A LuLu’s Weekend

Right off the Mid-Bay Bridge in Destin, Fl, any vacationer or local resident can be transported to Margaritaville in North Florida: live music, white-quartz sand, blue-green waters, a view of the Choctawhatchee Bay, “shrimp beginnin’ to boil,” and a refreshing cocktail. LuLu’s – where the food and atmosphere are each of an equal standard and do not disappoint: a more-than-satisfied palate, belly, and a family-fun feel with a splash of party. It’s a true southern seafood paradise where Ms. Lucy Buffet’s policy is they stay open until the last customer is ready to go home, whether that’s midnight or later.

In the nine months we’ve lived here, we have heard about LuLu’s and have been meaning to check it out. It has an amazing reputation as an establishment, not to mention that it’s Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant – Lucy “LuLu” Buffet, so we knew it would be good food and good fun.

At the front of house, there is a gift shop to the left, full of LuLu’s merchandise with a side of all things Florida/tropical – not the cheezy stuff one sees at the standard Florida souvenier shop, but cute paraphanaila one may actually want to purchase – even the Florida local. The hostess counter is dead-center, and the bar is to the right. The restaurant is indoors with a large porch/covered outdoor seating area right on a beach, which has plenty of games and entertainment for kids or kids-at-heart.

The seafood is wonderful, and the smoked tuna dip is the best I’ve ever had. No oysters on the half-shell or snow crab, here, however. It’s more of the southern seafood style: food prepped grilled, blackened, or fried. As a seafood lover, I feel compelled to make that distinction about the menu as I always want oysters steamed or raw (in the appropriate time of year) or snow crab! The kid’s menu is reasonably priced and has a wide array of foods fit for a young palate, including two of my toddler son’s favorites: mac & cheese and grilled cheese. The mac & cheese is homemade and is scrumptious – like what my grandmother made! It is not a boxed store brand, which is always so disappointing to see on a menu.

 

Mac waving at the acoustic guitarist. He loves music and bands.

 

We had dinner last Saturday night, and we saw boats anchored off the beach. We confirmed with staff that we could drive up in our boat, drop anchor, and come enjoy all LuLu’s has to offer. We have several places we like to go boating, and we always look for a beach or shallow area where we can get Mac out so that he can play.

Since season has been in full force, we have avoided going to our normal places when we boat on weekends. We tend to go on shorter trips in the bay to avoid seasonal traffic on 98, and we were thrilled to find that LuLu’s is boat friendly. So, the next day, we went on our “Sunday drive” and took the boat the thirty minutes over to LuLu’s, anchored up, set up the floating island, and played. We went in and got lunch for McCarty, and APG and I split an appetizer. It was the perfect blend of beautiful sunshine, delicious food, refreshing drinks, fun live music (again), and the perfect company on the bay side of Destin.

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Gulf Coast Surfing

Yes. Yes, you can surf the gulf coast.

I started surfing when I was 30 years old on the East Coast of Florida, Cocoa Beach. I was living in Orlando, 45 minutes from Cocoa Beach, single, and ready to take charge of my life in a brand new way after some personal discoveries. Surfing had been a lifelong dream and taking action was a result of inner change.

For the first time in my life, I now live two minutes from the beach. Two minutes! I still can’t believe it. It’s the result of ten years of hard work and sacrifice by my husband. I am thrilled to live closer to the water, knowing I have more of an opportunity to play on the water. Before we moved over here, I figured I’d get to surf occasionally, when there was a storm in the gulf. In the meantime, I’d learn to paddle board, and I’d body board, play and swim. It’s the ocean – my place of peace on this earth.

My dad grew up in Tallahassee, and I used to hear him tell stories of surfing in the ’60s on the gulf coast. It was always fascinating to me – a dream world of adventure and fun. There was the most exciting story about a shark. Dad was out surfing, and all of a sudden all of his buddies on shore were jumping around and waving at him to come in. He turned and saw the shark and never paddled so hard in his life to get into shore. We talked about surfing together, but being two hours away from the nearest surf  spot before the internet existed made surfing more difficult. Dad taught me how to swim and how to body surf and ride waves; he gave me a strong foundation. He also was thrilled when I started surfing. Unfortunately, he only saw me surf on video since he was in the last years of fighting cancer and we lived 4 hours from each other. That video was of me surfing waves at Big Island, Hawaii. Pretty epic.

