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Sports & Recreation

Sports and Recreation - Staff Picks 

Best way to pass time in a drainage ditch

Winching

When former Orlando resident Thomas Horrell first set foot on a wakeskate – basically, a wakeboard on which your feet are unattached – in the late ’90s, he was thrilled, but also bothered: The new sport was far less accessible than its inspiration, skateboarding. “It was super expensive to have a boat or a jet ski or anything like that,” he says.

Horrell found his solution in 2003, at an improbable location: the small Opa-locka airport in north Miami. On the terminal runway, he noticed a fuel hose being reeled quickly into a machine-powered spool. The light bulb flicked on. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we can definitely do something with this for wakeskating,’” he says. Before long, the winch was born.

The modern wakeskate winch features a spool of up to a thousand feet of rope and a motor with a horsepower usually in the single-digits. Firmly fastened to a trailer hitch, or a tree, or a rock, or any sturdy/heavy object, the winch can tow a wakeskater across the water, the same way a small motorboat would. It’s the perfect solution for watersports enthusiasts on a budget – or those unable to cajole friends into towing them behind a boat for hours a day.

But “winching” has become far more than a money saver – it’s opened up new worlds for wakeskaters looking to tackle obstacles in places where no boat or jet ski could safely go, such as drainage ditches, lakeside ledges, dams and “gaps” between water bodies with different elevations. Orlando is host to a vibrant winching scene – not surprising, considering that it was essentially born here (Horrell lived in Orlando between 1998 and 2006). For proof, Google the phrase “DIY with Ben Horan” and you’ll find a video of wakeskaters employing the winch at a spot near the 408 overpass and Anderson Street, performing varial kickflips and big spins over a drop between a drainage tunnel and a shallow retention pond filled with sludgy water. Other popular spots around town include the sloping concrete ledge behind the storage units near the intersection of Lee Road and Edgewater Drive, and the “MetroWest Gap,” a decorative waterfall near Valencia State College’s West Campus.

Today, winching has spread to all latitudes of the extreme-sports spectrum, such as skateboarding and snowboarding – if you’re still online, check out Red Bull’s “Winch Sessions.” In sum, we’re excited about the enormous potential of the winch, but it may only be a matter of time before we open the newspaper and see “winch” and “hazing” in the same paragraph.

 

Best endangered outdoor drinking spot

Wekiva Island
1014 Miami Springs Drive, Longwood; 407-862-1500; wekivaisland.com

Since sometime in the mid-1960s, this little marina on the Wekiva River, not far from Wekiva Springs State Park, has been a gathering place for locals. All year long, people come here to rent canoes and kayaks, play volleyball on the sand courts, fish, rent cabanas on the river or just kick back with a cold beer from the outdoor bar. But apparently, there are some neighbors in town – the kind who live in the McMansions surrounding this primitive partying spot on the riverbank – who don’t like living near it. They say too much partying, drinking and noise is disrupting their lives. “It’s not what we bargained for when we bought in here,” one neighbor complained to the Orlando Sentinel last fall. In January, the owners of Wekiva Island won a battle to get the parcel of land it sits on zoned so it can become an “ecotourism” destination and extend its operating hours. But displeased neighbors promised they’d be keeping tabs on the place, ready to file their complaints should things get too rowdy at the river.

 

Best place for a late-night game of pickup basketball

University of Central Florida’s outdoor courts
4000 Central Florida Blvd., 407-823-2408 rec.ucf.edu m

As the Miami Heat inched closer to the NBA Finals this year, you may have found yourself with the urge to pick up the rock and work on your fade-away jumper, while muttering profanities to an imaginary LeBron James. But if it’s 10 p.m. and you have no basketball, no hoop and nobody to play with, it’s a bit difficult to express your Finals Fantasy. Unless, of course, you’re near the campus of the University of Central Florida, which is a reliable place to get in on some pickup ball games. Just to the right of the school’s Wellness Center – e.g., the gym – are three well-maintained and fully marked outdoor courts. The school stops checking for parking permits around 10:30 p.m., though police are supposedly – supposedly – checking occasionally after that. The lights stay on til midnight, so it’s the perfect place to indulge your inner Dwight Howard.

