Orlando Hurling Club
First word we received about this Gaelic jumble of a sport was when Orlando Hurling Club hosted their Clash of the Ash tournament last September. Dubbed "the fastest game played on a grass field," according to Orlando Hurling Club's Scott Graves, hurling is an Irish game that combines the athleticism of lacrosse, baseball and hockey, if you can imagine that mashup. In play since 2010, Orlando Hurling Club is the largest organized hurling team in Florida. The club holds open practices and public tournaments on a regular basis, and it's always recruiting new players to the team. You may not know what hurling is – and it kind of defies explanation – but check out their site and find out for yourself why it's catching on here in Orlando.
Almost any weekend you see them on Cocoa Beach: folks rigged out in an unholy alliance of snowboard, surfboard and parachute. Whether you call it kiteboarding, kitesurfing or parasurfing, it's the fastest (non-motorized) sport on the water. Rig a parachute harness around your torso, snap your feet into the board bindings, and take off as fast as the wind will take you – just don't expect to stay on the surface of the water. Once the wind fills that chute, serious air will be caught. (Spectators should vacate the sand when it's time to come in for a landing or risk a "kite"-smash to the head.)
Orlando City Soccer Club
They came seemingly from out of nowhere, and they've totally blown us away. In their inaugural season, the Orlando City Soccer Club won the United Soccer League Pro championship at the Florida Citrus Bowl and hosted the largest crowd ever recorded in a single United Soccer League game. Then at their preseason supporters' summit in January, a loud-and-proud fan base packed Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill to kick off the team's second season and garner support for a bid at being named a Major League Soccer team. Returning this year with 80 percent of their original roster, the club didn't suffer a loss until nearly six weeks into their sophomore season. We'd go on, but really, these guys and their explosive success speaks for itself.
Orlando Rugby Club
When you're talking about contact sports, rugby is the United Kingdom's full-fledged version of American football – sans the wimpy shoulder pads and helmets. Since 1970, Orlando Rugby Club's maintained a prominent showing in the Florida Rugby Union, most recently with last season's 19-1 finish and national championship playoff run (albeit short-lived). Players of all ages and levels are encouraged to try out, but unless you're up for the "rucks," "mauls" and "scrums" associated with these battles, we'd suggest you sit this one out.
The headlines spattered out like the promo reel of a soap opera drama: Dwight Howard seeks trade; Howard loves Orlando, says he'll stay; Howard calls for Stan Van Gundy firing; Howard's loyalty questioned. And then after the months-long saga, Howard winds up benched with a season-ending back injury (yippee!). In the end, our city's most fair-weathered player stays (for now), but Van Gundy's out and the Orlando Magic is left picking up the pieces. These are the days of our lives.
NBA All-Star Game
Our city's duties hosting the 2012 NBA All-Star Game went beyond just the courtside amusements. A cluster of A-list celebrities – Kevin Hart, Floyd Mayweather, Diddy, among others – descended on Orlando's hottest nightlife spots to throw red-carpet cocktail soirees, high-end comedy showcases and DJ club parties. After all of the lockout back-and-forth this season, this year's All-Star weekend proved to be a huge boost for not only the NBA, but also for the city of Orlando.
Each year for nearly 35 years, thousands of fans have gathered at the Florida Citrus Bowl for this annual college-football showdown between Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. Some fans attend for the game-time action, some only go to experience the renowned halftime marching-band spectacle. So the immeasurably dark shadow cast over this Central Florida tradition, after last year's post-game hazing death of FAMU's Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion, pains us. Florida A&M's marching band has been suspended for the year as a result of band member's actions that may have caused Champion's death, so it might be a while before the Classic is restored to its former glory – when it is, we hope the school's band has cleaned up its act and can remind us why it is that we really love the Classic.
Tampa Bay Lightning play at Amway Center
There was a time early last fall when Orlando Magic fans twiddled their thumbs while they waited for the end of the drawn-out NBA lockout. In an effort to curb fans' jock itch (and supposedly broaden the hockey fan base), the city invited the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Amway Center for an icy bout with the St. Louis Blues. The arena's inability to execute an appropriate rink floor (a giant hole opened up during the game), plus the Lightning's slow-pace (and losing) efforts disappointed fans craving a basketball bounce-back.
