It wasn’t my first time driving to Destin to pick up the BOTE van. Since 2012 I’ve been heading east from Pensacola Beach to upgrade my ride and pick up some pretty freaking cool paddleboards. In the past, the destination was always a SUP race or trade show somewhere in the south of our great state. But this trip would be different…
After checking in with the “midnight mayor” himself at the BOTE Destin store I loaded up four BOTE Boards on the B-‐Van and hit the road. Lost count of the number of waves, smiles, and honks I got grinding miles on Interstate 10&75. Most memorable was the kid in the car seat blasting double shakas with the windows down in his parent’s mini van. That kid gets it.
Finally made it to the Salty Fly as the event dinner was winding down and the “serious fishermen” were breaking off from the various groups of drinkers. It felt just as cold and more windy than the frigid panhandle. Found John Meskauskas and Rob McAbee huddled at the entrance to the Little Harbor Restaurant along with everyone else from the tourney. After a quick pow-‐wow on overnight board security we ventured back into the cold to look for the “push pole guard”. We found him feeding a fire next to an empty parking lot and after a shivering conversation we left the B-‐Van under his watchful eye with all four boards on top.
We discussed the next day’s plan over a few beers in the hotel room while hoping the conditions warmed up and calmed down. Pretty exciting for me as I had absolutely no idea what to expect the next day and John and Rob are killer fisherman. Though I had met John several times before, I had no idea how well known he is in the fly fishing community down there.
After checking in and getting all the tournament paraphernalia, we took off with John navigating and Rob in the back rigging his gear. We rolled into a little diner on the way to our launch site. Jumping out of our jacked van, talking a little too loud due to the coffee or excitement, we got a stare or two as we entered the small restaurant.
An hour after breakfast we were on the water with a beautiful flat full of reds and trout skirted by mangrove islands. Rob and I were both on Ahabs and John was on a Bugslinger HD, all fully rigged out. Never spent that much time on an Ahab…walked away truly impressed. That is the pinnacle of a fishing SUP.
Being from the panhandle, I thought it was pretty cool, though we're still in Florida and it’s many of the same species, they sure live in a different world down there. We saw lots of fish, had nearly perfect weather, but just didn’t get the bites. After several hours watching John and Rob work the water every way they knew how, we headed back up to Ruskin and loaded up the BOTE cooler (as is the custom) to share some beers at the weigh-in.
We switched gears back at the resort from fishing to talking about fishing, SUPs, and cruel bets involving the event MC. It still blows me away the draw that our boards create when placed in a crowd of people. For that reason, the hours of raffling led up to the final and undoubtedly the grand prize, the BUGSLINGER HD.
Capt. Jesse Register who won it was stoked…Jesse had nearly given up and told his friends he wasn’t going to win anyway so he walked away…The MC was on his last call when Jesse jumped the railing and ploughed through the restaurant shrubbery to claim his prize. We talked to Jesse for a while after the event as we helped him load his new board and paddle. “I never win anything…this is so unreal.” He still looked a little dazed as we left him with his new ride.
We had a good dinner with the Hell’s Bay crew at a cool local place then Rob and I both left early in the morning. John’s lucky ass left after the weigh in to get home and score what was forecast to be some pretty fire surf.
Thanks to BOTE for the experience and the awesome wheels…People haven’t struggled with the concept so far but If you see me in the BOTE van and say “Hey” you're not walking away without some exclusive BOTE GEAR!