Kayaking and Me
Looking out on calm water from the coast, one can see the tip of the paddles of kayakers in the distance. I remember thinking how neat it would be and thinking I was too old. My husband had a day off and I talked him into going to a place in Crystal River that rents kayaks. He thought I was crazy but, wanted to make me happy. Oh my, I was so excited.
Upon arrival, we were given rules because it was manatee season (winter) and the springs were full. I was a big girl at the time (fat and awkward) and swinging my large posterior into the tandem was something to witness. This was the beginning of real addiction. It took us a few to sync paddles up and we were off down the river. With so much to see, I could hardly contain myself. A young manatee hid under our kayak as we passed a group of tourists. She smacked her tail on the water and I could see the 2 notches.
The next week, I went to rent another kayak. This time I went to the Honeymoon Island end of the Dunedin Causeway. I was in a single kayak this time. Here I learned the difference between open-water and river kayaking. This being an estuary, I did not think about it being an animal feeding ground until I met Fred. Back then he was only about 8 feet long, now he is about 13. Fred is a sand shark that likes to swim beside me. On our first meeting, I was frightened and paddled back to shore like a cartoon character. I looked at my husband and rifled off a list: safety whistle, air horn, better PFD and a waterproof camera. My husband shook his head, kind of sure he really began to understand this was not going away.
Weeki Wachee River
A friend called and wanted to go down the Weeki Wachee, I jumped at the chance and loaded all my new gear. Rivers give the illusion of being safer because the shore is usually in sight. I had been losing weight and had quit smoking, it just made paddling easier. On trek down river we spotted dear, wild hog and a snake on land. The river held lady fish, alligator gar, mullet and manatee. My excitement brought me to the bookstore and I found groups on Facebook and google plus- I was learning about kayaking and life.
I wanted to buy a kayak of my own so I went to craigslist. A friend and I went to check out a surfski in North Port (about 3 hours south). My behind was too big for that model so, no kayak. It was well worth the trip though, here I found a mentor. Here was the hook up. I was introduced to Economy Tackle and shown paddle technique.
I was finally able to buy the Blue Horizon. She went to Economy Tackle for refitting and re-cabling. Our first trip together was in the little Sarasota bay. Her 17 feet moved with the grace of a ballet dancer. This was too cool. I got out at the boat dock and carried her over the dunes of Turtle Beach to the open water of the gulf. The beautiful blue/green water danced by me and a pod of dolphins came out to play with me. There was compartment storage for 2 bottles of water in the cock pit and I had a bottle hanger for a third. I had not seen shore in some time and followed my compass back. Thankfully I was wearing a hat and long sleeves, I wasn’t paying attention and had stayed out over 6 hours on open water.
Hudson in the Round
Not wanting to drive so far, I chose to go to Hudson Beach. I paddled out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was clear and sunny skies and the water seemed quite clear fairly far out. By this point salt was coursing through my veins. I was learning to play with my camera in this environment and take not only pictures but, video too. My stroke technique had become so good, I could spin the kayak and shoot the video.
I had met some people through a meet up and they asked me to join them on a lake chain paddle. So I packed up at 3 a.m. and was off to Winter Park. It was an amazing sunrise on the lake and I was in awe. Being new to the sport, it was nice to have so many people willing to offer advice. I was shown skills with my paddle and boat. The narrow canals that linked the lakes reminded me of a road built for boats. Even the islands in the middle of the lakes were teaming with wildlife. I think at this point a feeling of being humbled and blessed enters one’s soul. After the paddle, everyone went to a local diner and ate like champions.
River or Open-Water
Do you prefer to be on the river or in open-water?
Anclote River, Key and Gulfside
Anclote was a new waterway to me and came as 3 parts: river, gulf and key. This place is a unique paddle and makes you understand why the pirates landed here. Small islands line the center of the river. One can see oyster beds on the port side of the islands. The bottle neck of the river has an odd ball family of 3 pelicans and 2 dolphins. The estuary is a feeding ground and there are so many fish and birds. Out in the gulf there are Eagles- these are much bigger in real life than I thought they were. There are also 2 different dolphin pods that play around the key. It was such a treat to be part of non-human activity and relax. I paddled back feeling so content.
Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto was more than I could have expected. My husband went with me and we rented a tandem. He is really a river paddler and does not like open water so, we paddled around the lagoon and had a blast. The Fort has been really well preserved. The grounds keeper was busy telling us stories of day gone by. There were several beaches, each more beautiful than the last. The snack shack and souvenir store were surprisingly affordable. Around each corner were more and more birds, and each group different from the last.
That was several years ago, it seems like a lifetime ago. I know there are many journeys to becoming a kayaker, this is mine. My husband is happy I quit smoking and lost weight but, is not thrilled with kayak equipment in the truck all the time. This is only the first 3 months of what has become a lifelong addiction, I have met people in their 90s and still paddling. It is not for everyone but, anyone can learn. You do not need to be rich, just have a good sense of humor and a want to grow. For those who understand my addiction, you probably have a paddle within 20 feet of where you are sitting reading this (lots of laughs).
© 2015 Dorraine Cooper-Rooney