Frostproof Native Crosses Lake Okeechobee on Paddleboard
Helps Set New Record During Conservation Effort, Braving "30,000 Alligators"
Last updated 1/13/2024 at 12:33pm
Frostproof native Mason Gravley was part of a two-person team that has apparently established a new endurance record for Florida. The duo paddle-boarded approximately 34 miles over the course of 11 hours and 27 minutes, navigating the vast and unpredictable waters of Lake Okeechobee.
Mason Gravley of Palmetto and Jordon Wolfram of Lakeland successfully completed the crossing on January 1 after a 5:00 am start, marking the first-ever recorded journey of its kind.
The expedition was not without its challenges, as the paddlers faced varying weather conditions, freezing cold temperatures, and encounters with the estimated 30,000 alligators that call the lake home. "We asked lots of the locals for advice before we did it, and all they said was "don't do it. You can't paddle-board that far," Gravley told LakeWalesNews.net.
The long course, navigated in chilly winter conditions, left the pair out of sight of land for about half the trip. "I started out wearing wool socks," Gravley said. "We only saw four boats the whole time, and they were all near the shore," he added. "It was surprisingly cold.".
Gravley, who grew up in Frostproof, said the pair was an effort to spotlight the importance of sending water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades -an essential process to cut down on coastal algae blooms, seagrass die off, and restoration of the Everglades.
Gravley, 33, described the pair's remarkable 34-mile adventure as "not just a personal triumph but a passionate endeavor to raise awareness and support for the restoration of the Everglades and the Florida Wildlife Corridor."
The two avid adventure enthusiasts and environmental advocates embarked on their challenging expedition at the primary source of the lake, the Kissimmee River, located on the north end of the lake, and finished at the Miami Canal at the southern end of the lake.
"Because the lake has so much fertilizer runoff from upstream and the excess water from the lake is unnaturally dumped out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, it supercharges algae blooms in the coastal regions," Gravley said. "It's like pouring gasoline on a fire, which leads to countless problems both environmentally and economically. Sending the water south to the Everglades will give the water a chance to be filtered through the 'River of Grass' before flowing to Florida Bay," he added.
The Everglades is the southern tip of the the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a critical initiative aimed at protecting and connecting 18 million acres of natural landscapes throughout the entire length of the state, all the way to the Alabama and Georgia borders, ensuring the long-term survival of native wildlife and preserving the unique biodiversity of Florida. By undertaking this pioneering paddle-boarding journey, Gravely and Wolfram hope to draw attention to not only the urgent need for conservation, but to shine a light on the many organizations, communities, and individuals already doing the work.
"We wanted to do something bold and adventurous to capture people's attention and underscore the significance of protecting our state," said Gravely who lives in Palmetto but grew up in Frostproof near the Kissimmee River watershed. "Paddle-boarding across Lake Okeechobee was not only a personal challenge but a symbolic gesture to emphasize the interconnectedness of our natural environments and the need for their preservation," the pair said in a prepared statement.
To further support the cause, Gravely and Wolfram are encouraging Floridians to contribute to conservation efforts throughout the state.
"Whether you're passionate about panthers, manatees, coral reefs, native plants, water, there's somewhere to get involved and make a difference," Gravley said.
Gravely also hosts the Florida Uncut podcast, a show dedicated to highlighting the individuals and organizations working to connect and protect wild Florida.