St Augustine has earned itself the title of the ‘ancient city,’ essentially because it is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States and still has many relics and reminders dotted around to remind visitors of that fact. However, since it is also a coastal area of Florida, with reliably sunny weather and beaches, it does attract not only history lovers but also families, groups of friends, general tourists, and people who love the water and paddleboarding on the St. Johns River. As such, it has a plethora of different activities to excite and entertain those visiting. Water skiing, surfing, paragliding, kayaking, diving, you name it, St Augustine will have it on offer. A classic water sports option would be to hire a stand up paddleboard.
Rent a Paddle Board in St. Augustine
Paddleboarding is so widely popular due to the inclusivity that it offers as a sport. While it provides countless physical benefits, it is accessible to those who have injuries, struggle with fitness, or have no idea what you are supposed to do on a paddleboard: don’t worry, you’ll pick it up. The beauty of renting a paddleboard somewhere like St Augustine is that you can enjoy the area's history, and learn about everything the city has witnessed from the peaceful perspective of your paddleboard.
History of St. Johns River
St. Johns River is a fantastic place to start. It is the longest river in the whole of Florida and is ideal for paddleboarding, particularly beginner’s paddleboarding. St Johns has a very low flow rate of 0.13m/s, which is why it is often described as ‘lazy’ (think of the lazy river at your nearest theme park and imagine paddleboarding down it). Its ecosystem is so diverse that large marine animals such as dolphins and manatees happily live there alongside thousands of invertebrate animals, hundreds of different species of fish, and countless rare plants. The manatees in Florida are genuinely friendly and happy to approach humans. Because paddleboards have no engine or aggressive noise, it is the ideal way to meet them.
The Ancient City
St Augustine’s nickname of the ‘ancient city’ refers to the time it was founded in 1565, but this does not even scratch the surface of this area's actual historical scope. Paleo-Indians were estimated to arrive in Florida around 12,000 years ago. The peninsula was dominated by grasslands and barely even had many trees. Archaeologists have uncovered a wide variety of tools used by these people, made from bone, animal teeth, and antlers. Around 5000 years later, in the Middle Archaic period, numerous settlements near the St Johns River cropped up and stayed there for some time. When they later became the Seminole people, they referred to St Johns River as ‘wi-láko,’ meaning ‘big water,’ due to how the river runs through big lakes. Other historians believe the name comes from the term ‘walaka,’ which essentially means ‘water is coming,’ which could be a reference to the slow tidal movements of the river, which nowadays we take advantage of in paddleboarding.
Europeans Arrive in Florida
In 1513, Europeans first arrived in Florida, although they did not settle there until 1562. Spanish explorers named the river ‘Rio de Corrientes,’ translating to ‘River of Currents.’ The St Johns River was the first place that was colonized in the entire region and the location of the first battle in the area. The French and Spanish clashed when both tried to claim St Augustine, the Spanish triumphing after capturing Fort Caroline, which allowed them to maintain control of the river. Over a hundred years later, the Spanish renamed the river ‘San Juan del Puerto.’
Laurel Grove Plantation
Then came the slave trade, and a trader named Zephaniah Kingsley built a plantation called Laurel Grove near the west bank of the St Johns River. He married three of the women that he owned, which was legal in Florida during that period. His business grew, and he bought several other plantations across Florida. The Seminole tribes combined with runaway slaves and frequently clashed with the white settlers. Several towns and landmarks along the St Johns River are named after those involved in these battles. The white settlers were victorious, led by Major Andrew Jackson, and following this, they began to use the river for steamboats to bring in lumber, cotton, and citrus, and later assisted in providing materials to the Confederates during the Civil War.
New York Times
In 1883, a New York Times story wrote that the only places worth seeing in Florida were Jacksonville and St Augustine, with an overnight stay at St Johns River. Rumors spread that Florida water could cure failing health, and people traveled to the river to see if this was true. People began to see Florida as an exotic wonderland with glorious weather and magnificent plants, and people began to move to the sunshine state in large numbers. One of the unforeseen consequences of this was that it gave Florida an enormous hyacinth problem. One woman who moved to Florida began growing them. However, they became so invasive and densely populated that by the mid-1890s, they had taken over 200,000km2 of the river. It cost the Government of Florida nearly $600,000 to get rid of them, which was not even entirely successful.
Enjoy Your Day on the Water in St. Augustine
So what could be more fascinating than paddleboarding on the St. Johns River, which has seen so much in its time? And this is only what we have documented. From tribes to runaway slaves to Spanish and French colonizers, the bloody history surrounding this river has witnessed such pivotal moments in Florida’s history, and America’s history as a nation. This truly is a great river that holds many secrets and many stories yet remains the same slow, steady current despite its numerous name changes and feuds battled over it.