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2010CriticsOutdoors & Recreation

Best 2010 Aztex Comeback Player
Jamie Watson

Watson's career has been up and down a few times, but he really seems to have found a happy home with the Aztex this season. A first-round MLS draft pick after just two years at the University of North Carolina, he had three years in the big leagues before being cut and landing here in 2008 with the original U-23 (amateur) Aztex – where he was the team's top scorer but never seemed totally comfortable or happy. Now back after a year away in Wilmington, N.C., and nicknamed "Tintin" for his distinctive hairstyle, Watson's become a big fan favorite, and his penetrating pace on the left flank is one of the big reasons for the team's surprising success this season.

House Park, 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd., 512/335-8881, www.austinaztex.com

Best 2010 Aztex Newcomer
Maxwell Griffin

We could have put a lot of names here: bulldog midfielder Lance Watson, stalwart defenders Jay Needham and Leonard Griffin (Max's older brother), Kenyan attacking midfielder Lawrence Olum, and others have had great years in the Aztex's rise from last place in 2009 to the best record in the league this year. But we'll go with Max Griffin – the Aztex's youngest starter burst out of UCLA to become the league's third-leading scorer at press time (and second on the team, after last year's player of the year Eddie Johnson). His three goals on June 19 against Miami marked the first hat trick in Aztex history, and his five assists lead the team, as well.

House Park, 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd., 512/335-8881, www.austinaztex.com

Best Day Trip
Blanco, Texas

Every Texas "roads scholar" knows Blanco: There are four restaurants, including one that makes fresh doughnuts in the morning and pies in the afternoon. Only an hour west of Austin, the town also has a state park with a waterfall, several bed & breakfasts, a microbrewery, weekend markets on the courthouse square, art galleries, antique shops, lavender farms, a dance hall (in nearby Albert), and Hill Country wineries within a hop, skip, and a jump.

Blanco Chamber of Commerce, 312 Pecan St., Blanco, 830/833-5101, www.blancotex.com

Best Downtown Place To Feel the Spirit
The Labyrinth Walk

St. David's offers a labyrinth to walk in the heart of Downtown, a perfect getaway meditation garden that's shielded from onlookers by tall walls. A labyrinth is a kind of symmetrical maze, and this one takes about 20 minutes to walk at a casual pace, but those 20 minutes represent the search for peace that endures through the ages. This one is a faithful replica of the ancient floor of the Chartres Cathedral near Paris. It's a spiritual map to the center of ourselves, and many a lost soul would do well to stop in.

St. David's Episcopal Church, 301 E. Eighth, 512/610-3500, www.stdave.org

Best Intro to Your Putter
Buck Mayers Golf Academy

If you've had a hankering to learn the game but aren't sure how to get a foot on the green, check into the Buck Mayers Golf Academy on the pastoral grounds of the Grey Rock Golf Club. Veteran golfers Mayers and his partner and wife, Tina, offer both individual and group instruction, focusing on technique, biomechanics, club fitting, and mental approach. They also have the latest technology to get you there, including V1 Pro video analysis and Motion Golf 3-D motion analysis. When you're ready, you'll be invited to the weekly Practice and Play, which involves 45 minutes on a tee or green, depending on that week's topic, then three holes on the course to apply what you've learned. The next thing you know, you'll be fist-pumping your way to the gallery.

Buck Mayers Golf Academy, 512/301-2932, www.buckmayersgolfacademy.com

Grey Rock Golf Club, 7401 Hwy. 45, 512/288-4297, www.greyrockgolfclub.com

Best Jump in the River
The Expedition School's Stand-Up Paddle Lessons

Huck Finn would never have run away from a spot like the one Kimery Duda calls her office. An enormous bald cypress greets you, then the rest of the world disappears as you glide out onto Lady Bird Lake on a stand-up paddle board. Perfect for those at all levels of water aptitude, stand-up paddling is challenging but feasible for many in one session. Duda, founder of the Expedition School and former surf instructor for St. Stephen's Episcopal School, will even show you the wildlife at which you'll likely be staring from a field guide of Audubon prints before you set out. Having started Expedition School's SUP program along with site manager Don Goerner last March, Duda is proud that the program directly benefits Austin's Parks and Recreation Department's youth programs. On other days they'll gladly provide an afternoon of corporate team-building, instruct an 8-year-old's birthday party, or as they did recently, get students from the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired out on the water.

The Expedition School, 34 Robert T. Martinez Jr. at Lady Bird Lake, 512/626-6282, www.expeditionschool.com

Best New Sports Franchise/Sports Arena
Texas Stars/Cedar Park Center

Central Texas hockey fans lamenting the loss of the Austin Ice Bats must thank their lucky stars (pun intended) for the Texas Stars. With the top-notch talent of the Dallas Stars affiliates taking their inaugural campaign all the way to the league finals, the only thing rivaling the quality of play on the ice would be the quality and comfort of their sparkling new state-of-the-art arena, the Cedar Park Center. Having hosted Tool, Wilco, and George Strait in addition to the Stars, the Cedar Park Center also becomes the full-time home to the NBA D-League Austin Toros starting in November.

