Paddle boarding into Clement Taylor Park on Monday, Justin Riney was welcomed by a diverse group of people, including Destin's Mayor "Sam" Seevers, members of Paddle Destin and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and local well-wishers who wanted to greet him.
Riney, the CEO and founder of Mother Ocean, a company founded to explain the importance of the world’s waterways, began his yearlong journey on New Year's Day in Pensacola.
The epic journey — dubbed Expedition Florida 500, or XF500 — is part of the Viva Florida 500 project celebrating the 500th anniversary of Florida, when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the shores in 1513.
Riney, a native Floridian and a waterman in every sense of the word, will spend 365-days paddle boarding around Florida on his custom-built board that is designed to hold 130 pounds of gear plus his body weight.
"The board actually floats better with the gear, that's how it was designed," said Riney, who plans on camping out every night.
Riney said he trained for six months before embarking on this yearlong journey — as he'll be the only constant paddler, leading this expedition through Florida.
He is encouraging as many as possible to join him, though, at stops through Florida.
"We want to engage with every community in Florida; that's important to me," he said. Along the way, he'll be joined by his partners from Quiksilver, Viva Florida 500, Tahoe SUP, kayakers and "maybe even a city mayor or two," said Riney.
Spending the first half of the year traveling the coastline, then moving inland for the second half of the year, Riney and his team are promoting ocean conservancy and hosting beachside cleanups along the way in every community.
Riney will be in the area for the next two days conducting beach cleanups and learning about local aquatic ecosystems.
To keep up with Riney and the XF500 journey, like the XF500 Facebook page for up-to-date information.