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Adventures in Blue Space

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— July 15, 2017

Adventures in Blue Space

  • THINGS TO DO—FROM MELLOW
  • TO MANIC—IN AND ON A BODY OF WATER.
pocket

Water.

We’re constantly trying to figure out new ways to make it our playground. Makes sense: Water covers most of the planet, and if you’ve spent time on a boat or sat lazily by a lake you know the meditative effects of “blue space”—a term for any body of water. In fact, science has shown that watching moving water at the beach can relieve stress and boost happiness. The sound of waves lapping the shore, meanwhile, can change brain wave patterns to a more relaxed state. Enhanced creativity is also a benefit—no surprise to those of us who do some of our best thinking in the shower. A body of water, given the respect and awe it deserves, provides a great path to adventure. In that spirit, we’ve done some research and turned up a few enthralling ways to revel in H2O. Some are familiar; others might surprise you. Many will whiten your knuckles. These water adventures are presented here with progressively more risk, from benign to extreme.

Floating in an Isolation Tank

Flotation tanks are making a comeback as new centers featuring the ultimate isolation experience crop up in more US cities. The newfound popularity of float tanks comes decades after the industry collapsed in the wake of the then-new AIDS crisis and unfounded fears that the disease could be contracted through contact with skin or in water, explains Hardy Patel, owner of The Float Place, with locations in Patchogue and Deer Park, New York (thefloatplace.com). “In the last five years,” Patel says, “it’s started to make a comeback.” The idea is to let your mind drift to nirvana as you lay in a tank the size of a large coffin—eh, make that a small car. The tank is filled to a shallow level with water and enough Epsom salts to keep you safely afloat. Because the goal is sensory deprivation, Patel’s tanks are dark (though equipped with a light switch if needed) and the water is the same temperature as your skin. Our experience at The Float Place was both tranquil and ethereal. Who knew a foot of water could be so deep? Skill needed: comfort in enclosed spaces (claustrophobic? move this water experience to a later page in this piece, among more extreme adventures).

Pedaling a Paddleboard or Kayak

Paddleboards and kayaks are being equipped to burn even more calories than their conventional models. Hobie Cat, the Oceanside, California, maker of catamarans (hobie.com), is peddling its Mirage Eclipse paddleboard with removable pedals for a more intense workout on the water. “It’s a good workout on the hamstrings,” says Chris Kujawa, manager of Sailaction, a Southampton, New York, Hobie distributor (sailaction.com).

Hobie Cat also markets 16 kayaks, each with pedals, but tailored to a variety of specialties; some models are equipped with sails while others feature a port for a transducer, the device that emits and receives signals, for a fish finder display, so anglers don’t have to drill a hole in their boat. Hobie Cat’s latest kayak comes with pedals that let kayakers travel in reverse, Kujawa says. The pedal drive on both the paddleboard and kayaks were fashioned after how penguins swim; a metal rod simulates the bone in a penguin’s wing, while a rubber part in the rear resembles the softer part of the bird’s wing. Skills needed: leg strength or the smarts to know you’re going to have to get back to shore the same distance you pedaled out.

Swimming With Dolphins

On the success of the many outfits that offer swims with dolphins, encounters with other water dwellers, such as sea lions and penguins, are becoming popular. We’ll never tire of swimming with dolphins, however; with their smarts and seeming ever-present smile, dolphins are mystical in their beauty. Even a structured swim within an enclosure, in which dolphins push you along with their snouts, “kiss” you on the cheek or jump over poles, can be a thrill. And any unscripted activity makes such an encounter even more breathtaking. At the well-run Dolphins Plus in Key Largo, Florida (dolphinsplus.com), we found those moments before we even got in the enclosure, as the dolphins eyed us to see who their next playmates would be. Once we were in, it was touching to see Nica, a 12-year-old dolphin, occasionally swim away to check on her 1-year-old offspring, Nyla, interacting with another group of human swimmers nearby. Skills needed: comfort around animals and a calm center to help encourage dolphins to want to mingle with you.

Horse Surfing

Visiting the circus as a kid you saw the dramatic showmanship of performers standing astride horses as they made their grand entrance into the Big Top. Turns out you don’t have to be a circus performer to do the same. In Lakewood Ranch, just outside Bradenton in south Florida, Great World Adventures’ BeachHorses program (beachhorses.com) trains tourists to stand while riding horseback as horses wade belly-deep in a bay. “It’s not so easy to stand up on a horse,” observes Tim Mattox, Great World Adventures owner. “When the horse is walking, the back of the horse is undulating.” Participants intuitively assume the stance of a surfer. Everyone who tries it falls into the water, though kids seem to log longer times standing on the animals than adults. Those who sign up are prepared beforehand, each with a trainer. “We teach you how to stand on the horse,” Mattox says. “The only thing you have to know is where to put your feet so you’re not standing on the horse’s kidney.” Skills needed: comfort with a large animal and a sense of balance.

