This article is part of a series of pieces called “Detours” designed to send you just a little off the beaten path from the beaches and attractions of St. Pete/Clearwater, to discover other, lesser-known local favorites like family-run stores, unique galleries, and tantalizing restaurants. Read on and take a Detour into authentic St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida!
Get Your Zip On
St. Pete/Clearwater’s first proper zipline facility, Empower features five lines ranging from 350 to 750 feet, as well as a 100-foot-long suspension bridge and other aerial adventures that will further test your daredevil mettle. Riders zing as high as 70 feet over mangrove swamps, salt marsh, oak hammocks and open water—enjoying high-velocity birds-eye tours of Florida’s natural beauty. The course is located on county-owned Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, adjacent to Mobbly Bay in the northeastern part of Pinellas County (16 miles from Clearwater Beach). Empower Adventures, developed by former Army Ranger Joe DeRing, is an exhilarating diversion, but also comes with a higher purpose: to encourage people to “push past perceived limitations,” as one of the guides, Thomas, put it.
Safety First—Fun a Close Second
Each tour is run by two energetic, khaki-clad guides, whose main jobs are to ensure safety and—just as important—encourage everyone to have fun. After harnessing up and donning blue plastic helmets (more comfortable than you’d expect), the group climbed a spiral stairway to the first 55-foot platform—a little cardio to open up the lungs. One guide, Joselyn, was in charge of the takeoff tower, making sure all equipment was secure and then giving permission to launch with an exuberant “zip on!” She communicated with Thomas via walkie-talkie. His task was to assist folks as they came gliding onto the receiving platform.
Have No Fear
As it happened, the first zipliner got hit with a case of the heebie-jeebies, not an uncommon occurrence. After a couple of false starts and some gentle coaxing from Joselyn, the woman launched and let out a little squeal, making a duet with the metallic zzzzzzzz of the winch. As the group gathered on the second tower, a light rain began to fall, cooling everyone down, adding to the magic. (If lightning had been detected in the area, the tour would have been suspended).
With each ride, folks relaxed, feeling secure in the harness’s support, and turned their attention to the lovely panorama of views: the many hues of green, the water blues, birds taking flight, the St. Petersburg city skyline off in the distance. Taking a cue from Thomas, a few zipliners karate-kicked skinny tree branches within reach. Each Empower Adventure tour takes 90 minutes to two hours. On this gorgeous day, it was clear after just a few minutes, the zip therapy was working.