Texas Stars, 512/467-8277, www.texasstarshockey.com

H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, 2100 Avenue of the Stars, Cedar Park, 512/600-5000, www.cedarparkcenter.com

Best Nonfat M&M
Michael Gregory & Michael Winchester

There's one constant in the Austin fitness community: Whenever you mention CrossFit, people know you're serious. With the combination of Olympic weightlifting, cardio intensive sessions, kettlebell drills, and so much more, CrossFit prepares your body for anything. Two guys still manage to maintain a healthy, nonthreatening approach to this hardcore workout: Mike and Mike in the morning. Big Mike Gregory keeps the class motivated and on target, while Mike Winchester (not Little Mike) lightens the mood and encourages solid effort. Whether you catch them at CrossFit Central or the newly opened CrossFit-affiliate SicFit, there's no question Mike & Mike are leading the way in "building a fit community."

CrossFit Central, 6205-A Burnet Rd., 512/507-6450, www.crossfitcentral.com

SicFit Austin, 5126 Burnet Rd., www.sicfitaustin.wordpress.com

Best Place To Cleanse Your Crown Chakra Under a Waterfall
McKinney Falls State Park

Austin's own hidden natural treasure is just 15 minutes east of Downtown. McKinney Falls State Park offers great swimming in natural waters, a lunar landscape where the Tonkawa tribes once lived, and two waterfalls that bring the flows of Onion Creek and Williamson Creek pounding down around you. (Lamentably, the park is suffering from budget cuts and has a little more litter than usual, so bring a trash bag to collect some if you're the helping kind.) McKinney Falls is a sacred place to cleanse your mind and reconnect with what matters.

McKinney Falls State Park, 5808 McKinney Falls Pkwy., 512/243-1643, www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Best Place To See Stars
Telescopes at UT's Painter and Robert Lee Moore Halls

Take a date or the kids to look through the 16-inch and 9-inch telescopes that UT astronomy students use for their studies of the night sky. On Wednesday nights when school is in session, brainy UT staff lead free star parties on the roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall. On Friday and Saturday nights, Painter Hall is the place to be: Here, the Department of Astronomy hosts free viewing for all of us with our heads in the stars.

T. S. Painter Hall, UT campus, 24th Street & Inner Campus Drive, 512/471-5007, outreach.as.utexas.edu

Robert Lee Moore Hall, UT campus, Dean Keeton & Speedway, 512/471-5007, outreach.as.utexas.edu

Best Place To See Where Your Food Comes From
Green Gate Farms' Farm Camp

Since very few of us actually grew up on farms, it's nice to have one we can visit. Not only does Green Gate Farms have a vegetable stand on Fridays and Saturdays selling fresh, organic vegetables, but it also offers tours. Farm Camp for adults gives the older crowd a short course in growing food. On Saturdays the farmer leads all ages around the barnyard, and on Fridays parents can take their kids on a self-guided tour of the farm.

Green Gate Farms, 8310 Canoga, 512/484-2746, www.greengatefarms.net

Best Social Ride
Thursday Night Social Ride

It's said that in order for bikes and cars to coexist, cyclists need to increase their visibility, both in general and in numbers. In Austin, group rides happen almost every day, but one of the biggest is the Thursday night social ride. Around 250 bicyclists, including everyone from kids to seniors on fixies, cruisers, and what-have-you, meet up and ride "as traffic, not against it." This inclusive spirit and a relaxed pace with lots of stops not only helps novices gain confidence but also encourages drivers to acknowledge cyclists as fellow travelers, not adversaries.

Social Cycling Austin, www.fb.com

Best Splash & Dash
Deep Eddy Mile

Austin lap-swimmers already know the joys of a workout in the cool waters of Deep Eddy Pool. But have you tested your fitness against your aquatic brethren? Every August, this multiheat race – now 9 years old and organized by former Olympic gold medalist Sandy Neilson-Bell and top U.S. Masters swimmer Keith Bell – lets everyone from novices to former champions battle one another and the clock over a full mile. It's challenging, rewarding, and benefits Friends of Deep Eddy Pool.

Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., 512/472-8546, www.deepeddy.org

American Swimming Association, 3101 Mistyglen Circle, 512/327-2260, www.americanswimmingassociation.com

Best Trainer of Rising Pugilists
Ann Wolfe

Having retired from boxing in 2006 at the top of her game (having worn title belts in four different weight classes), Wolfe now trains such up-and-comers as unbeaten light middleweight title holder James Kirkland (currently sidelined while in jail) at her Ann Wolfe Boxing & Fitness Center, where she emphasizes "self discipline, responsibility, and contribution to society." Through her Wolfe Pack Promotions, she promotes many of the higher-profile local cards at the Austin Music Hall.

Ann Wolfe Boxing & Fitness, 720 Bastrop Hwy. #102, 512/852-9992, www.annwolfe.com

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