by Christina Baez
MARATHON, Florida Keys -- George Shattuck, owner of Sundance Watersports at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, has dedicated his life to helping thousands of families enjoy the same kind of experiences he had as a child vacationing in the Keys.
"All of the people I cater to are coming here for the exact same reasons my parents did," he said. "Being in the Keys is a great Caribbean experience without the obvious Caribbean concerns of having to get on a plane and be in a foreign country."
Originally from Chicago, Shattuck grew up sailing the waters of Lake Michigan. He visited the Florida Keys with his family many times while growing up, beginning when he was just 6 years old.
"My parents loved to go to the Keys," Shattuck said. "We'd jump in the car and make the 24-hour drive to the Keys and it was a great, easy vacation for us."
After graduating from college and getting a job in advertising, he spent his first and last paid vacation in the Keys — realizing that he wasn't cut out for the advertising business.
After Keys friends convinced him to stay, he literally watched his plane take off. He became a part-time Keys resident in 1988 and a full-time resident by 1992, earning money working on boats and as a dive captain.
Shattuck and his wife Cindy made their way to Duck Key and purchased a sailing catamaran. Fittingly for owners of a water-sports company, the couple met while Cindy was diving on the Keys dive boat George was captaining.
Marriage followed a 2.5-month courtship, and today they've been together for 18 years and have a 15-year-old son, Ryan. Shattuck admits that his wife was the instrumental force that pushed Sundance Watersports to expand into what it is today.
In fact, the Shattucks spend their days overseeing all operations at Sundance Watersports and traveling often, chasing son Ryan's dream of being a racecar driver.
"I made the mistake of telling my son that if you can dream it you can do it; that's how we got into water sports and that's how we got to the Keys," Shattuck chuckled. "He had a dream I didn't expect him to have — he wanted to be a racecar driver."
Shattuck can rightly boast about his son's natural talent. With a 75 percent win record, Ryan Shattuck is currently the top-ranked racer in the U.S. Legend Cars division for 12- to 16-year-old drivers, frequently driving cars faster than his father has ever driven in his life.
Over the years the Shattucks have expanded their operation at Hawks Cay from just a sailing catamaran to a full-service water-sports company. They now offer snorkeling, parasailing, Jet Ski tours, eco-kayak tours, sunset cruises, Segway tours and the latest craze, the JetLev jet pack experience.
As the owner of Sundance Watersports for the past 16 years, Shattuck is proudest of the shop's snorkel boat success. He reports that his is the first water-sports shop in the Keys to have a 100-passenger snorkel boat.
Called Blue, Shattuck's dream boat features an imported hull design from Australia and a deck plan Cindy Shattuck designed on a dinner napkin. It can accommodate weddings, private events, snorkeling trips as small as six passengers and much more.
"If you can think it, that boat can do it," Shattuck said. "Snorkeling will always be my favorite activity because it's noncompetitive, it's all about the experience and it's a great family activity."
Shattuck says the most rewarding aspect of his work is watching families reconnect every day.
"I'm very passionate about family time," Shattuck said. "When it's all said and done, no one will ever ask you, 'Did you spend enough time at work?' If someone said, 'If you could have anything you wanted in life, a million dollars or spend another hour with your family,' I would spend another hour with my family."
George Shattuck is as much at the helm of running Sundance Watersports as he is the parasailing adventure boat, guiding the daily enjoyment of Middle Keys visitors. Images courtesy of Sundance Watersports
Shattuck has some fun with the Keys' latest craze, the JetLev jet pack experience.
To support his son's racing aspirations, Shattuck is the crew chief, hauler driver, engine tuner and Dad.
Ryan Shattuck (center) placed first in the 2010 Summer Shootout at Lowes Motor Speedway, mom Cindy and father George Shattuck beaming over his accomplishment.