Thanks to my friend, Cliff Millender, I surfed the panhandle gulf years before I moved here, but it was when I came up from Orlando and a bunch of us piled in the car and drove together from Tallahassee. The first time I surfed the gulf, it was different surf than East Coast and what I was used to. The waves were more mush than even the east coast. Cliff’s so good, he got barreled several times because he’d been surfing for 12 years or more at the time and got outside to the cleaner waves. I’d been surfing less than a year, then, and I was happy to ride the wash. 

A beautiful thing: living here, having the ability to view the beach daily, I know how wrong I was. Again. This place has frequent and decent surf, and I don’t have to wait for storms. With the jetties around, there is almost always a place to catch a wave.


So, if you love to surf and you want to make your home in a beautiful area of the country, don’t forget about Florida’s gulf coast. Pristine, crystal water, friendly folks, and nice waves.

Aloha.

Paddle Boarding – Anything but Boring!

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Saturday, the water at Dune Allan Beach here on 30a looked like northern lights had infiltrated the water. The array of colbalt, aqua, green, and blue appeared absolutely majestic. The sandbars that rose in two stripes of pale terquoise gave a lighter end of the blue spectrum and a place on which to stand and observe the surroundings. On the first sandbar, we clearly saw a sting ray swimming about seven feet from us. Once I pointed it out, crowds on the beach came to observe.

The water has been rather chilly, especially since we had a cold front pass through last week. I don’t mind getting in, however, especially when the sun is out. I have spent my life swimming in the natural springs of north Florida, and I’ve surfed the Atlantic in cooler months, so I am used to the colder temperatures. Come late summer, some days the gulf is so warm, I prefer swimming pools, cooler, spring-fed rivers, and boating farther out in the gulf.

While we were relaxing and playing on the beach, a man who as about our parents’ ages came off the water with his paddle board. We asked how his session was, and after chatting for a few minutes about boarding – paddle, surf, and the beach in general – he offered us the opportunity to try out his board. I have known I wanted to give paddle boarding a try, especially after watching paddle boarders catch some nice rides. My husband insisted I go, so I did. I don’t know why I was surprised our new friend, Dave, who was down from Tuscaloosa, AL for the weekend, offered up his paddle board, but I was. It was good old fashioned southern hospitality and the surf sharing culture in action.

Strapping on the leash, guiding the board out onto the water, parallel to me and perpendicular to the shore, I felt right at  home. I hopped up on the board, but stayed on my knees. The paddle – the inverted side is not the side that pushes the water. It’s contrary to what one might think.

Kayaking and surfing all in one! Brilliant. With my years of kayaking our rivers back home- I paddled out well. The boarding differences were another challenge. Okay – can’t lie down because you have the paddle; control with your core and legs while kneeling but not while lying down; paddle and don’t run into those kids!; don’t stand up because it’s choppy and you have your prescription sunglasses on- can’t lose those.

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An audible, “I’ve got this. I can do this,” sent out to the vast blue stretching in front of me. Nothing but ocean. I was alone. Isolated. In no time, I was on the second sandbar, my destination. It was fast! Easy compared to paddling on a surfboard through wash and chop.

Before I moved to Santa Rosa Beach, paddle boarding seemed boring. Dullsville. Why work for no fun? No waves? In surfing, your willing to kill yourself paddling out to soar back in on a killer ride. Who wanted to paddle flat water, endlessly?

I figured I’d give it a try…sometime. When there weren’t waves. SUP yoga looked like a fun challenge. But, in general, paddle boarding looked tame.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

On the way back in, I felt a few lilts of the board. It was nice – not a crazy rush, but fun. I will be able to catch waves one paddle board here on the gulf on a quiet day. The clarity of the water and view of the ocean and shore while moving slowly over the water is spectacular. Paddle board stoke, baby! I have it! Really…I know I sound cheesy, but who cares.

The coolest thing about boarding and kayaking – you can get to places in nature you never could by foot or boat. I have always said that about kayaking, and I see it with paddle boarding. I am looking forward to exploring some of the freshwater rivers and gorgeous and rare tidal pools unique to this area.

