By Brett Stephens

When our city went down in the record books and was officially recognized by the United States Postal Service as Venice, Florida 34285, it wasn’t because of the abundance of waterways found throughout the area. No, it was simply because “Horse and Chaise, Florida 34285” wouldn’t fit on the paperwork.

But the fact remains that Venice is up to its gills in water. The Gulf of Mexico, our bays, the Intracoastal, the Myakka River, and even your pool, all make for a lot of fun. In fact, if you told me water didn’t have something to do with making Venice the place you hang your hat, I’d say you’re all wet.

When our city went down in the record books and was officially recognized by the United States Postal Service as Venice, Florida 34285, it wasn’t because of the abundance of waterways found throughout the area. No, it was simply because “Horse and Chaise, Florida 34285” wouldn’t fit on the paperwork.

But the fact remains that Venice is up to its gills in water. The Gulf of Mexico, our bays, the Intracoastal, the Myakka River, and even your pool, all make for a lot of fun. In fact, if you told me water didn’t have something to do with making Venice the place you hang your hat, I’d say you’re all wet.

You can always throw a line out and wait hours for a minnow to nibble on it, but if you want to chip away at that bucket list and do things that make your heart pound with excitement, try an extreme water sport. What makes it extreme? Adventure, first and foremost. Throw in a big splash of adrenaline and a beautiful, watery setting, and you’ve got the makings of a memorable experience. Here are just a few extreme water sports that you can do on practically any given day in Venice—if you dare.

Wind Surfing

Yes, it’s as hard as it looks. Talking to my buddy Kevin, I get the sense that it might be a little late in life for me to take up this sport. Back in his college days, Kevin was at home on the board, whipping the sail back and forth, working up and down the shoreline. Watching from my own vantage point, I see a neighbor in his wetsuit taking it out nearly a mile at a swipe, then blasting back to shore. The workout is intense, and when the waves are really up (as in it’s really, really windy), the pros catch air, do summersaults and get a rush of extreme adrenaline.

Surfing

Although surfing is not as common on the Gulf Coast as it is on the East Coast, you do run across conditions that make Venice and the north jetty the surf capital of the county. But the bad thing is that all too often, great surfing in Venice points to an undesirable event—an impending hurricane. Seeing surfers at the jetty evokes memories of that dreadful week in August 2005. Charley was bearing down on Florida and the surfers were out in a gale force, taking advantage of some of the greatest waves on record.

Just this last December, with record winds and otherwise awful temperatures, Venice once again became a surfing Mecca with waves reported as high as 15 feet. At extremes, the jetty was inundated with wave after wave of surf, surfers and surfboards.

Parasailing

Now here’s a sport I can sink my fanny into. It has all the ingredients of extreme watersports (adventure and adrenaline), but doesn’t require six-pack abs, Navy SEAL endurance and a yacht from the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” As the Adventure Parasail website promises, “If you can sit, you can fly!”

Aside from the awesome, heart-pounding adrenaline, there’s the insanity of hanging there, stuck in the sky, barely in contact with the boat while seeing your house, the coastline, the beach and all the scenery from a hundred and fifty feet off the deck. All without getting your feet wet.

Most parasails are tandem rigs, so taking a buddy along with you is practically mandatory. You can bring a camera, at your own risk, but that’s what wrist straps are for.

When they fly, the first thing they do is put up the sail. Once it’s deployed and sailing, they strap you and your buddy into a harness on the back deck of the specially equipped boat. Once secure, they reel out the line and you’re flying. I was 300 feet away from the boat in a place I could hang out all day.

Wakeskating

Wakeskating appears to be the most fascinating use of a powerboat one could ever imagine. The fact that you can actually compete in a national championship in the sport is equally fascinating.

According to Drew Danielo, national wakeskating competitor, champion and proprietor of Ollie’s Wake—Skate—Skim, you fill a ski boat with “a lot of ballast, get going about 12 or 14 miles per hour and you skate totally on the power of the wave.”

In other words, it starts out like snowboarding behind a boat with a ski rope. Then the skater drops the rope and hitchhikes along in the exaggerated wake of a stern-heavy ski boat. Makes perfect sense to me. And it appears to be the perfect sport, as skaters become acrobats and move back and forth effortlessly while fans, judges and peers cheer along. Check out alliancewake.com and you’ll see what I mean.

Wakeboarding on your Wii Resort may be fun, but wakeskating is a shear adrenaline blast. Drew takes regular trips out, gives lessons and outfits wakeskaters at his shop just north of the Hatchett Creek bridge on U.S. 41.

Deep Sea Fishing

No other water sport combines boating, friends, wildlife, sun and surf better than deep sea fishing. My trips aboard the Legacy out of the Crow’s Nest Marina are a saltwater angler’s dream come true.

A good day of deep sea fishing is a good kind of tired. And where the Legacy goes there are always fish. Depending on the conditions, the season, the duration of the trip and what you’re hungry for, the Legacy captains take you straight to the honey holes. All of my trips were no exception.

At 65 miles offshore, you’re in over 100 feet of water and that can only mean one thing: grouper sandwiches. Because of intense storm activity that had churned up the water that week, we were able to use heavier-than-normal tackle. That, in turn, let us hook up to heavier-than-normal fish. And boy did we ever hook up.

To see and actually hold a deep sea rod that is bent half over is beyond explanation. It’s a rodeo in your hands and it’s a contest to see whose eyes are bigger: yours, your boat mate’s or the fish’s. That particular trip, I reeled aboard a shark, grouper, what was believed to be a snapper in the 40-pound range and tunney, which is the ultimate fish bait.

By all accounts, our 12-hour journey landed over 100 fish, mostly grouper. Unfortunately, most of them were as little as a quarter inch under the limit and were returned to fight another day. Still, we froze over 15 pounds of grouper filets from that outing and produced about five gallons of adrenaline bringing them on board.

Epilogue

We’re surrounded by water. So we might just as well make the best of it. The great thing is that the extreme enjoyment of water in Venice isn’t just for the 23-year-old wetsuit set.

Some of the most exciting moments involving water are enjoyed on a park bench, like the ones found at the south jetty. It involves watching the aerial dolphin show that happens nearly every evening at dusk. Or how about sunning on the beach and watching an eight-foot couch drift by? That couch, upon closer examination, turns out to be a manatee. Seeing a manatee at the aquarium is one thing; swimming with a manatee in the Gulf is a memory that lasts a lifetime. Same for drifting in a boat a couple of miles offshore and seeing a 100 year-old turtle surface for a breath.

These “Oh, wow!” moments are brought to you by Venice, Florida. They’re all over the place. Pick your day. Pick your spot. And just add water.

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