Paddleboarding the Keys at Night

Mj 618_348_suping the keys at night

Board-riding badasses like Laird Hamilton have waxed athletic about the benefits of stand-up paddleboarding, but for all the core-of-steel payoff you get from SUPing the sport’s real draw is the chance to get out on the water and do a bit of wandering. Proving that explorers can always be relied on to push things further, a new type of paddleboard is allowing SUPers to stay out past their beer time. Nocqua light up boards, which illuminate the water beneath paddlers’ feet, attract fish and the admiration of waterbugs who weren’t ready to head back to the beach.

“At night, it’s not about the distance covered,” explains Mateo Dura, the owner of Key West’s Ibis Bay Paddle Sports, which began offering nighttime SUP tours this spring. “It’s all about going very slow and searching for sea life on the bottom.” On any given evening, Dura sees nurse sharks, stingrays, turtles, and spiny lobsters flit through the spotlight beneath his feet.

If you’ve ever used an underwater torch while diving or snorkeling, picture that – on steroids. The system harnesses 72 LED lights to the bottom of a board using a tension system and singes the underwater surrounds with 2000 lumen of light. “In Key West, the lights illuminate an area of about 50 feet around you and 15 to 20 feet down,” says Nocqua’s Billy Rossini, the world champion kneeboarder who invented the tech after admiring the fancy lighting he saw on yachts in Florida’s islands. “It was purely for visual effect,” says Rossini, “but it attracted a lot of fish, and I thought ‘How cool would this be if I could have that underneath my paddleboard?'”

Some 150 prototypes later, Rossini perfected his system, which is now being used by tour operators in Hawaii and New Zealand.

“All the bait fish start coming up to the board,” he says. “I’ve had octopus come up while paddling in Key West and hold onto the board. I’ve seen sharks and tarpon attacking minnows that are attracted to the light. They come up and bump the board a little, it’s exhilarating.”

The Key West tours take about 1.5 hours, departing from the marina just after sunset and finishing up just when the town’s bar scene really starts kicking into high gear on nearby Duval Street. There may be fewer margaritas at sea, but the nightlife is more memorable.

More information: Ibis Bay’s “Nightrider” tours leave a half an hour after sunset from Ibis Bay Resorts main dock and costs $45 per person. Nocqua LED rigs retail for $400.

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