Water on the brain 

Getting wet can be an effective way to beat the heat and humidity of a Central Florida summer. Sure, you can just jump into a neighbor's pool or splash around in the surf at one of our nearby Atlantic beaches. But why not be a sport about it and learn a new skill while you're chillin'? Here are a few places that will teach you what you need to know about such cool pastimes as wakeboarding, skiing, windsailing, surfing, diving and sailing.

O'Town Watersports

To learn how to wakeboard or water-ski from a pro, you might want to visit O'Town Watersports. It boasts renowned wakeboarding coaches, including Nick and Julz (top European riders), Erik Milfors (two-time Swedish camp) and Glen Fletcher (the No. 1 rider in New Zealand). For the more experienced wakeboarder, O'Town also utilizes such advanced equipment as a water trampoline and an air boom.

Eager water-skiers can take lessons from Professional Women's Slalom champion and three-time world-record holder Jennifer Leachman, and her partner, Terence Fogarty, who teach skiing on private Lake Barton, which borders the back of the O'Town store on Colonial Drive. All equipment is provided, and each 20-minute private lesson ranges from $25-$53, depending on the level of the instructor requested. Local residents receive 28 percent off any purchase of 10 lessons, and college students receive 40 percent off with a valid ID.

O'Town Watersports, 5220 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; (407) 380-0734; otownwatersports.com

Mike's Place at the Projects

People hoping to become expert wakeboarders or water-skiers should investigate Mike's Place at the Projects, where the philosophy is that students of all levels have the potential to become world champions.

Previously located at The Orlando Watersports Complex, Mike's Place recently moved to a new location on East Colonial Drive. The new facility incorporates two different lakes, making it possible to reserve one lake for technical training and the other for boats. The coaches at Mike's Place teach the newest technique, provide video analysis of each student and incorporate digital-style images from each training session. They are also the first to offer wake-skate lessons.

Prices start at $70 for half an hour with a coach, or $130 per hour for groups. For people who want unlimited riding and coaching, Mike's Place will host wakeboarding clinics every week this summer, at a cost of $1,000 for five days.

Mike's Place at the Projects; 19504 E. Colonial Drive Orlando; (407) 438-5889; mikesplace99.com.

Orlando Watersports Complex

Beginning June 1, Mike's old home at The Orlando Watersports Complex will become the Air Control Center, which still has all of Mike's previous equipment and offers many options for ardent skiers.

The facility boasts a cable site that can be used for all types of skiing and contains a full-size, competition-standard, six-buoy slalom course and a jump ramp. The cable can be run at 18 mph for beginners and up to 36 mph for advanced skiers.

For wakeboarders hoping to practice their tricks, the complex owns "the first real Sliderpark" in the U.S. There are currently four sliders in the lake, as well as the infamous "Indian rope" -- an extra-short line that allows skiiers to jump as high as 35 feet.

Prices begin at $50 for an hour of knee-boarding, wakeboarding and water-skiing on the cable, with lessons starting at $40 per half-hour in an Air Control Center boat. For $199, guests can purchase an all-you-can-ride pass, which includes four sets on a boat and unlimited use of the cable. There are lights on the cable so skiers can ride until 10 p.m. in the summer. Weekly camps and clinics also are available.

Orlando Watersports Complex; 8615 Florida Rock Road, Orlando; (407) 251-3100; orlandowatersports.com.

Cocoa Beach Surf School

Ever dreamed of riding the waves? Cocoa Beach Surf School, which is one-block north of Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, offers year-round private surfing lessons.

Former pro surfer Craig Carroll owns the school, and his staff includes current and former U.S. National Surfing Team members and East Coast champions.

A one-on-one lesson is $45 for one hour or $120 for three hours; or two people can catch an hour-long lesson together for $40 each, or $75 for three hours. For three people or more, the cost is $50 per person for three hours.

Lessons include all equipment and an ocean/water safety lesson. Instructors motivate classes seven days a week at the North end of Shepherd Park, which is located at the end of the 520 Causeway.

Cocoa Beach Surf School, 150 E. Columbia Lane, Cocoa Beach; (321) 868-1980; ronjons.com/surfschool/index.html.

Typhoon Lagoon

If surfing without the saltwater and sharks seems ideal, instructors from the Cocoa Beach Surf School teach lessons in the wave pool at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon water park.

The pool, which is kept at a comfortable 75 to 80 degrees, produces one 5-foot wave every 90 seconds from each of three directions: left, right and center. Classes are held before the park opens every Tuesday and Friday morning for two-and-a-half hours. All equipment is provided, and the lessons are $125 per person. Annual-pass holders pay only $100.

Twelve students are sanctioned in each class; all must sign waivers stating that they're strong swimmers.

Groups of up to 25 experienced surfers can book the wave pool before or after regular hours for three-and-a-half hours. The park does not supply equipment, and it's not cheap: Costs run from $1,000 to $1,300 per session.

Typhoon Lagoon, 1145 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-WDW-PLAY for surfing class, (407) WDW-SURF for wave-pool rental; disneyworld.disney.go.com/waltdisneyworld/parksandmore/attractions/attractionindex?id=TLTyphoonLagoonSurfPoolAtt

Space Coast Sailing Center

Located in Indian Harbour Beach, the Space Coast Sailing Center is Florida's only full-time sailing school. It offers a one-day, five-hour "resort class," which is ideal for visitors who want to enjoy the day sailing and learn the basics but do not necessarily want to become certified sailors.