I have a lifelong love affair with water and nature. I am so glad my husband and son do, too. It makes the Florida life so much better, after all. I’m happy to add paddle boarding to my water exploration.

Aloha.

 

Beginner Surfers: Getting Started

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Rip Pics Surf Contest, Cocoa Beach, Fl, 2009 – Women’s longboard competitors

Hire an instructor or have a knowledgeable friend teach you.

Three things your instructor should do:

  1. Safety: before you put a toe in the water, you should learn about safety in order to prevent injury.
  2. Waves: your instructor should push you into waves so that you experience the exhilaration of the sport. Otherwise, there’s no way you’ll be willing to do the work to paddle to the outside. Surfing is mostly paddling.
  3. Board: your instructor should talk about you and your board, you and the ocean, and you, your board, and the ocean together.

After a personal crisis, I decided I wanted to learn to surf. I had always wanted to surf since I was a girl, but living in northern, inland Florida offers limited opportunity. My dad had surfed often in the 60s and he enjoyed it. We never got around to it, and 16 years later, it was my time.

Nine years ago, when I began surfing, I lived in Orlando and was fortunately only 45 minutes from Cocoa Beach, home of famous world champion surfer, Kelly Slater. I got online and looked up surfing in Cocoa Beach. I found a group of surfers who met up on weekends to surf and I contacted them. The wife of the organizer was very nice and suggested I hire an instructor and learn all about safety. The first time she surfed, she stepped off the board and broke her ankle – never step off the board! Fall off. So, I hired an instructor. If you’re in the Central Florida area, I suggest EZ Ride Surf School, and Marcello Loureiro, the director and head surf instructor who taught me is an excellent teacher. If you’re elsewhere, google surf schools or surf instruction.

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Me, center, with friends at Rip Pics Surf Contest, Cocoa Beach, FL in 2009

Marcello sat on the beach with me, and talked about paddling, popping up, stances, turtle rolling (getting under waves on a long board or a fun board), duck diving (short boards), wiping out, and other technical safety concepts.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how the ocean is never-ending. It is the most powerful force of nature that is always moving toward you that we choose to play in. There is no other sport or pastime where a force of that power constantly comes at you. Always be aware of your surroundings.

 

A few safety and etiquette tips:

  1. Have a landmark on the shore. Be aware of your surroundings on land and in the ocean.
  2. If you wipe out, which you will, always know where your board is and know where the next wave is. Bad wipe out? Roll with the waves, and forget about your board until you can get air and know when the next wave is coming.
  3. Best not to surf at dawn or dusk to avoid sharks. Also, if you see birds diving in one spot, they’re fishing. A school of fish means other underwater feeders, like sharks. Avoid that area.
  4. As a novice, don’t surf where there are lots of swimmers. Likewise, don’t surf where the experienced surfers are. Talk to another surfer. Be honest that you’re a beginner and ask where you should surf.

You control the board with your torso and upper part of your legs. When you’re on your board, and it’s calm, close your eyes while lying down in paddling position on your board. Stretch your arms out over the water and let the palms of your hand barely touch the surface of the water. Feel the ocean’s rhythm and force. The movement. Our Earth is mostly water. So are our bodies. Like a dance, like music and movement, you are part of the rhythm. Feel that. Enjoy the calm and serenity of nature.

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Big Island, HI, 2010, with 8’6″ rented board – first epoxy board I had surfed. Note: Epoxy is lighter and faster than fiberglass. I recommend fiberglass for a beginner.

Of course, you can always do what my husband did. Rent a board and run out into the ocean completely unprepared. You may earn yourself a broken nose like he did.

Aloha!

Hermine Tried and Failed

The craziest night of my life: my 3rd hurricane, 2nd in my hometown, and 1st as a wife and mama. Thanks to my husband, our friend who’s a former PJ special ops, and God, others’ lives were spared. 911 Emergency was not responding.

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From our front door, what we thought was a tree that took up most of our front yard was a branch off a tree from 60 feet up.  

