A Visit to the Middle Keys
It is late afternoon—the golden hour— and low tide on Grassy Key. Wide flats of shallow water bracket the oceanside of the island and ripple over the sand and shells. About 100 miles from Coral Gables, Grassy Key doesn’t have the marquee status of Key West, the strip mall and chain restaurant enthusiasm of Key Largo, or the gated exclusivity of neighboring Duck Key. Grassy is often called “True Florida,” locals speak for a place that retains the salty essence of Old Florida.
At the Grassy Flats Resort and Beach Club, a two-and-a-half-year-old family-owned, boutique hotel, reggae purrs from speakers in a poolside tiki hut. A burnished piece of recycled mahogany that was a boat prow now has a second life as the bar. Vertical aeroponic herb towers hold mint, basil, and oregano. Hammocks sway. A couple of Hobie Cats are tethered to a couple of floating docks.
Matt Sexton, a 35-year-old former adventure athlete, and internationally recognized professional kiteboarder is the affable visionary and owner of Grassy Flats Resort and its sister property the Lagoon, a 50-acre day resort, marketplace, and water sports park about a mile from Grassy Flats. Sexton is encyclopedic in his Keys knowledge, contagious in his Keys enthusiasm, and a catalyst for what he calls a Grassy Key renaissance.
Sexton’s vision centers on the prefix re. Reuse, recycle, rethink, reshape. “I don’t like being called a developer,” he says. “I see myself as a rehabilitator.” Grassy Flats began as a trio of Mom-and-Pop hotels that are now refurbished into sizeable oceanfront rooms with full kitchens and balconies. The resort has a zero-waste program, bills itself as eco-friendly, and touts its sustainable amenities and practices. Plans in the works include more units and a rooftop restaurant.
The Lagoon began as a limestone quarry with past lives that include a lobster farm, an aquatic research facility and a fish petting zoo. Today the Lagoon is the epicenter for cable wakeboarding, efoiling and kiteboarding. It also has a cafe, an art park, and the Lagoon Saloon, a cavernous space for merch and instructional sessions to prepare first- time kiteboarders. In the future, Sexton sees an artist-in-residence program, a botanical garden, and nature trails. He calls this integrated eco-system of eating, lodging and water play: “experiential hospitality.”
It is mid-day. After a session of cable wakeboarding at the Lagoon, we stop at Bongo’s Cafe for shrimp tacos and prosciutto with figs from their edible garden. A local band plays something by the Eagles. We sit beneath the palms while the saltwater dries on our hair and conjure some words of our own that center on the prefix re: Relax. Renew. Repeat. Return.
Grassy Flats Resort and Beach Club
58182 Overseas Highway
Marathon, Florida 33050
(305) 998 4590
*Photos by Dan Owens