Another popular innovation of the Space Coast Sailing Center is the "sail simulator," a device students can operate to practice their techniques and hone their skills.

The American Sailing Association (ASA) certifies all instructors at the school. Advanced sailors can take classes in "keel boat," "basic cruising," "bare-boat cruising," "spinnaker techniques," and "racing rules and skills."

For sailors who want to congregate with others, Vince Morrison of Space Coast Sailing runs a sailing club which hosts social events. Members receive discounts on boat rentals and sailing trips.

The price of the resort class is $100 per person, with the third and fourth persons in a group priced at $50 each. Prices of the advanced classes range from $100 to $335, depending on the class. Classes times are flexible.

Space Coast Sailing Center, 1399 Banana River Drive, Indian Harbour Beach; (321) 777-8189; spacecoastsailing.com.

Banana River Windsurfing Resort

If you long to feel the breeze in your face, another possible sport to consider is windsurfing. You can take lessons at Banana River Windsurfing Resort in Cocoa Beach on A1A. Managed by Masters World Champions Beth and Greg Winkler, the resort offers training at $60 per hour, per person, with all equipment provided.

Many visitors take the guaranteed "learn-to-sail" windsurfing class, which means the instructors will teach students until they master the sport, at a cost of $150 per person. "It usually takes people about eight hours or so," Beth Winkler says. "A lot of people like to come and spend the whole weekend taking this class, so they don't feel like they have to rush through a timed lesson."

The resort recently bought new wide-style boards that are extremely easy to learn and teach on, Winkler says.

Visitors who want to practice their windsurfing skills on their own can lease windsurfers for $15 per hour, and there is no additional fee if the person sails for more than four hours. All classes are taught on the Banana River, at the first civilian property on the north side of Patrick Air Force Base.

Banana River Windsurfing Resort, 3590 S. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach; (321) 784-0166; bananariverresort.com.

Calema Windsurfing School

Another Banana River windsurfing option is Calema Windsurfing School in Merritt Island, which entertains its classes at Kelly Park on the Banana River.

The school's head instructor is Tinho Donrellas, who writes for Windsurfing magazine and is frequently recognized as "the guy with the funny hat" from his pictures. He is one of only two master instructors in the nation affiliated with the U.S. Sailing Association.

Calema offers both two- and four-day performance clinics year-round for all levels of windsurfing students. Class size is limited to 12 students, and Tinho himself teaches the advanced courses.

This summer, Calema is sponsoring a "third Sunday of the month" racing series, to be held on June 16, July 21 and Aug. 18. Each race is only $15 per person and ends with free dinner at the Calema Club in Kelly Park. The races are meant to give all levels of windsurfers an opportunity to practice their skills in a friendly, low-pressure environment.

Clinic prices range from $275 to $449 per person, depending on the level of class requested. Private lessons are also available for $40 per hour or $150 for four hours.

Calema Windsurfing School; 2550 N. Banana River Drive, Merritt Island; (800) 422-5362; calema.com.

Dave's Ski School at Buena Vista Watersports

Thrill-seekers looking for a picturesque water-skiing experience should visit Dave's Ski School, a division of Buena Vista Watersports. The school sits on a tropical beach on spring-fed Lake Bryan off State Road 535, one-fourth mile south of Interstate 4 and exit 27.

At Dave's, the instructor skis next to the novice skier until the student feels comfortable enough to ski alone. Classes are taught Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

When purchasing the "Watersports Adventure" package, students can hop on a jet ski after their lessons and take a "bumper ride" in any of four tubes tied to the back of the boat. The cost of the package is $55 per adult.

Buena Vista Watersports also rents its resort for corporate parties and events. A resort rental includes unlimited private use of the pontoon boats, ski boats and wave runners, plus an all-you-can-eat barbecue. Prices vary according to the number of people at the party, and a live band is also available.

Dave's Ski School at Buena Vista Watersports; 13245 Lake Bryan Drive, Orlando; (407) 239-6939; bvwatersports.com/rentals.htm.

Discover Diving Dive Center

If breathing underwater is more your style, a short drive to Discover Diving Dive Center in Port Orange could be well worth your time. Located about 20 minutes south of Daytona Beach, the center offers diving-certification classes that can be completed in two weekends for $125 per person.

Every student who completes the "PADI Open Water Diver" certification training will receive an elective credit that can be transferred to many U.S. colleges. The PADI certification grants students legal permission to dive without the supervision of an instructor.

The dive center offers training in a private heated pool, as well as at DeLeon and Blue Springs. Once students are certified, the center presents frequent boat trips to the artificial reef sites 12 miles off the shores of Daytona Beach. There, divers can reach depths of 90 feet and view boat wrecks and marine life.

Students must supply their own snorkel, mask, fins, boots and mouthpieces. The school provides all other necessary gear.

Discover Diving Dive Center; 92 Dunlawton Causeway, Daytona Beach, 32127; (386) 760-DIVE; divefl.com.

Sammy Duvall's Water Sports Centre

For people who don't mind the tourist scene, Sammy Duvall's Water Sports Centre offers options for the hopeful water enthusiast. Water-skiing is $130 per hour for as many as five people, and wakeboarding is $130 per hour for four people. Parasailing flights, which are 10 minutes long and reach altitudes of 600 feet, are priced at $80 per person or $120 for two people.

Sammy Duvall's Water Sports Centre; 1600 World Drive, Lake Buena Vista, 32830; Snorkeling info: (407) 824-4321; parasailing, water-skiing and wakeboarding: (407) 939-0754; duvallwatersports.com.

More by Linnea Brown


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