The very first thing I say when asked this question is, “Start with a whole lot of money, quit your job, sell your house, and live in a van down by the river.” I’m serious. For so many people paddling fills more than free-time and goes way beyond just a hobby. The wild places you discover, the adventures you find, the incredible people you meet, and just the feeling of floating on the water unaware of time will slowly seduce you into a life of constantly awaiting your next paddle. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The very first step should be going kayaking, as much as you can, with as many different people, and to as many places as possible. If you don’t have access to a kayak or friends who go kayaking, you can always go on a guided tour with a reputable outfitter, like Adventures in Florida, rent a kayak from a local livery (for example check out Wekiva Outfitters and Econ Outfitters), or contact a local paddling club. If you visit www.meetup.com you can search for paddling clubs by zip code and proximity to that zip code. You will know if the outfitter or kayak club is reputable and legit if they require you to wear your life jacket. Avoid any outfitter, livery, or club that does not require life jackets like your life depends on it ─ because it does!
While paddling try out as many different types of kayaks as possible. Discover the difference between long skinny boats and short stubby ones. Watch “how to” kayaking videos on YouTube then get out and practice. If you need hands-on instruction visit American Canoe Association (ACA) and look for some classes or instructors nearby. For Central Florida’s best kayak instructions check out the kayak lessons offered by Adventures in Florida taught by an ACA certified kayak instructor. It has never been easier to go paddling!
When you decide to purchase your first kayak, check online first for a used one. Sites like craigslist.org, Facebook Marketplace, or any local paddling club should have used kayaks listed for sale. Just know what you want before searching for random kayaks that might work.
If you decide on a shiny brand new kayak, for the love of GOD do not purchase some piece of junk from a large box store. Invest some money in a real kayak with bulkheads, flotation, and is constructed with quality materials. Listen, it is just common sense when you visit a brothel or skydiving center you do not ask for the cheapest thing they offer! Invest in quality ─ always!
Take your business to your local outfitters or kayak shop. Not only will you find a better kayak you will also have secured a place to go with all your questions, a place to order replacement parts, and help support local paddlers who you will run into on the river.
If you don’t know who to approach with all your kayak questions, just look for the most sunburnt person who squints even indoors. They will probably be wearing Chaco sandals and clothes that used to be very nice when they bought them 15 years ago. Basically look for the person who looks like they live in a van, down by the river. This is the kayak person to unload your paddling questions on. Don’t let their looks fool you, they have probably run at least 5 rivers on every continent with water. They also will know every put in, take out, and sweet paddling spot in the entire state. They are most importantly motivated not by money or greed but by sharing the experience of being on the water. In short, they will introduce you to the perfect kayak for you. Trust them.
OUTFITTERS, SERVICES, and REFERENCES
- Adventures in Florida: Guided tours and kayak lessons by a certified kayak instructor
- Phone: 407.924.3375
- Wekiva Outfitters: Kayak rentals and shuttles along the Wekiva River
- Econ Outfitters: Kayak rentals and shuttles along the Econlockhatchee River
- Adventures in Florida Meetup: Orlando’s largest and most active kayak club that offers instruction, tours, and travel.