Orlando Predators season opener strike
Labor negotiations had plagued the Arena Football League for months leading up to the season opener scheduled at Amway Center in March. The players union demanded a salary bump, and on game day the Preds' players threatened an on-field strike. Within two hours of game time, the league fired the entire rosters of both the Orlando Predators and visiting opponents Pittsburgh Power. (They were notified during their pre-game meal.) Replacement players (including former UCF quarterback Kyle Israel) took to the field that night and the game ended in a 40-26 Predators loss.
Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival
If you've never seen Downtown Disney's Mickey-eared jollity suddenly turn to an assiduous pursuit to win, you haven't been to the annual Dragon Boat Festival. It's a sight to see, as a surge of national and local rowing teams launch into Buena Vista Lagoon each year, vying for the Southern Regional Dragon Boat Association Point Series title. When it comes to synchronization and showmanship, Disney's characters have nothing on this one-day rowing regatta.
Soven brothers compete in the Nautique Wake Games
A little friendly competition certainly hasn't seemed to hurt this pair of wakeboarding brothers. In fact, Orlando-based Phillip Soven and younger brother Bob have all but embraced the challenge. The two squared off in this year's Nautique Wake Games at Orlando Watersports Complex – Phillip finished with top honors, with Bob trailing close behind in third place. Taking it a bit further, the Sovens will star in their own MTV reality show WakeBrothers, which is set to premiere sometime this summer. A pilot of the show attests to the guys' playful relationship, and viewers should expect a slew of pranks in between behind-the-boat wakeboarding scenes.
ZOOm Air Adventure Park
Central Florida Zoo
3755 N.W. Highway 17-92, Sanford
Admit it: You've seen the pictures. Your cubicle mate and her "adventurous" new beau went zip lining in Costa Rica and didn't invite you. Luckily, you don't need a passport or a pock-marked, sunburned boyfriend to feel the rush of defying your sad little gravity. Now, ZOOmAir Adventure Park at the Central Florida Zoo can have you swinging from the vine like Tarzan with thigh burns for less than $50, and it's even kid-friendly so you can dump the scamps and head for the Harness House for some uncomfortable double entrendres and life-saving leather straps. Hey, it's better than a bar.
Central Florida Sailing Club's Community Sailing Program
Fleet Peeples Park, Winter Park
Who knew you could learn to sail for less than it costs to even buy a kayak? Not us – at least not until we stopped to gawk at a group of people preparing to launch their boats at the boat ramp on Lake Baldwin in Fleet Peeples Park. For a mere $145, anyone can sign up for lessons taught by Red Cross certified instructors that include both classroom and on-the-water time. Once you learn the ropes and have completed your course, you can then join the club and take part in racing days, fun sails, regattas and more.
Lone Cabbage Fish Camp
8199 State Road 520, Cocoa
Nestled along the St. Johns River on State Road 520 in Cocoa, Lone Cabbage acts as a headquarters for Central Florida's outdoorsmen (and women!). Early morning sees duck/alligator hunters and fishermen funneling through the boat ramp for an easy-access launch to nearby Lake Poinsett, while the afternoon welcomes small groups of tourists aboard the Lil' Twister airboat for eco-tours and alligator sightings in the marsh. After-adventure breaks and sunset back-dropped casual dinners are best spent in the outdoor patio area, which features a full bar, live music and a taste of Old Florida food, including fried gator tail, frog legs and turtle.
Audubon Elementary Ballpark
8199 State Road 520, Cocoa
Ah, baseball on a summer night: floodlights in the dusk, crickets singing in the grass, popcorn eaten in the bleachers … the sweet tinkle of a shattered windshield and the blue air of a punk band cussing a streak. Thanks to the inevitable stray balls, parking in the alley between Park Ave CDs and the ballfields operated by the North Orlando Kiwanis Little League is perhaps your best bet for grievous auto-bodily harm, as several store employees and bands performing in the store (including Surfer Blood, on their last swing though town) have found to their dismay. Picturesque, convenient, but deadly – consider yourself warned. ■