There’s a new zoo guy in town

Growing up here, I went to the Gulf Breeze Zoo pretty regularly with my family and occasionally as a special field trip with school.

The place is massive, and the wide variety of animals is so cool. My favorites have and always will be the giraffes. There is just something about these giants with the gangly-looking legs, gentle eyes and the long purple tongues that I can’t get enough of. Now that they have two babies, Gibson and Kelly, I find myself there even more often.

I also find myself spending hours in the budgie enclosure as the bright little birds twitter and flutter. They’re always fussing over who gets what branch or preening each other’s feathers.

The train ride is also a delight as you chug past rhinos, hippos, zebras, gorillas and other native species. It’s like taking an African safari without the plane ticket.

While the zoo has always been a joy as it has grown throughout the years, I was surprised to learn that she’s got a new captain at the helm.

Jesse Pottebaum has taken over as director, and he’s got big plans in mind.(Big plans that I love.)

Just a little background on Jesse, he started his career at Sea World San Antonio cleaning tanks and preparing fishy smelling meals for the animals. But with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in theater, he was a perfect candidate to eventually begin working with the animals in performances and enrichment activities.

He went on to help Sea World launch Discovery Cove where he trained dolphins about interacting with people in their pools and guided upclose encounters of the aquatic kind.

He’s a husband and father of three adorable young children, and he’s an animal lover to a fault.

It’s the face-to-face, hands-on interactions like those at Discovery Cove that he wants to develop here. Imagine a close encounter with rhinos, touching lemurs or even handfeeding baby giraffes. Jesse said when people can make a connection with an animal, the message of conservation clicks. That’s when children and even adults learn to care he said. That is powerful, and it is a big part of the zoo’s mission.

So with that in mind Jesse and the zoo owner will be investing in new experiences, expansions and exhibit enhancements in the coming months. He hinted at a “wet” exhibit in the future as well.

Visiting now or in the future, the Gulf Breeze Zoo offers a family-friendly atmosphere for a once in a lifetime wild experience. Stop by on your vacation.

Popularity of beach volleyball growing

Volleyball on Navarre Beach never seems to stop. Whether you are a pro looking to get in on the action, a spectator or a novice looking to try it out, Navarre Beach has become the perfect venue for the game.

More than a dozen tournaments are scheduled for our sandy shores thanks to the efforts of pro volleyball player and local Judd Smith and Bulldog Beach Volleyball at Lagerheads on the Gulf of Mexico.

Smith once called Navarre Beach a diamond in the rough when it comes to the beach volleyball scene, and it’s one that continues to shine.

This is the fourth year Bulldog Beach has been full-go with putting together tournaments. The popularity grows each year.

The Rockwell tournament, held last month, was one of the latest events Smith helped spearhead. It featured 30 teams and $3,000 in prize money that was generated through local sponsors.

Rockwell provided watches, t-shirts and swag bags. There were teams from as far away as California that traveled to play in the tournament.

Another tournament earlier this year drew 41 teams and the field could have been bigger as there were eight teams on a waiting list. Junior leagues have become a mainstay on the beach as well this year.

The ultimate goal is to bring professional tournaments to the beach, where visitors will get to stick their toes in the sand while watching some great athletes duke it out.

For the less hardcore volleyballer, like myself, the courts are set up for folks to use at the foot of the Navarre Beach Fishing pier on the gulf side of the beach as well as at Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill across the street on the sound side.

Though I am personally too uncoordinated for pretty much any sport, I love getting a group of friends together to knock a ball around at sunset on the beach. If you miss you can always blame it on staring at the view.

Novice or not, beach volleyball is a blast and just one of many ways to get active here on sunny Navarre Beach.

Music video features Navarre Beach paradise

Southern comfort and relaxing on the water go hand in hand.

For those of you who love country music you may have heard the song “Wake up, Boat, Drink, Repeat” by Andy Velo. You may have also seen the fabulous music video for his tune that premiered earlier this month on the Great American Country music television channel. In two days the video got more than 50,000 views.

What you might not have realized is that uncrowded beachfront scene where Andy and his friends play, boat and have a good time is our backyard here on sunny Navarre Beach. The clear blue waters and white sands are right here! Andy and his team filmed the music video back in May featuring some of our locals and of course our lovely landscape.

