Every so often an event takes place which not only puts a smile on your face, but also gives you a warm feeling in your heart. In these times, an event like this doesn’t seem to occur as often as it should. When you get the chance to witness it, it’s truly an amazing sight. We had such an opportunity on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Northeast Florida, and were given the opportunity to say thanks to some truly deserving young men and put a smile on their faces.
I suppose we should start from the beginning to create the back story of how this event came to be. It all evolved from our starting a charity kayak fishing tournament. We’ve fished tournaments all over the southern US, and wanted to build something challenging yet fun which would excite kayak anglers. We also wanted to help raise awareness and financial support to local charities. We took a little piece of what we learned from our tournament experience and produced our event, the Inshore Xtreme Challenge.
We started the tournament in 2014, and felt as though we’d done something great, and our competitors truly seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of our event. For 2015, we wanted to reach out to an organization who supported veterans and who were local to Northeast Florida. We found such an organization in Combat2College. Combat2College is an IRS Registered 501C3 organization who provides a bridge that connects veterans, service members, and their family members to resources in order to facilitate their success in post-secondary or higher education. Combat2College does this through several programs including a textbook assistance program and their backpack campaign. Being that we’re veterans ourselves, it only seemed natural that we’d get the opportunity to give back to our brothers in arms.
We started working with Combat2College in Fall 2014 to get prepared for the 2015 Inshore Xtreme Challenge event. We were in awe of how motivated and dedicated these individuals were with not only supporting veterans, but also with supporting our event. Together, we started setting up the tournament event and making plans to make this year even better. We started reaching out to potential sponsors again, and one particular sponsor showed up in an incredible way for this event. Pelican International has always been a strong supporter of Yak Outlaws, but they blew us away with their sponsorship for the 2015 event.
Not only did they offer to donate a kayak to raffle off, but since the charity was a veteran’s organization, they decided to take it another step. I was contacted by Jennifer Di Donato, who works in marketing for Pelican International via e-mail asking if we could speak by telephone. Jennifer quickly informed me that Pelican wanted to sponsor two of the veterans in the Combat2College organization. This sponsorship included a brand new Elie Gulf 120 XE Angler kayak for each veteran. We were blown away by the generosity shown by Pelican International.
The leadership at Combat2College picked out 2 very deserving veterans, while we worked at getting the rest of the gear that they’d need to be ready for kayak fishing. After a quick trip to our local Academy store, we grabbed a couple of PFD’s and whistles, and our friends at Bending Branches joined in and donated a couple of new Angler Scout paddles. I contacted Andrew Stern with Bending Branches, and he was immediately on board for such a great cause.
Now that we had everything that would be needed for these guys to get on the water, our next obstacle was trying to get everyone together to present the kayaks without tipping our hand. We all wanted it to be a complete surprise for these two guys. Of course, we wanted the opportunity to not only present the kayaks, but also give these guys a chance to test out their new toys, and slime them up straight out of the gate!
We picked a perfect Sunday afternoon with blue bird skies, an outgoing tide, and minimal winds. Myself and fellow Outlaw, Buddy Freeman, met up with Combat2College Executive Director, Brad Ross, and loaded up all the kayaks and headed for the launch. In the meantime, C2C Development Executive Vice President Nathan Rey picked up the veterans and headed to meet us at the kayak launch. Rey simply told the guys that we were gonna hang out and do a little fishing, maintaining our surprise. We staged the kayaks so they were just out of eyesight, and waiting for the veterans to arrive. Once they got there, we all introduced ourselves and we were immediately thanked for offering to hang out and take these guys fishing.
We were very impressed with meeting Jason Boyd Bartlett and Cody Thompson, all the while trying to maintain our own excitement. I had Jason & Cody follow us around the corner and showed them the kayaks. At this point, we were all smiles, but they hadn’t quite grasped what was actually going on. We presented Jason & Cody with the kayaks, and I had to tell them a couple times that the kayaks belonged to them before it actually sank in. “Are you serious???” was the most classic of responses and they quickly took to checking out their new fishing kayaks. Buddy and myself then set about giving the guys a run down of the kayak, fitting their new PFD’s, and some quick tips on kayak fishing and paddling. You can probably already imagine that both guys were amped and ready to get their new Elie Gulf 120’s on the water!
We pushed off, and both Jason & Cody took to paddling their new kayaks like seasoned pro’s. We set off for our fishing spot chatting along the way and enjoying the leisurely paddle. Of course, there was some ribbing going back & forth to make the day more enjoyable amongst the guys. We got back to the fishing spot and lined up on a bend littered with oyster mounds. We got everyone rigged up and the rods soon were flying in search of the first fish of the day. Cody was the first to draw “fish on” and landed a small silver perch. Jason wasn’t far behind and landed himself a nice little redfish. Everyone landed a few fish, making the already great day that much better. We shared our knowledge of kayak fishing and fishing in general with our new members to the addiction that is kayak fishing.
With sunset getting close, we decided to call it a day and started paddling back to the launch, still answering questions from our eager new kayak anglers. The day turned out perfectly, an event that we’ll remember for quite some time. Every so often an event takes place, an event where you’re awarded the opportunity to give back, an event where everything comes together, an event where everyone is more than happy to pitch in and do their part to help out. It’s this type of event that solidifies the notion that kayak fishing is definitely the world’s greatest sport.