 

Best bad sports ad campaign

Predators’ “Get your nuts back” advertisements

So it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and just when you think you’re enjoying a respite from the typical commercial inanity, this scene comes up: A man wearing a football jersey sits in the bleachers of a deserted stadium. “Football season is over,” the voiceover says. The man despondently munches from a bag of peanuts, until a janitor yanks the bag from his hand. “And now, you’ve lost your nuts!” Cut to a series of clips of Orlando’s arena football team, the Predators, in action, along with cheering fans. Cue a severely pubescent voiceover which exhorts you to “get your nuts back” at an Amway Center “packed with football … AND NUTS.” Finally, the commercial ends with our protagonist totally fellating a bag of peanuts with gusto, after getting two season tickets – and two bags of nuts – for only $99! After the 30-second spot ends, you wonder what else $2.6 million could have purchased for the Preds.

Best community-minded skatepark

Midtown
5043 Forsyth Commerce Road; 407-440-2802; midtownskatepark.com

We skateboarders (there is one of us here at the Weekly) are typically a self-centered bunch; while skating we can usually be found with a pair of headphones on, gaze averted downward, communicating only with taps of the board. But when we anti-social shredders see our cohorts breaking with the pack in an attempt to create a skateboarding community, we’re secretly thrilled. Midtown Skatepark, which opened last August on Forsyth Road, has brought a vibrant new skate scene to a quasi-industrial quadrant of town, not only by hosting a constantly changing – and improving – series of obstacles, but by playing host to lively contests, premieres of videos both local and national, and generally being a good place to watch dudes that are way better than you utterly kill it.

 

Best 5 o’clock shadow

Orlando Magic players stop shaving during playoffs

This year was supposed to be the year – again – for the Orlando Magic to bring home the NBA title, especially with the team’s spiffy new Amway Center home and the addition of seasoned veteran Gilbert Arenas to the team after the season-turning trades. To spark the team’s “Blue & White Ignite” flame, forward Quentin Richardson convinced his fellow players to stop shaving their faces (they veteoed shaving their heads due to the fact that a few players were already balding) during their playoff run. The campaign hairballed into a citywide hirsute effort. Diehard fans, local radio personalities and even Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer were part of the stubbly mess. Turns out the hair didn’t help the team much: The Magic suffered an embarrassing series loss to Atlanta in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now Magic fans are tearing their hair out in frustration.

 

Best cross-state rivalry

War on I-4: Orlando Predators vs. Tampa Bay Storm
orlandopredators.com

If you’ve ever been to an arena football game you know the high-action plays on the field – and even more so the drunken fans in the stands – create one hell of a rowdy atmosphere. And the fierce rivalry between these two down-the-road opponents – which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary since its inception back in 1991 (not to be confused with the later conceived college-football battle between UCF and USF) – continues to create hostility between players and fans alike. The Predators and the Storm meet at least twice a year, and both teams are known for bussing fans along I-4 (hence the name) to the respective opponent’s arena for away games. The decades-long series stood tied evenly until the Predators defeated the Storm at the new Amway Center in May, when the Preds sought revenge for their defeat in last year’s American Conference Championship. That shiny new arena might just be a good luck charm for the Preds, after all.

 

Best use for a baseball bat

Armando Gutierrez, Jr.

Once a Republican political hopeful whisked into Central Florida in a Republican carpetbag from his South Florida home as a viable rival for Alan Grayson’s House seat, Armando Gutierrez quickly dropped the political ball in favor of his one true passion: baseball. When he slipped out of the race in early 2010, all of his Field of Dreams posturing gave off a whiff of a mental asylum or a particularly misguided douchebag. But by May 2011, Gutierrez’s mission had only become more crystallized with a Hail-Mary proposal to build a baseball stadium for the Tampa Yankees farm league near the convention center on International Drive. Also, the county would be expected to take a loss on the whole deal. This will never happen. Then again, that’s what they told Kevin Costner, right?

