When patrons exit RiverGirl Fishing Co.'s historic train depot for their aquatic kayak and tubing lessons, they're placed in the charge of the outfit's founder, Kelly McCoy. During tours of the New River, which runs north through Todd, she educates guests about the area's natural landscape.
During the winter she heads to Florida, where she leads groups out onto the calm, peaceful waters of the Choctawatchee River from access points such as the Port Washington boat ramp near Eden Garden State Park, the scenic 30-acre gulf coast, or the black creek, and then guides the flotilla into the region's untamed natural beauty. As a fisheries biologist, Kelly's passion helps visitors and locals enjoy the surrounding landscape with conservation-conscious activities.
Vortex Spring, dubbed "the Mecca of dive training" by Southern Diver magazine, is more than just a scuba diver's dream destination. While its 68-degree clear spring waters and lack of weeds thrill swimmers, its picturesque grounds also accommodate landlubbers with biking trails and a bevy of camping sites. A staff of PADI-certified instructors helms the family-friendly water emporium, leading students through scuba classes that help bolster their confidence while exploring aquatic environs or searching for underwater real estate.
For YOLO Board's team, "stand-up paddleboard" is an abbreviated term. Depending on who's taking the board out to sea, it might be a stand-up-and-surf board, or a stand-up-and-fish board—or, perhaps, just a stand-up-and-enjoy-the-view board. This versatility is part of why YOLO Board founders Jeff Archer and Tom Losee wanted to bring the hobby to Florida's coast. Another motive can be found in their business's name: YOLO, or "you only live once," speaks to their passion for adventure.
Today YOLO Board has outposts in Florida and California, as well as a line of boards and equipment available nationwide. There are even inflatable models, which makes transporting a board to the Caribbean a feat that no longer requires dressing it up as your tall, flat cousin. The sport's appeal has reached even farther, too—boarders have sent in pictures from locations such as Mozambique and Costa Rica, contributing to the YOLO World community.
A quartet of golf courses hug the beaches of the Choctawhatchee Bay at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, presenting oceanside fairways and greens that showcase the handiwork of some of golf's finest course designers. As the former host of two PGA Champions Tour events and recipient of multiple accolades, Raven Golf Club runs through swamps and pines, forming a 6,900-yard layout designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. His brother, Rees Jones, designed the neighboring Burnt Pine Golf Club course, which was once referred to as the "Crown Jewel of Florida Golf" by Golf Magazine. Tom Jackson designed the other two courses, using elevation changes to his advantage in the Baytowne Golf Club course and emulating the old courses of coastal Britannia with The Links Course.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort offers more than golf at its 2,400-acre property. Players scamper and slide across three hard-courts and twelve HydroGrid clay courts at the Sandestin Tennis Center, which hosts matches day and night. Soft, white sand awaits guests at the beach, and the resort rents out chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas. Boogie boards and kayaks are available for those who want to enjoy the benefits of buoyancy without filling their bathing suit with helium.
With 20 years of teaching experience and more than 10,500 logged dives, Steve DeNeef instructs students in various SSI-affiliated classes including open-water certification, master-diver instruction, and stress and rescue diving. Steve and his son Jake run USA Scuba together and stock their dive shop with high-end equipment and offer gear repair services. Steve also captains a 26-foot Sea Ray that divers can charter for private, local Gulf dives, fishing trips, or blind dates with starfish.
Bay Breeze Dive Center’s expert instructors attentively guide flippered pupils through scuba classes in an expansive indoor pool and the idyllic Pensacola Bay. Students submerge for one hour in the Discover Scuba class to gain a feel for aqueous activities, testing out flippers and learning how to breathe underwater without making a pact with a sea witch. Alternatively, the open-water-certification course pairs academic know-how with hands-on underwater lessons to train beginning divers in the ways of the water.