SPRING HILL — The next best thing to cavorting on or in Florida waters might be a dewy-eyed wade through the depths of recently opened West Marine.
From a $3 nose clip to a $1,300 kayak, through navigation electronics, fish finders and fishing poles, "We are a water life outfitter," store manager Will Henster said.
Filling 11,000 square feet — the former Sports Authority anchor slot at Nature Coast Commons — the superstore's manager isn't exaggerating when he says, "We're a store full of goodies, with a knowledgeable staff, that makes for a pleasant shopping experience."
With 250 stores nationwide, including northward at Crystal River and southward at Tarpon Springs, "We needed a store here," Henster said. The Spring Hill area has "lots of boats, a lot of people into water sports."
A soft opening in December brought on a grand opening in mid March, a time when people are prepping boats and otherwise gearing up to breach warming waters, whether gulf, lakes or rivers, Henster pointed out.
"This part of the state is good for kayaking and canoeing," he said.
Kayaks and their accessories are hot now. Enthusiasts are choosing sit-on-top models, easier to get into and out of, facilitating a quick swim in typically warm Florida waters. With slots, tie-downs and watertight bins, sit-atops hold more fishing gear and water trip whatnots. Water drains away from the sit-ons.
Kayaks are priced from $360 to $2,800, the average $1,300. Paddles — bright yellow and orange, polka dot, faux wood grain, all for easy find-and-retrieve — range from affordable aluminum at $50 to pricey fiberglass or composite models up to $400.
"We do a lot of paddleboards, a growing sport," Henster added. "They are a more intense workout," he allowed, putting a positive spin on what can be a balance-challenging and muscle-tense ride, at least until one gets the hang of it. As opposed to sit-down kayaks and canoes, riding upright on a paddleboard does provide a better underwater view.
Paddleboards, available in varied lengths and bow shapes, are offered from $450, made of plastic or foam, to $2,000 fiberglass models.
The store offers car-top carriers for all portable water sports equipment.
A grand-opening special on marine electronics brought customers outfitting and upgrading their larger watercraft with basic to specialized navigational aids, from the necessary to those a slip neighbor will envy.
Local competition might be expected with the larger marinas at Hernando Beach. But Henster said, "We work with them." As for other sporting goods outfitters of like size, the manager pointed out that the others cover the range of sporting pursuits while West Marine devotes all of its pursuits to water sports, meaning the range of goods is deeper and wider.
Henster, 28, knows them all, having grown up in a boating-surfing-boarding family on Florida's east coast and with two years of experience with West Marine.
Others on the 10-staff roster at the local store, experienced in water life and technically trained in West Marine's 15 departments, are well-versed to guide shoppers through the necessity-to-nicety array of goods.
"We want to be inclusive," Hensler of the store's stock. "From drinks on the beach or going out in a boat, we've got something for you."
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]