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Local residents can take a two hour sunset cruise with Living Water Boat Cruises for as little as $30 per person. Photo courtesy of Rue Denton

There are 50 lakes that either touch or are located within Winter Haven city limits with 24 connected by canals. The northern chain is comprised of eight lakes and the southern chain has 16 lakes which are all connected.

The first canal was built between Lake Lulu and Lake Shipp in 1915 by the Twenty Lakes Boat Coarse Club. Two years later, the Florida legislature created the Winter Haven Lake Region Boat Coarse District in part to help the citrus industry use waterways to get their product to rail yards. Much of the work building the canals was done during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

While the lack of recent rain has made navigating some of the canals difficult, there are still a lot of ways Winter Haven area residents can have fun on the Chain of Lakes.

For those without a personal boat, or even for those who have a boat but just want to sit back and enjoy a relaxing tour of the chain, an affordable option is one of Winter Haven’s newest businesses, Living Water Boat Cruises.

Owner Rue Denton purchased a brand new pontoon boat and opened his tour business around four weeks ago. Denton grew up swimming and boating in Winter Haven and for years was the botanical gardens boat cruise guide at old Cypress Gardens.

the His tours now include complimentary ice cold bottled water, a blue tooth system to play your own music, sunblock, on board storage, plush seating and a bimini top for shade if desired. Customers are welcome to bring their own food and drinks.

Florida residents can take a two-hour sunset tour of nine lakes in the southern chain for $30 per person. One and three-hour tours are also available along with custom tours like fishing trips or having boat access during a lakefront party. His boat can accommodate eight people or up to 10 if children are riding along. For parties of five or more, Denton said he provides a 20 percent discount.

“My goal was to create an affordable experience on the Chain of Lakes,” Denton said. “Right now we are trying to work out a deal with Harborside Restaurant to make a special menu for dinner cruises. People could either be dropped off at the restaurant or pick up food and eat in the middle of one of these beautiful lakes.”

To learn more or to schedule a boat ride for a unique date or some family fun, call 877-257-1529 or email info@livingwatercruises.com.

On the southern Chain of Lakes, Marine Supply the Boating Center is located at 717 6th Street SW in Winter Haven. The family owned business on Lake May rents pontoon boats with a radio and bimini top for $250 for a half day and $350 for a full day. The price includes a tank of fuel, a map of the chain, safety gear, an anchor and boat lines.

The company also recently started renting out fishing boats. These craft come with a trolling motor, livewell, bimini top and a four stroke engine that comfortably seats three people. Rental price starts at $150 for four hours and $200 for eight hours. To reserve either type of boat, call 293-1156. Marine supply also rents out kayaks.

On the northern chain, there is Winter Haven Watersports on Lake Conine, another brand new business in Winter Haven.

They rent pontoon boats for a half day (4 hours) at $225 or get a full 8 hours on the lakes for $325. Included in the price are six gallons of fuel, safety gear, an anchor, a map of the chain and boat lines. They also rent out recreational boats for skiing and tubing. Co-owner Gary “Swampy” Bouchard said prices have not been set for renting out the ski boat but potential customers can call for a rate soon.

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Staff at Winter Haven Watersports can also teach you how to flyboard. For $99 you can get trained and experiment with flying above the water using water pressure from a jet ski. Call 863-293-2753 to schedule. Advanced training is also available to learn backflips, supermans and 720s. Receive four 30-minute flyboarding sessions per month for $300. Have a child who wants to fly but doesn’t weigh enough? One of their instructors can take your child up for a ride they won’t soon forget for $50.

Winter Haven Watersports is an offshoot business put together by the same three guys who own World Barefoot Center. There simply is no better place to learn how to barefoot waterski locally.

Co-owners David Small and Keith St. Onge are described as two of the best barefoot water skiers in the world and Bouchard is described as one of the best trainers. Fellow trainers Ben Groen and Ashleigh Stebbeings are also ranked in the top 10.

In business since 2009, it cost a bit more to learn how to barefoot waterski because it’s not something you can learn right away. Any five days of training within a six-day period cost $995. Call 863-877-0039 to learn more.

Flyboarding training is available for as little as $99. Photo by Charles A. Baker III

Flyboarding is also taught by certified instructors with Absolute Aqua Sports of Winter Haven. It takes roughly 15 minutes to learn and one hour flying sessions cost $99. This local company also offers waterski lessons, tube rides and disabled water skiing lessons for affordable prices.

Would you rather soar 4,000 above the Chain of Lakes? Absolute Aqua Sports offers tandem hand gliding. Each flight costs $125. Call 863-224-8001 or check out their website at absoluteaquasports.com for more information.

Wakeboard riding is another activity taught along the Chain of Lakes.

Three-time British National Wakeboard Champion and coach of the British Wakeboard Team, Stewart Mackie owns Chain of Wakes and teaches the sport on Lake Howard. Wakeboarding is a bit like waterskiing but athletes ride on their knees on a board. Cost is $110 for a 30 minute session or purchase 10 sessions for $950. Mackie also teaches wake surfing where athletes can learn how to surf using the wake of a boat without a rope. These sessions are the same cost. Mackie also rents out stand up paddle boards. Call 863-207-1420, email cowakes@gmail.com or check out their website at cowakes.com for more information.

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Stand up paddle boarding is another fun way to enjoy the natural resources around Winter Haven.

Paddleboard Winter Haven owner Kami Rickert specialises in teaching first timers how to stand up and have a great time on the water. Photo courtesy of Paddleboard Winter Haven

Paddleboard Winter Haven owner Kami Rickert specialises in teaching first timers how to stand up and have a great time on the water. She offers private paddleboard parties, adventure trips and Paddlefit workouts on the water. Paddle out to one of the lakeside restaurants or take a scheduled ride with other paddleboard riders. “It’s a nice chance to take a break and see something on the water,” Rickert said. “It’s cool to take people and let them get to know parts of town they have never seen.”

Call Rickert at 863-845-5307 or email letspaddleout@ gmail.com to schedule an appointment to learn how or meet up with other riders. Paddlefit workouts are Saturday mornings from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. and cost $29 per person or $5 if you bring your own equipment. Private lessons are $65 per hour.

Want to go fishing instead? There are a few local captains that can guide you to hook the perfect largemouth bass.

Central Florida Bucketmouths owner Captain Monte Goodman has 20 years of professional experience and well over a hundred fishing tournament wins. Capt.Goodman said he provides all the equipment along with drinks. Customers are free to bring their own food. Call 863-661- 7226 or email montegoodman1@gmail for pricing information.

From December through April, TMC Guide Services owner Captain Scott Taylor specializes in fishing largemouth bass with artificial baits. Call 855-354-8433, email scott@tmcguideservice.com or check out his website attmcguideservice.com for more information.

Last but not least is Chain Life Winter Haven, an event planning business dedicated to promoting, revitalizing and enhancing public access to the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. Owner Karen Thompson organizes many events along the chain each year including the Light up the Lakes Christmas boat parade, Golf on the Water, multiple boat Flotilla events and Boat-in Movie Nights, among other events.

To learn more about the events she plans, call 863- 662-9872, email chainlifewinterhaven@aol.com or check out her website at chainlifewinterhaven.com.

Today, the Chain of Lakes is one of the best playgrounds for fishermen and watersports enthusiasts.

is one of the best playgrounds for fishermen and watersports enthusiasts.

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