Within 5 minutes: something hit the roof (now I figure a branch), our friend, “Chappy,” called my husband and was on our doorstep, we opened the door, and he burst in asking my husband for help – and to go 10 minutes up the road to load three people into the car and get them to our house to safety. A tree had sliced their townhouse in half, landing on the bed our friend was supposed to have slept on but chose the couch instead. The residents were terrified…too scared to stay, too scared to run. The same tree took out another family’s roof. Water was filling up the house, power lines were down, and all hell had broken loose. My husband and friend looked at me, told me to get our toddler and go to the safest room in the house – the hallway bathroom. I did. Thankfully, I got my family on the phone with me to help keep me calm. 

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The tree branch after it was cut down to the trunk.

 

 

 

About 10 minutes later, 3 people flooded into our foyer, carrying bags, a cat carrier, soaked through. My obedient son sat in the hallway bathroom with his dog, flashlight, snack and juice and peeked around the corner. My husband hollered a tree’s down in the yard. I asked if we had cars. He said yes. I said good and grabbed dry towels for everyone. My husband and Chappy went back to the house to rescue their 4 dogs.

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Four of the five dogs pictured here. All sweet pups. They were troopers. Our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Odysseus, shared his home well. 

Seven people, 5 dogs, and 3 cats later, we survived. Grateful for preparedness, our new generator, and can-do attitudes.

Always take the weather seriously. And get yourself a generator. 

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Coffee! Thanks to the generator, I had a fresh cup of brew the next morning. I was prepared to make “cowboy coffee” on the grill, however. 

Gratefully, Janellen

Surfers – Not Your Average Beach Bums

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Hurricane Bill, Cocoa Beach, FL, August 2009

I surf because it makes me a better person. The stigma is that surfing is a waste of time. Surfers are unkempt, irresponsible, and reckless.

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I work hard during the week and I play harder in my free time. I would love to live on Kona, Hawaii. There is no night life. On weekends, or during off-working hours, it’s not unusual to see people walking around with their paddles, outrigger canoes, surfboards, boogie boards and flippers at 6 am. At 9 pm, many folks are asleep. They’ve paddled, swum, surfed themselves into a peaceful state of mind and soft, cozy bed.

Surfing was at the top of my list when I came back to life after climbing my way out of the crisis of my life. I had been a shell of a human being. My family and friends had started to recognize me again when I bought my first board, nicknamed “Blue Lightening” – a fun board I bought in Cocoa Beach, Fl, hometown of surf legend Kelly Slater. I had already hired an instructor, Marcello, who was a fabulous teacher. We sat on the beach and he talked for a half hour and I listened. I learned all about safety and the basics. He then pushed me into waves and told me to paddle! paddle! I wasn’t paddling! I wasn’t paddling? My arms felt like noodles.

I wasn’t paddling. Surfing is mostly paddling. Nobody tells you that. Nobody tells you how much work it actually is. Nobody tells you, “Hey, the ocean. Yeah, it doesn’t ever stop. Always watch. Always.” Nobody tells you how hard you will have to work to paddle through all that damn whitewash to get to the outside of the break. You want to give up. The waves never stop. The ocean is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care about your age, gender, ethnicity, financial status, or physical fitness level. It will keep coming. You have to turtle roll or duck dive your ass off to get to the outside, often getting pushed back, wiping out before you ever get up on a wave. Over and over.

Surfing is work.

But the waves! That’s why you have someone teach you to pop up and push you into waves. If you don’t experience the exhilaration, you’ll never sweat and toil to get there. And once you experience that mountaintop, that first ride, you will be changed forever. The stories of “that wave” and “that wipeout,” the people you meet along the way, the relationships you make, and the calm that comes through the toil and the fun, allows you to be a much better person after that surf session than before. And the ocean, the ocean is not prejudiced. It doesn’t care about your age, gender, ethnicity, financial status, or physical fitness level. It will keep coming. And it will provide hours of challenges and fun resulting in relaxation and a better state of being.

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Surfing Kona, Big Island, HI, Kahaluu break, June 2009

 

So, yeah, next time you meet a surfer and you want to scoff, do the right thing. Smile and wish them a great day. And, go ahead and ask where you can rent a board. Learn a little and you’ll never regret it.

Peace.