Category Archives: Florida Nature Films

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part I: The Unwilling Member (Me)

January 8th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

December 5th-14th, 2013. What is significant about those dates? For many, those 9 days are just part of the string of days preceding Christmas; putting up the Christmas tree, lighting the second advent candle, and generally getting ready for the holidays. But, for me, during those nine days something extraordinary happened. I was part of something mythical, like sighting Halley’s comet: something rare that only happens once or twice in a lifetime.

After I returned from Japan, one thing that my Dad said he wanted to do with me was go on a paddling expedition on the Apalachicola River. Why the Apalachicola? I grew up in a small hamlet a few miles north of Blountstown about three miles from Ocheesee Landing and the river was my playground. Also, it would be an opportunity for us to spend some father-son time together.

Unbeknownst to us at the same time Justin Riney of Expedition Florida 500 was planning on paddling the Apalachicola River in mid-December as one of his final paddles in Florida.

In October Dad, Joey Dickinson (our great intern and editor extraordinaire), and I were filming the World Paddle for the Planet event in Walton County. There, we met Justin Riney and, over the course of the weekend, Dad mentioned he and I were planning to paddle the length of the river as a father-son adventure. Justin said that he was also planning to go and Dad, being the welcoming feller that he is, suggested the three of us do it as a joint venture. Justin agreed and this started the dialogue of our December project.

As we continued our conversations, Dad mentioned to Justin how cool it would be if Google would come down and document the river with their cameras. After a pause Justin said he would make a phone call. And thus entered Kristian Gustavson of Below the Surface. His company is subcontracted with Google to work from time to time on projects such as this one.

I counted the members of the team: Justin, Dad, Joey, myself, and two members from Below the Surface. 6. Okay. A good number for an expedition.

Thanksgiving came and went. December jingled forth. I started to get restless at nights with my mind ever repeating the same doubt: Could I do this?  I had only gone on six kayak trips—and four of them were in the past month. I was still a little shaky on entry getting into the water. Each trip was less than two hours apiece—how was I going to do 109 miles over nine days? Two of those days were going to be looooong twenty-mile days paddling from sunup to sundown. My mind was playing tricks on me and I was being torn down by negative mental models. “You can’t do this.” “You are an amateur.” “You’re not in shape.” I would wake up in the mornings and my stomach would be flipped, and I would take three Tums and a glass of water before eating breakfast. Gulp.

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part II: Getting to Know the Guys

Florida’s First World Paddle for the Planet

10/25/13

By Nic Stoltzfus

World Paddle for the Planet video. Produced by Elam Stoltzfus. Edited by Joey Dickinson. Script by Nic Stoltzfus.

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Parked Paddleboards (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

On Friday, October 9th, Dad, Joey, and I loaded up our gear in our Toyota Sequoia and hooked up our boat (a custom built Scandy White) and prepared to head to Panama City Beach. We were headed to the World Paddle for the Planet event held on Lake Powell and stationed out of Camp Helen State Park. Part of a larger 4-day eco-fest, the main event was a 24-hour paddling event with paddlers from all over welcome to join. The mission of World Paddle for the Planet is “to educate and raise awareness for restoring and preserving the health of our oceans and waterways worldwide.” The funds from this year’s event went to Mother Ocean’s Expedition Florida 500. This is the first year that the World Paddle for the Planet has been held in the United States. According to the website there were going to be some special guests in attendance: Bob Purdy, the founder of Paddle for the Planet, traveled from British Columbia to boost spirits; and Justin Riney, the founder of Mother Ocean and Expedition Florida 500, also planned to paddle the full 24 hours.

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Elam Stoltzfus filming at Camp Helen State Park (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

After arrival, we checked into the apartment so graciously provided to us by Richard and Marilue Maris, and headed down to the public boat launch at Lake Powell. The weather outside was lovely––Autumn in Florida is my favorite season––and October in particular is spectacular. When we set out, it was nearing 4 o’clock and we wanted plenty of time to shoot a colorful sunset. A heron was resting on a pine branch as the sun faded in the sky, and the air cooled as a few stars started to appear.

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Elam pointing to head back to shore as Joey runs the trolling motor (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Saturday morning we put the boat back in to Lake Powell and headed to Camp Helen State Park where the 24 hour paddling event was set to start at noon. Before we started, the local Native American tribe, the Maskoke (Muskogee), blessed the event. Marcus Cloud offered up a blessing and also an admonition that this is sacred land—and we are charged with protecting it. After Marcus was finished with his speech two men dressed in traditional Maskoke garb passed around a turtle shell with incense wafting from it; a sweet rosemary scent filled the air. Each person waved the smoke toward his or her face, taking part in this sacred purification ritual. It felt like a holy communion; all present now bound together by this beautiful ceremony.

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The Maskoke paddle by with Elam filming (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The Maskoke started the 24-hour paddle for the planet in a two-person canoe and the paddlers, around 30, followed behind. The first lap around the lake was silent—SUP Radio host Leslie Kolovich encouraged paddlers to use this first lap to meditate on why they were paddling today.

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Joey Dickinson, Elam Stoltzfus, Justin Riney, and Bob Purdy discuss today’s event (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Most of the paddlers who attended the event were paddling in groups, so they would rotate off every few hours and paddle for 24 hours as a team. But a few hardcore paddlers, such as Bob Purdy and Justin Riney, would brave the entire duration.

Evening approached. We parked our boat on a sand spit by the outfall of Lake Powell and walked out to the Gulf of Mexico with our camera equipment to get some “b-roll” (supplemental film footage) of people walking the beach.

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(Left to Right) Cynthia Trone, Gabriel Gray, Elam Stoltzfus, Bob Purdy, Nic Stoltzfus, and Leslie Kolovich (photo by Joey Dickinson)

After this we moved back lakeside and the paddleboarders were headed to the outfall for a group shot before sunset. It was the “magic hour” as we say in filmmaking slang, that hour right before sunset when everything turns golden. I half-wished that I wasn’t going to bed that night. It was a beautiful evening—not too cold—and the crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds would be out in throes chattering and providing the music for the night.

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The Legacy Continues (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Sunday morning we arrived at Camp Helen around 10 in the morning, two hours before the paddleboarders would finish. To start we took some aerial shots with the remote-controlled helicopter.

About 20 minutes before noon Dad, Joey, and I set up on the Camp Helen shoreline preparing for the paddlers’ arrival. I got into the lake with water up to my chest and Joey was stationed about twenty-foot away at the opposite side of the shoreline knee-deep in the water.

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Justin “Florida” Riney and Cynthia Trone look on as Bob paddles his last lap (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Noon. 24 hours was over and everyone paddling was smiling for the home stretch. The exhausted paddlers began hugging friends and family, and feelings of joy buzzed in the air. It was at this point that Bob Purdy announced he was going to paddle around one last lap.

Bob went around and as he came back everyone rose their paddles in the air to form the paddleboarders’ salute, a covered crossing for the warrior to pass under.

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The Paddleboarders’ Salute (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The first ever Paddle for the Planet at Panama City Beach was a success, and I plan to attend next year and paddle for the full 24 hours with camera in tow!

To sign up for next year’s World Paddle for the Planet visit: worldpaddlefortheplanet.com.

For more information on Lake Powell and other dune lakes in Florida visit: www.coastaldunelakes.org.