Soaring on a Hydroflight

Our first memory of anything like this was when Sean Connery, as James Bond, made a quick getaway with a rocket-propelled jetpack after dispensing with a bad guy in “Thunderball,” a feat he later recreated on David Letterman’s “Late Night” show. But Connery never flew his jetpack over water, meaning he missed out on one of the greatest thrills in water sports.

Hydroflying comes in several flavors, with water jet propulsion the common denominator: flyboards, hoverboards, and jetpacks. The hydroflight devices are powered by personal watercraft, such as a jet ski, whose power and propulsion is transferred to the hydroflight rider; riders control their movement and direction. Beginners can easily enjoy hydroflight recreationally as they face just a brief learning curve, while pros are taking their skills out on the competition circuit in events like the Pro Watercross World Championships. At these competitions, athletes show off freestyle routines that could include flips, spins, dives, high heights, Supermans (the rider goes horizontal) and “threading the needle,” in which the rider flips and returns through the hose ring he or she just created. Skills needed: a sense of balance and comfort with heights.

Subwing Diving

Subwing, a Norwegian company, makes a wing-shaped device that lets those using it while being towed behind a boat mimic the aerobics of dolphins as they playfully romp above and below the surface (subwing.com).

The ideal speed is between two to four knots, explains Subwing’s Simon Siverten. Any slower, and the wings will not be able to push you downwards under the water; any faster, and you will start to feel the forces of the water current—it will be harder to hold on and you will feel a strain on your neck because of the drag of your head through the water. Siverten insists there is no danger of nitrogen narcosis, or the bends, from descending or ascending too quickly, a condition to which scuba divers are most susceptible. “We strongly discourage anyone from using the Subwing with scuba gear,” he says. Similarly, because the device can be easily maneuvered, coupled with the slow speed, you’re unlikely to hit a reef or other obstacle. “The only situation we know of where the Subwing has crashed into an underwater object,” he adds, “is when it has been let go and the boat has continued forward for some distance.” Skills needed: a really good grip or stellar swimming proficiency.

Plunging Down a Vertical Water SLide

The aptly named Insano water slide in Brazil’s Beach Park stands 135 feet tall and drops riders down such a steep fall and at such high speeds—reaching 65 mph—that riders are said not to make contact with the slide until they reach the bottom. Insano is by no means the only high-speed water slide. If you’re daring enough to try one of these intense slides, move this crazy water activity one space to the right, closer to the extreme position, if it features one of the latest trends in water park madness: a retractable floor that opens when you least expect it at the start of your gravity-driven journey, giving you an added jolt. Wondering why a water park attraction makes it so far along our risk metric? Sadly, a 10-year-old boy was killed riding the Verrückt (German for “insane”), a nearly 169-foot-tall raft slide in Kansas City, Kansas, last year; the slide was shuttered after the tragedy. Skills needed: comfort with heights and enough self-esteem to back down in front of throngs of other adventure-seekers if you’re just not feeling it.

Night Surfing

You were pretty happy when your favorite surfing spot belonged to you and just a few other locals. Lately, however, many more surfers seem to have stumbled upon your secret spot and it’s been getting a little crowded for comfort. What to do? The cloak of nighttime o ers such surfers the freedom and quietude they long for, but it also adds risks. The most obvious: The people who could help you if something goes wrong simply may not be able to see you. Nighttime is also when critters of the deep—read, sharks—start stirring, usually to find food. You’re there to surf, not be part of the buffet. Luckily there are ways to mitigate the risks. Surf familiar territory, unless the location is notorious for shark activity, and pursue mellow, predictable waves, recommends night surfing experts. Try surfing when a full moon is out, or bring your own light sources. Some municipalities are providing the extra light; this year, Lima, Peru’s La Pampilla beach became the first in Latin America to add extra lighting—arrays of LED bulbs atop four 59-foot poles—to help night surfers. Night surfers should also avoid wearing any jewelry, which a hungry shark could mistake for the shiny scales of a fish. Finally, follow the cardinal rule of scuba divers: Always go with a buddy. One more surfer won’t crowd you out. Skills needed: good night vision, besides being able to surf.