 

Best way to taunt alligators

Paratour powered paragliding
23706 Tex Wheeler Ave., Christmas ; 352-461-6723; paratour.com

Right across from where Midway Airboat launches tours into the gator-filled St. Johns River in Christmas, Paratour teaches would-be pilots the finer points of strapping a huge fan to your back, hooking up to an overhead parasail and then flying over grazing pasture and swamp dotted with cows and swarms of alligators. Paragliding, as it’s called, is a sport for people who want a little more control over their flight than is possible with parachuting, and for those who love “adventure sports” that require crazy investments in gear or lessons, resulting in ever more daring ways to hurt themselves. Despite the use of a gas-powered engine and fan, there is some athleticism involved in navigating. And you’ll want to be in tip-top shape to wrestle one of the 14,000 80-toothed inhabitants on the ground below, should you need to perform a crash landing.

 

Best low-rent NASCAR-like experience

Orlando Speed World Dragway
19442 E. Colonial Drive, 407-568-2717; speedworlddragway.com

Drag racing may not be the sport of gentlemen, but it sure can be entertaining. True, there’s a high redneck quotient, but the average race fan at Orlando Speed World Dragway is just your normal car- and horsepower-loving speed-freak. The racers are regular car guys – though there are some legends among them – who pimp out street cars with outrageous engines, roll cages and primo endurance parts. A true car-lovers track, you’ll see a ’72 Chevelle competing against an ’03 Hyundai and all makes and models in between. There’s your standard drag (two competitors race on a quarter-mile track) and stockcar racing, but you can also see races with flaming school buses, flame-spitting trucks and cars pulling boats or RV trailers. In the NHRA Super Pro drag racing series, as with almost all races here, drivers come from all over Central Florida. Street drags are scheduled every Wednesday and Friday night 6-10:30 p.m., and on Saturday there’s bracket races with eliminations starting at 3:00 p.m.

 

Best excuse for an Irish Santa

Letters to Santa: Cookies and a Movie
Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland, 407-629-0054; enzian.org

Falling squarely (and barely) under the “recreation” part of this category, it must be said that the Enzian consistently follows through with grand ideas, from Bond-inspired martini parties to this holiday morning for the kiddies. As a Looney Tunes cartoon was barely paid attention to on the big screen, little ones worked away at wish lists for a waiting-in-the-wings Santa … who happened to be Irish. And why not? Fueled by cookies and sugar plums, the kids swiftly bum-rushed the jolly elf while their parents snapped photos with their own cameras, thus sparing those in attendance from the freakishly long lines and freakier price packages of just such a photo at any of the city’s malls around the holidays. Our wallets thank you.

 

STILL GREAT: Best of Orlando, 2003

Best Theme Park

Gatorland
14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-855-5496; gatorland.com

WE SAID THEN: It’s been said that you’re not a native unless you can make the gator mating call – a kind of “gulp gulp” noise – and for inspiration, there’s no better place than the boardwalks around Gatorland’s mood-enhanced Alligator Breeding Marsh at sunset during the warm-water breeding season. For a gone-wild experience, there’s nothing like watching the randy devils back-rubbing and snout-smacking – four males to every female – just a few feet away from viewers. (A few seem to like an audience.) The marsh is but one of the gator fascinations at this Old-Florida-style attraction that mixes education with bloody sensation. The Gator Jumparoo makes a show out of leaping and snarling for chicken-carcass snacks. Best of all, Gatorland markets itself as “Orlando’s Best Half Day Attraction,” making no demands for a ridiculously exhausting full-day excursion to get your money’s worth, which amounts to less than $20 per person.

WE SAY NOW: Not much has changed at Gatorland, including the less-than-$20 admission fee. You can still watch gators doing what they like to do (including getting it on), and now you can get a birds-eye view of the action, too – the attraction has added a “Screamin’ Gator” zipline ride that takes you flying over the gators and crocs below.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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