The concert at the end of the video was filmed right here at Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill, named one of the best beach bars in the state.

If you have not already heard Andy’s song and watched his video, I recommend checking out this catchy, upbeat tune at If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what a video can tell you.

Very rarely do you get to actually visit the paradises featured in big music video productions and many of these locations have been doctored by set designers and post production wizards.

But for Navarre Beach, set dressing was not needed. This video perfectly captures the natural beauty and homegrown fun that is our beach front community. It also captures the relaxing atmosphere our beaches provide.

As the lyrics go “Just summertime chilling. Any kind of water will do…ocean, lake, river or creek, just wake up, boat, drink, repeat.”

The great thing about Navarre is that we have those white sandy beaches just waiting for you to stick your toes in the sand, but just a quick drive north and you will find Blackwater River, the perfect place to drift down stream.

Whether it’s a family vacation or a group of friends just looking to chill together, Navarre Beach makes for the perfect destination. Come see it for yourself.

The Thing hits Navarre Beach

Visitors to the newly opened Sage Paddle Co. surf shop are greeted by a rarity, a classic ‘70s “beach car.”

Business owner and Florida Young Entrepreneur of the Year Sage Offutt, 15, has bought her first vintage Volkswagen before she’s even old enough to drive it. Brightly striped in off-white and blue, the 1974 Volkswagen Thing Acapulco Edition is a collectors’ car.

This “beach car” was a modified version of the ‘70s Thing, a rather practical bucket of a vehicle brought over to the states in droves from Europe.

While the Thing was practical, the Acapulco edition was designed specifically for resorts along Mexico’s coast to offer their guests enjoyment in the sun. The Acapulco edition features a wooden floorboard, bright blue finish and convertible top. It was a luxury cruiser.

“It’s got that total beach vibe. They used them on the beach,” Sage said.

Only 200 of the Acapulcos were made, and less than a third of them are estimated to have survived to this day. That means Sage scored one of possibly 67 left in existence and now it’s on display for Navarre Beach visitors to enjoy.

“I have always been interested in classic cars. I don’t know if it’s having a brother and dad or what,” she said. “I have been looking for an Acapulco for two years. I always thought they are super cool and so rare. Vintage cars are so cool.”

Sage found a collector in Denver who had one and offered her a good deal on it. It is so collectible that shortly after she purchased it a woman came forward offering her $13,000 more than she paid for it.

But Sage said no way.

The woman then told Sage to name her price, but she still refused.

Navarre Beach visitors will be able to check out the Thing at 8228 Gulf Blvd. Make sure to drop by on your vacation!

Sage brings paddle boarding fun to Navarre beach

When I was 11 years old, my greatest aspiration was to get into an R-rated movie at the local theater. But Sage Offutt, 15, had bigger plans.

This young entrepreneur is the proud founder and owner of Sage Paddle Co. She’s been offering locals and visitors alike a unique experience through stand up paddle boarding and other entertaining rentals. She even gives lessons.

Sage has been in business since she was 11. She started out walking the 3 miles of white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico known as Navarre Beach offering her services with a few boards she bought on a loan.

Now she has a newly opened surf shop at 8228 Gulf Blvd., tons of rental options and constant full orders for her rentals. She’s always had the persistent can do attitude.

Among the fun offered by Sage are stand up paddle boards, bicycles, kayaks, surf boards and more. The new location will also offer shopping opportunities with works by local artists, Sage Paddle Co. merchandise and snorkel gear.

For Sage, growing the business is just part of the game. This year she was named Florida’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Offutt is also the first non-athlete and youngest person to secure a brand ambassadorship with Boardworks, one of the largest surf and paddleboard companies in the world. She will travel to represent the company throughout the world and receive a pretty penny for her efforts.

As for the next step in her education, Sage is looking at Stanford University and Vanderbilt University. She said she would prefer Vanderbilt because it’s located in a music town (Nashville) and offers a good sports medicine program.

It’s not all smooth surfing for Sage. She continues to fight Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type 3. This syndrome affects the joints and connective tissues in the body due to a lack of collagen, and it can be disabling from pain.

But even this disease cannot stop her.

While she has triumphed time and time again, Sage said the thing she takes greatest pleasure in is when people say her services were the highlight of their vacation.

Come meet this incredible young lady and try out paddle boarding for yourself. Sage promises you won’t be disappointed.