Horse Boarding

We’ve got this one further along our mellow-to-manic risk meter than horse surfing for good reason: speed (there’s a lot more of it) and control (there’s a lot less of it). Consider two-time world skimboard champion Austin Keen. Last summer Keen found what seemed like a natural progression to his world victories. With the help of extreme sports YouTube producer Devin Graham (nom de guerre: devinsupertramp), Keen attached his towrope to a saddle and rode his skimboard on a Utah lake at up to 30 mph—quite literally, with horsepower. “You’ve got a live animal you’re working with, and you’re going fast in shallow water, so there’s definitely a lot of risk,” Keen tells us. Keen, pictured here, says his group carefully considered the health of their equine power source; they rotated among three powerful racehorses after each run and had skilled trainers on hand. (Check out austinkeen.com for video of the skimboarder at work, including “hijacking” a boat’s wake after he runs into the water with his board.) Skills needed: comfort riding a skimboard and “a very controlled center of gravity with a lot of balance,” says Keen.

Crocodile Cage Diving

Feeling you’ve “been there, done that” because you’ve dived with sharks? How about getting in the water with a 16- foot crocodile? Australia’s Crocosaurus Cove houses nearly 200 crocodiles, including massive Saltwater crocs, and lets you get up close for 15 minutes of frenzy in its “Cage of Death.” An overhead monorail suspends you in a clear tube cage before you’re lowered into the croc pen (CrocosaurusCove. com). In 2011, repairs had to be made to a cage there that broke with two people inside who, park officials said, were never in danger. Outfits in Africa offer dives as well, with Nile crocs. Crocodile Cage Diving in Victoria Falls, in Zambia, uses barred cages that let divers touch its three rescued crocs, Bongo, Prado, and Lucky (CrocCageDiving.com). We hope there’s no relation between the name of that last croc and the option to touch it. Skills needed: composure.

Glacier Surfing

Surfers haven’t exactly been flocking to frozen points north to follow the path of pioneering daredevils Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala. That speaks volumes about their unprecedented achievement—not to mention its sheer insanity. One on a surfboard, the other riding a Jetski, the pair rode a wave created by a 300-foot tall piece of Child’s Glacier that plummeted into the freezing waters of south-central Alaska a few years back. McNamara, who surfed the world’s biggest wave, a nearly 79- foot monster, off the coast of Portugal in 2011, told Britain’s Daily Mail that tackling the glacier-fueled wave “was the closest I’ve ever come to death. It’s like the Empire State Building about to come down on top of you,” he said of the glacier. “I was up to my neck in water…waiting for the ice to break off and hoping that it’ll fall straight into the water—because if it falls flat you’ll be squashed under it.” Skills needed: an intense desire to travel largely uncharted territory and a lot of patience; McNamara and Mamala spent 20 hours a day over one week in near-freezing waters before they caught the giant wave.

Swimming Cuba to Key West

Glacier surfing could have easily taken the top spot when it comes to extreme water sports, but we had to yield to Diana Nyad for the perseverance, grit, and guts she showed in completing her lifelong dream: swimming between Havana, Cuba and Key West, Florida. Nyad finished the 111-mile swim on September 2, 2013, at age 64, becoming the first person to make the swim without a shark cage. It was Nyad’s fifth try. She set out on August 31, 2013, swimming under threat of whitetip sharks and venomous box jellyfish, and fending off sickness, exhaustion Glacier Surfing Surfers haven’t exactly been flocking to frozen points north to follow the path of pioneering daredevils Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala. That speaks volumes about their unprecedented achievement—not to mention its sheer insanity. One on a surfboard, the other riding a Jetski, the pair rode a wave created by a 300-foot tall piece of Child’s Glacier that plummeted into the freezing waters of south-central Alaska a few years back. McNamara, who surfed the world’s biggest wave, a nearly 79- foot monster, off the coast of Portugal in 2011, told Britain’s Daily Mail that tackling the glacier-fueled wave “was the closest I’ve ever come to death. It’s like the Empire State Building about to come down on top of you,” he said of the glacier. “I was up to my neck in water…waiting for the ice to break off and hoping that it’ll fall straight into the water—because if it falls flat you’ll be squashed under it.” Skills needed: an intense desire to travel largely uncharted territory and a lot of patience; McNamara and Mamala spent 20 hours a day over one week in near-freezing waters before they caught the giant wave and hunger. She hit shore 53 hours later sunburned, spent and with eyes swollen from her long exposure to the saltwater. Today Nyad uses her iconic status to promote walking through a movement, EverWalk, she created with Bonnie Stoll, manager of her Cuba swim support team. Including Nyad and her superhuman feat in this roundup is not to suggest that you make the same swim, but that you become inspired to muster the strength and drive for any long-distance swim—or land-based endeavor, for that matter—that takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you grow in the process. Skills needed: true grit.

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