ENGLEWOOD — Paige Bakhaus, organizer of the fourth annual Paddlefest at Englewood Beach, announced Wednesday that the event is canceled for this weekend.
The culprit: Persistent red tide in the Gulf of Mexico off Englewood Beach and Stump Pass, where stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers would be competing and enjoying their sports this Saturday and Sunday.
“There is too much uncertainty regarding the overall condition of the water where Paddlefest athletes would be racing to ensure their enjoyment and well-being,” Bakhaus announced in a press release Wednesday. As the organizer of the event, she decided to be on the side of caution.
“The health and safety of the participants are paramount, and the potential that direct, prolonged contact with the water could be less than optimal cannot be chanced,” Bakhaus said in the release.
Paddlefest includes a day of stand-up paddleboard and kayak racing, plus instructions and games for young paddleboaders, along with a second day of fun culminating in a surfside feast for everyone involved. Bakhaus has built the event up and welcomed more than 400 people in 2017, many of them traveling from different parts of the country to participate.
But, Bakhaus felt she couldn’t overlook recent Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission red tide reports. State officials cautioned Friday of very low to high concentrations of the toxic red tide algae in water samples collected in the past week offshore of Charlotte County. Maps posted on myfwc.com track red tide blooms throughout Florida.
Concentrations of red tide — Karenia brevis — algae of 100,000 or more cells per liter of water can lead to respiratory irritations in humans and even fish kills. Red tide blooms have persisted in Southwest Florida’s Gulf waters for a year, since it was first detected in October, 2017. The FWC is also tracking blooms in the Panhandle and on Florida’s East Coast.
So far this year, the presence of red tide has killed the Pioneer Days fishing tournament for kids, the Lemon Bay Touchdown Club’s annual In-Shore Off-Shore fundraising fishing tournament, and other tournaments and boating regattas.
While it’s an independent event, Paddlefest served to kick-off the Englewood Beach Waterfest, including the Offshore Powerboat Association World Championship racing, scheduled Nov. 17-18 off Englewood Beach on Manasota Key.
Waterfest events and the power boat racing are staying the course, board member Ed Hill said Wednesday. Waterfest board members worked with and supported Bakhaus in her decision, Hill said.
Bakhaus promised to reschedule Paddlefest for a future weekend when water conditions aren’t “so uncertain.”
“We apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused but know that all stand up paddleboard athletes will understand our decision,” the press release stated.