How dedicated to achieving your wildest dreams are you? If your name is Captain Erik on TikTok, nothing will stop you from completing your goal of kayaking from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys. In an exclusive interview with Uncovering Florida, we learned a little more about the man behind the kayak.
In our interview, Erik Stevens said as far back as he can remember, fishing on the water was like home. Some of his earliest memories included a rod in hand. Now 39 years old, The Captain has taken to TikTok, casting lines live from the back of his vessel as he paddles 258 nautical miles from Terra Ceia Bay all the way to Key West.
After a cash client for his fishing and kayaking charter business stood Stevens up, he took to his budding TikTok page, @FishLikeUs, to discuss the costs and resulting frustrations that captains face when this happens. During the stream, he ran into a dock owner who he said wanted to flex his authority over the public waterways.
Erik says that it was his response to the order-barking dock man and his comedic approach that led him to go viral, resulting in his now over 182,000 followers — who he calls 'Wilson', like from the 2000 movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks — as well as an amassing of nearly 2 million likes across his uplifting and light-hearted content on TikTok alone. He's since been featured in TikTok's creator spotlight as of February 2023, where more than 150,000 people tuned in to learn and fish with him.
But this captain's page came from humble beginnings.
Stevens TikTok started with nothing but his kayak, curiosity, and a vision of completing the 200+ mile trip. His longest continuous day so far clocks in at a little over 12 nautical miles. When asked about what inspired him to attempt such a feat, The Captain said there was no such thing.
"No attempt — do," said Stevens. "Initially, I wanted to know whether live streaming in the wild was captivating enough to hold an audience. All I had was a vision of the end goal...Now I'm working backward, risking my career and the health [and] safety of my family to test it. I will inspire my community to stop whining about what they want and meet the requirements to become a better version of themselves."
According to his official website, the requirements for Erik's trip involve a host of nautical gear that will be essential to his survival and ability to more easily and safely complete it. One of the most important — Starlink to assist in navigation and staying live-stream connected through the undeveloped and dense mangrove forests of The Florida Everglades. Others include solar power equipment, first aid kits, and other necessary hardware for such an extensive excursion.
Everything he has needed to meet the requirements has been crowd-funded, aside from his land crew of supportive family and friends, who Erik says offer up places to stay along his route and conduct daily pick-ups and drop-offs in order for him to continue running his charter business.
Thus far, the official website states that 'Wilson' has helped him meet the requirements of a Hobie kick-up 180 drive, rudder line repairs, replacement rods, and magnetic radiator, as well as obtaining sponsorship for prizes on his live streams with Toughest Fricke'n Rods.
Captain Erik did not respond to our questions regarding what equipment goes into making a kayak stream possible, nor whether or not he's lost any.
"As a trailblazer of how to broadcast LIVE on a kayak, it will be a continuous process of discovery and constant upgrading," Stevens replied.
Despite the challenges still ahead, Stevens says that everything he's done in life has prepared him for this journey. The Captain's been running his charters out of the Greater Tampa Bay area since 2015 and has logged over 500 days on the sea in another vessel prepping for the venture, with a knack for hobby survivalism. He's been fishing his whole life.
"I have a unique talent for recognizing beneficial versus dangerous situations in nature, and I use that to my advantage." Stevens recounted.
Captain Stevens is also passionate about nature and the environment. When he isn't running kayak charters and working on his cross-state dream, he's hosted trash rodeo beach clean-up events to help keep sands pristine, and has even worked to foster a diverse deep-sea ecosystem by installing artificial reefs from Eco-Homies on live stream.
"I'm not a motivational speaker, I'm a motivational do-er. Cleaning water and providing fish habitat are paramount food for my soul." said Stevens.
According to Eco-Homies, Florida's Everglades are now a fourth of their original size, with approximately only a third of their reefs remaining. Their artificial reefs can support up to 500 different fish, crabs, and shrimp each year. They also can filter over 30,000 gallons of water on average per day, which helps to improve water quality.*
When asked about his fears and unexpected challenges, Captain Stevens was quick to shrug off haters, opting to express gratitude for the ability to make this trip; though he had to admit there was disappointment surrounding the current state of red tide raging across the Sarasota area's coastal waters.
"I'm always going to have doubters. Fear is a mind-killer." Stevens stated. "I've learned to allow fear to trigger inner courage. It is a requirement if you're going to solve problems. I thought this trip would be 'romantic,' but I recognize the red tide will be challenging to fall in love with. I pray our future generations are able to do this. I observe that this may be something I never get to do again."
As of publication, Captain Erik says that he has been streaming his cross-state kayak trip for 69 days. An official trip tracker map on the Fish Like Us website allows you keep up with his journey. To date, the map shows that he's made it as far south as the boat ramp in Manasota.
Stevens live streams his kayaking shenanigans every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday on TikTok. To keep up with all things @FishLikeUs, follow Captain Erik on TikTok here, Facebook here, Youtube here, or check out the official Fish Like Us website. Want to book a charter with Captain Erik? Click here instead.
Article by Rachael Volpe
*Eco-Homies did not immediately respond to our request for comment. This article will be updated accordingly if/when one is received.