APOLLO BEACH — James Dixon chose Saturday's beautiful weather to kayak from the Apollo Beach Nature Park to Beer Can Island with his girlfriend.
But on their way back at 6:30 p.m., the couple were hit by a 10-foot wave and both their kayaks overturned in the bay, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Dixon, 44, said he spent about an hour treading water before marine deputies plucked him, 39-year-old Shelly Valdez and both kayaks out of the water.
Marine deputies say the couple left the park at 1:30 p.m.
"When we were on Beer Can Island — there were a bunch of boats anchored in the area — a 10-foot wave came out of nowhere and shook everyone," Dixon said.
The concerned couple decided to pack up and head back to Apollo Beach but on the way another wave swept over them and turned over both watercraft.
"I have a 12-foot, wide bottom ocean kayak," Dixon said. "But when that wave came . . . before I knew it I was in the water."
Dixon's kayak drifted 40 feet away, so he turned his energy toward turning over Valdez's 11-foot kayak and getting her back inside. He hung on to her kayak and even sat on the back trying to kick, he said.
She reached into her plastic container, pulled out her cell phone and called for help.
"They responded really quickly," Dixon said.
A helicopter spotted the couple and told the marine unit where to find the duo, the Sheriff's Office said.
He said he and Valdez, a schoolteacher, are experienced kayakers who have been taking trips like Saturday's for eight years.
"It was a nice day but by the end of it my teeth were chattering," the information technology specialist said. "It was cold, and I'm exhausted."