sipler take you out for all the inshore and offshore fishing you can handle. From sea bass, tuna, wahoo and barracuda to speckled trout and flounder, the Jetties are swimming with big fish ready to hook. George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park is another fishing hot spot where whiting, jack, drum and tarpon are abundant. Anglers can access the foot bridge through Amelia Island State Park, open 24 hours a day, year round.
After a day in or on the water it only makes sense to continue to commune with nature for the night! Jacksonville is a primo camping and hiking destination that has plenty of beachside camping spots and hiking trails.
Huguenot Memorial Park is a popular campsite, and for good reason. Spanning 250 acres, the horseshoe peninsula is in the perfect location. The Fort George Inlet, the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean surround the park, making it a surefire place to capture Florida's natural marine beauty. With 70 campsites in the area, many of them waterfront, there's no shortage of adventures to be had. Take a sunset stroll, bird watch along the Great Florida Birding Trail and sleep under the stars.
Besides Huguenot Memorial Park, there are three other prime beachside camping spots to check out as well.
Little Talbot Island State Park has beaches on one side (about a five-minute bike or hike away) and salt marshes and maritime forests on the other. Big Talbot Island State Park is a diverse natural preserve and also birdwatcher’s paradise boasting amazing hiking trails. Then there's Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, ideal for fishing at the lake or paddleboating, not to mention beach access. If you're in the mood for something a bit more upscale, consider glamping things up at Flamingo Lake RV Resort. Stay at one of their furnished cabins or yurts, or rent your own RV and rest along the lakefront for the night. There’s also a floating Family Fun Zone that sits in the middle of the lake; perfect for kids who wish to spend time in the water.
Take advantage of the endless summers in Jacksonville by making a splash. Read more about how to be active outdoors in Jax, or sign up for the Visit Jacksonville newsletter and receive #OnlyInJax updates delivered right to your inbox.
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