Friends to kiteboard from Key Largo to Key West to support mental health

Scott Gerke kiteboards. MARK HEDDEN/Contributed

Keys resident Scott Gerke isn’t afraid to discuss what he calls a “sh*t storm of a summer” last year. Spiraling into a dark hole of his own, Gerke battled depression and anxiety from things that didn’t go the way he hoped. 

He attended weekly therapy with Steve Willis in Key West for seven months as he tried to break through his mental health struggles. It was then that he realized just how hard the struggle was for many people, especially the many friends he says he lost to suicide. 

“When I realized how difficult it is to deal with something, and how expensive it is to deal with something like that, I told my therapist when I feel better, I have to be a voice for mental health,” said Gerke, of Sugarloaf, who DJs for events and weddings. “I’m very open about all this stuff to a certain point, so I just start telling people this is what I went though. … I’m here for you. It just started moving to a community vibe where people knew that I was one of those people they could talk to.”

To assist those going through mental health struggles, Gerke and his friend, Joe Tatangelo, of Michigan are preparing to kiteboard from Key Largo to Key West to ring in 2021. The two-day trip starting in the Upper Keys will be a 100-mile expedition for the two. The journey will be a challenge, and it’s something they’ve never done before. 

A Go Fund Me page  is set up with the goal to raise $1,500 by the end of the year for the Guidance/Care Center Inc. in Key West. 

For Gerke, kiteboarding helped him get past some tough times. The idea came about three weeks ago from Tatangelo, whom he met in Hood River, Oregon in 2018 as he was touring the U.S. in his minivan. 

“He came up to me asking if he could put his gear next to mine. I said, ‘Sure,’ and we’ve been solid friends ever since,” Gerke said. “He’s down for this event, and we’re going to be splitting the donations between Michigan and Florida Keys mental health non-profits.

“He called me up recently and asked if I wanted to do what we call a downwinder, where we go from one place to another,” Gerke continued.  “I said, ‘Sure,’ and asked if he wanted to do it for a good cause, and he was like ‘yes.’”

Scott Gerke met Joe Tatangelo met in Hood River, Oregon during a 2018 tour of the U.S. in his van. CONTRIBUTED

The Florida Keys has one of the highest suicide rates in Florida. In 2019, 22 suicides were reported. The year before, there were 35. Suicide rates per 100,000 of 14.5 in 2019 and 34.9 the year before were well above the state average of 14.5 last year and 15.3 in 2018. 

Through the years, Gerke has made an effort to figure out ways to talk with people and bring community together. He’s done that through events like outdoor movies in Key West under the full moon. In spring 2017, Gerke put out his DJ gear at Higgs Beach with a blowup movie screen with Florida Keys videos. 

“I just would start telling people I’m hosting a party every month under the full moon at the beach … you’re the party,” he said. “This is a celebration of us and meant to be a blank canvas for self expression and participation. It went from a fun little project to hosting 600 to 800 people.”

A portion of the funds raised from the kiteboarding for mental health awareness will go toward logistical expenses for the journey. After the nominal costs, 50% will go to the Guidance Care Center and 50% to a Michigan organization. Almost $800 in donations have come via the Go Fund Me page. 

In addition to the kiteboarding cause, Gerke is also hosting a “Music Saves Lives” livestream event from a secret Keys location on Thursday, Dec. 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. The donation stream will be open all day if people can’t make the livestream. Gerke will be adding updates during the events via social media.  Follow Scott C. Gerke on Instagram, @scottgerke, or on his Facebook page. For more info about Gerke, visit

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