Bradenton, Florida

Celebrating Excitement

Bradenton, Florida’s Adrenaline Row turns an anniversary into an adventure

By Kelli Hann

There’s nothing like moving to put a spotlight on how much stuff you have. Standing in the garage, staring at nearly a dozen boxes headed to charity, my husband, Rob, said, “We have to stop the madness.”

From that moment on, all our gifts to each other have been “experience” gifts. Exotic restaurants, snorkeling, weekend getaways, beach days. Fun and adventure over things.

So, when our wedding anniversary came up, we opted for an action-packed weekend of water sports. We wanted to pack in tons of activities without spending all weekend driving. With a quick web search, Rob discovered Adrenaline Row in Bradenton.

Adrenaline Row is a mile-long strip of land that goes from Bradenton across Palma Sola Bay to Anna Maria Island. There’s a lot to do there: horseback riding (or surfing), the beach, jet skiing, kayaking, fishing, flyboarding…we had trouble choosing!

Finally, after much discussion (and a snarky QuizUp battle to see who got to pick the hotel) I went online and reserved kayaks, jet skis, a horseback riding tour, and a flyboarding lesson.

Our adrenaline-fueled anniversary in the Bradenton area was on!

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Kayaking dream come true

We arrived at our hotel Friday night, so we’d be ready to roll in the morning. After breakfast, we headed to The Surfer Bus. It’s an actual bus—vintage-beachy-surfer-cool, with SUPs strapped on top and paddles in blue, red and yellow leaning in a row against the wood-paneled side—we had just rolled into a 1960s surfer movie.

The Surfer Bus is loaded with fun

“C’mon Kelli, stop Instagramming and let’s go!” Rob insisted.

Rob helped me launch my kayak into the calm water of the bay then eased in beside me. We chose the self-guided Robinson Preserve Tower Route. After crossing a short stretch of open water, we glided into a narrow passage with mangroves on either side that arched over us to form a tunnel.

It was magical—all I could hear was the soft waves of the water against the mangrove roots and the occasional splash of Rob’s paddle. Light filtered through the canopy, making dots of sunlight dance like fairies. As soon as the path widened, I signaled Rob to go ahead of me so he could go through the next mangrove tunnel first.

Make playful friends

About halfway through the trip we were crossing a wide area together when suddenly Rob whispered, “Kelli, dolphins!” He was pointing just in front of us to the left. A few seconds later I heard a light huff then saw a fin rise out of the water, arching up then sliding back under without so much as a ripple. It was followed by another fin, another huff—two dolphins.

I’d never seen dolphins in the wild and was shaking with excitement. Rob’s eyes were as big as plates and we were both grinning like fools. We got to see them surface six times before we turned back.   

Bucket list: kayak with dolphins. Check.

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Two kinds of rides

Wave from the waves

Our next stop was across the street for jet skiing. We had no sooner hopped on when Rob shot off like a bullet. I punched it to keep up, leaning into the wind. Jet skiing always makes me giddy. It’s that same feeling you get when you run down a hill so fast your legs aren’t quite keeping up—that buzz you get when you’re part flying and part falling and completely free.

“Watch this!” Rob called as he did a circle around me.

Watch? Oh, no, not today. DO. The rest of the hour was spent trying to one-up each other, until Rob won the day with a daredevil move where he spun around to create waves, then revved the clutch to “hop” over them. I tried it, but only managed to drench myself.

Even then, it was so much fun I didn’t want to head back in.  But we had plans for dinner and a movie, so I hollered, “Last one back is the designated driver!” My cocktails were delicious.

Water horse—not to be confused with a seahorse

The next day we found ourselves back on Adrenaline Row, this time at BeachHorses™ to try HorseSurfing™. After getting to know our horses and trainers, our group of 12 rode in a jagged line along the beach. The day was hot, but the sun made both water and sand sparkle and I felt a wave of contentment. Soon we turned the horses and headed into the bay. As the cool water washed over my legs and up to my waist, I let it lift me slightly, gliding and floating at the same time, weightless.

Once the horses were swimming (they swam surprisingly fast), the trainers showed us how to surf. It looked easy. When it was my turn to try, I got my legs under me in a frog crouch, planted my feet, slowly rose up, and SPLASH! After many tries, I finally got the rhythm of the horse’s swimming motion and managed to stay standing.  

“Take a picture, take a picture!” I yelled at Rob. Luckily, he was already on it—he’d been GoPro filming my wipeouts the whole time. When I was done, he handed me the camera and had his own clumsy go at it. That video is better than any anniversary present money could buy.

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High intensity thrills

Trade the high rise for a high ride!

We closed out our trip with a flyboarding lesson at TOP GUN Flyboards. After a short how-to (and how not to) briefing, Rob rode out with our guide/guru, Jonathan.

They got into position. There was a suspenseful moment of quiet then the jet ski that supplies the water propulsion to the flyboard rumbled to life. Slowly Rob rose out of the water. He got about a foot up before he fell backward, but he was soon up again. After about 15 minutes of short lifts and big falls, he seemed to get the hang of it and managed a few wobbly spins.

Watching Rob have all that fun had me psyched to try it. As soon as the jet ski revved up and I started to lift out of the water, I knew I was hard-core hooked. There was nothing holding me down or back. No resistance of equipment or gravity. I was floating, flying—I was a superhero. Rising out of the water, hovering in the air with my arms hanging loose by my sides.

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Adrenaline Row junkies

“How soon can we come back?” I asked as we headed home.

“Well, my birthday is coming up.”

“The clerk at the hotel lobby told me the Palma Sola Causeway Park right there on Adrenaline Row rented pavilions with grills and tables. We could invite Jenna and Chris, have easy access to all the Adrenaline Row stuff, and then have a cookout.”

“Sounds perfect. Let’s do it.”

Looks like Adrenaline Row is a gift that’s going to keep on giving.